The term binge drinking applies when a pattern of alcohol consumption results in the rapid increase of blood-alcohol content that meets or exceeds the legal limits of intoxication. Experts have known for decades that the effects of binge drinking can be dangerous. Binging is directly linked to alcohol poisoning, cardiovascular damage, high blood pressure, nerve damage, liver damage, and a reduced ability to manage the symptoms of diabetes. Now binge drinkers have something else to worry about: delayed wound healing.
In a first-of-its-kind study published in April 2014 in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, researchers from Loyola University Chicago found that binge drinking damages the body’s immune system by reducing the number of white blood cells circulating. Since white blood cells are in charge of destroying bacteria and debris, a deficiency of these specialized cells interferes with the body’s natural ability to heal.
Binge Drinking and Injuries
Delayed wound healing is particularly dangerous for binge drinkers. Anyone who binges on alcohol is at a higher risk for sustaining injuries. We’ve all seen drunken people stumbling around, barely able to put one foot in front of the other. Alcohol brings on a serious lack of coordination and motor skills, often leading to physical injury. Whether wounds come from car accidents, trip and fall accidents, stabbings, or shootings, binge drinking leaves people vulnerable to a laundry list of potential dangers.
A Slowing of the Healing Process
The Loyola University Chicago study researchers used laboratory mice to examine the impact that binge drinking has on the body’s ability to properly heal from skin wounds. To do this, they gave half of the mice alcohol in a pattern that mimicked periodic binging; the other half received no alcohol. Skin wounds were then given to all the mice.
When comparing the wound-healing rates of both groups, researchers found that the alcohol-exposed mice healed from their injuries “at a substantially slower pace.” After further investigation, the research group discovered three specific factors that slowed the healing process, each one brought on by the use of alcohol. Binge drinking caused:
- An inadequate number of white blood cells at the injury sites
- A problem with the animals’ natural, involuntary ability to “tell” white blood cells to help
- Interference with the actions of specialized skin proteins that normally help to kill invading microorganisms at wound sites
“Together, these effects likely contribute to delayed wound closure and enhanced infection severity observed in intoxicated patients,” the researchers concluded.
If you or someone you know struggles with binge drinking, learn more about alcohol abuse signs, symptoms and treatment options.
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