Systematic Review: Alcohol Has Analgesic Effects

Alcohol has been reported to reduce pain and some individuals with chronic pain report self-medicating with it. Researchers conducted a systematic review of controlled experimental studies examining the analgesic effects of alcohol on healthy individuals. They found 18 studies with a total of 404 participants meeting their criteria.

  • A meta-analysis of the studies indicated that the administration of alcohol was associated with significantly increased pain threshold and reduced pain intensity.
  • A meta-regression analysis of the association between alcohol concentration and analgesia found an increase in analgesia with higher blood-alcohol concentrations.

Comments: This study shows that alcohol has analgesic effects among healthy individuals who are exposed to painful stimuli. Whether this is also the case for people with habitual use or alcohol use disorder is unclear. Moreover, this study did not look at the effects of alcohol (if any) on chronic pain. In any case, the analgesic effects of alcohol may contribute to consumption among individuals with chronic pain; this is of particular concern since many of these individuals are also taking opioids for their pain and may be at increased risk for negative consequences.

Darius A. Rastegar, MD

Reference: Thompson T, Oram C, Correll CU, et al. Analgesic effects of alcohol: a systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled experimental studies in healthy participants. J Pain. 2016 [Epub ahead of print]. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2016.11.009.

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