I loved alcohol more than I loved cat memes, useless adorable stickers, and finding out the item I’m buying at full price is actually 50% off. Confidant, ally, enabler, and friend – alcohol was a huge part of my life for the past decade.
It was not difficult for me to have 2-3 drinks a night for absolutely no reason whatsoever. With an actual celebratory occasion, that number often reached into the double digits. There have been MANY periods over the past few years when I’ve become worried about my own level of drinking – only to impose some arbitrary drinking restriction for a period of time before returning to normal.
In all fairness, there were many days when I considered myself a beer connoisseur rather than a functioning alcoholic. Going to beer tastings, trying obscure craft varieties or homebrew, socializing with fellow beer lovers are only a few of my leisurely past-times. Most important to me is the social connection that seems inexplicably linked to the bonding over a pint of ale.
I never knew I had any health problems resulting from excessive drinking, and often I wondered how long I would continue to drink so much – as if the decision was entirely out of my control. Someone somewhere said, “Life doesn’t always give you what you want, but it always gives you what you need.”
I’m pretty sure this phrase was uttered in relation to my alcohol usage and psoriasis.
Alcohol and Psoriasis:
When I was first diagnosed with Psoriasis, none of the health professionals mentioned anything about my alcohol consumption. The only doctor out of the half a dozen I see who showed alarm was a young, slim Japanese female. She told me point blank that I drank far too much and suggested I look into Alcoholics Anonymous. For whatever reason, I didn’t see her again after that.
It wasn’t until my psoriasis rapidly deteriorated in Fall 2016 that I started looking for causes myself. I kept seeing the same few phrases pop up in online articles, “Avoid lifestyle triggers – such as stress, smoking and alcohol.” Brushing those tips off as too broad to be useful – I continued to look for a miracle herb or supplement.
The worse my psoriasis got, the more desperate I became. When I tried the wild rose detox in November, I discovered that my psoriasis considerably faded after two weeks. (not a drop of alcohol was allowed on the diet) That was the first inkling that made me seriously reconsider all the warning messages I read.
Could it be possible? Could my drinking actually be making my psoriasis worse?
Over the holidays, I imbibed in a lot of drinking. Holiday parties, work parties, family parties, and drink-to-get-drunk parties all came with free flowing wine and spirits. The period following the holidays had me seeing the worst psoriasis outbreak I’d ever experienced. All my plaques (some of which had faded away completely in November) came back with a vengeance. They became inflamed and bright red and grew in size.
I was distraught. Both at the fact that my arms were starting to resemble adult chicken pox, and that alcohol was VERY LIKELY a trigger of newly onset psoriasis.
Rather than purposely skimming over the research I didn’t want to believe, I now forced myself to dig deeper – into the actual medical studies performed between alcohol and psoriasis.
This is what I found:
Women who drink more than 5 non-light beers* (meaning alcohol percentage over 3.5%, or pretty much all beer) per week are 1.8 times more likely to develop psoriasis compared to non-drinkers. Source.
Women who drank more than 2.3 alcoholic drinks** a week are at higher risk of developing psoriasis.
*1 beer is classified as 12oz (a pint that you would get at a restaurant is 16oz)
**1 drink is 4oz of wine, 1.5oz of spirit
The medical research also suggests that even drinking 1 non-light beer could exacerbate existing psoriasis. ONLY ONE! Polishing off a litre of lager myself wasn’t even that much of a challenge, and now I cannot have even one beer?
I was distraught, but denial was not going to make my psoriasis better. Once my mind made and accepted that causal link, a little switch inside flipped. It was my own fault (no thanks to your genes, dad) that my psoriasis had progressed to as bad as it is, and therefore I must accept the responsibility in treating it. It was irresponsible of me to overlook the link for so long.
At the start of January 2017, I vowed to drink as little as possible, and while I did develop a few more spots than December, some of the existing spots have gone into remission. (they now can’t be seen) Others have grown paler in color and are disappearing.
Spots at the beginning of the month.
Spots at present.
I haven’t had a single beer this month. As you can see, the inflammation is decreasing and the color of the psoriasis is fading from bright red to light pink. This is really encouraging.
Because alcoholism is hard to give up, going cold turkey is not realistic for me. This month I only drank alcohol on two occasions. The first time I had 4 drinks of red wine, and the second time I also had 4 drinks. (however due to AV% probably closer to 5 drinks) I noticed modest flare-ups after each time that decreased after a week of not drinking.
Anecdotally, beer seems to have the most pronounced effect on my psoriasis while red wine has the least. Sugary drinks and spirits are somewhere in the middle.
My goal is to keep a log of my flare-ups and take photos before/after drinking for reference. I have googled ‘before/after alcohol psoriasis photos’ and found nothing – so hopefully my own resources will be helpful to others.
Why didn’t my doctors tell me about this?
In general. I choose to accept responsibility for what I can, and I try not to blame others for my problems lest I become a dimwit who cannot take responsibility for anything. However, in this situation I do feel some frustration in the lack of education (or professional care?) of my doctors.
NONE of the 5 doctors I saw (2 walk-in, 1 family doctor, 1 referral, 1 dermatologist) asked me about my drinking history or told me to cut back my drinking when I asked for ways to halt or reduce my psoriasis.
When I first saw the doctor about my psoriasis in April 2016, I only had one spot on my leg. I wish with all my heart that at that time, he could’ve said, “If you continue to drink 5+ beers a week or 2.3+ alcoholic beverages a week, you could get more spots.” I wish that SOMEONE could have emphasized the link between the two to me – especially if they had asked me if I had family history of psoriasis, (which I do) or my drinking habits. (which were excessive)
There is actually a report available called “Failure to counsel patients with psoriasis to decrease alcohol consumption (and smoking).” and the opening excerpt contains this quote:
” Herein lies the practice gap for most dermatologists: Inattention to alcohol and smoking behaviors precludes the opportunity for their modification (by reduction or even cessation).”
None of my doctors asked about my alcohol behaviors, not even the dermatologist. Why didn’t my doctors ask about my lifestyle choices?
The second session I had with my dermatologist, I brought up the subject:
“I read online that alcohol and psoriasis are linked. Can you tell me if I should stop drinking completely?”
He hesitated for a second before responding, “I don’t think you need to stop drinking completely. Just make sure everything is in moderation.”
Very specific, doc. I pressed further, “So I can have a few drinks then? How many?”
“Drinking in moderation is ok. Obviously don’t binge-drink, but I don’t think you have to worry.” He interjected, “Oh but make sure to keep applying the cream I gave you!”
How frustrating, that even when I specifically ask, the doctor is either unaware or unwilling to disclose an actual amount of drinks I should have. Of course, I’m not a doctor.
But if anyone asked me about psoriasis and drinking I would most certainly tell them at minimum to STOP DRINKING BEER if they want their psoriasis to get better. I would also tell them that they should drink as little as possible and that drinking in even small doses will trigger inflammation.
If you have psoriasis, have you noticed the effect drinking has had on your condition?