Moderate alcohol intake may be associated with less chronic pain and depression, University of Michigan researchers suggest.

In their study, published recently in the journal Pain Medicine, lead author Ryan Scott, MPH, of the Michigan Medicine Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center and his team surveyed 2,583 people with chronic pain and fibromyalgia about their drinking habits, pain severity, and physical function. The researchers also examined psychological measures, such as anxiety and depression.

Among the study participants, more than half reported use of opioid medication, which carries serious risks when combined with alcohol.

Moderate drinkers with chronic pain were more likely to be male, white and hold an advanced degree, and were less likely to use opioids. They reported less pain, lower anxiety and depression, and higher physical function. Women who were moderate drinkers reported the same state of being.

Interestingly, people with fibromyalgia symptoms who drank moderately reported decreased pain severity and depression but saw no effect on how widespread their pain was or other symptoms such as cramps, headache, fatigue, unrefreshing sleep, and cognitive dysfunction, a media release from Michigan Medicine – University of Michigan explains.

“Alcohol increases gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, which is why we could be seeing some of the psychiatric effects. Even though alcohol helped some fibromyalgia patients, it didn’t have the same level of effect,” Scott says.

“You probably need much more GABA to block pain signals and that may be why we’re not seeing as high an effect in these patients,” he adds, in the release.

Though these findings seem to point at low-risk alcohol intake as a promising analgesic, Scott doesn’t anticipate doctors prescribing a drink anytime soon — mainly due to liability, the health risks associated with heavy drinking, and the fact that many first-line pain medications are contraindicated with alcohol.

The team calls for more substantial studies to determine appropriate intake of alcohol for pain relief, especially given the fact that chronic pain patients have a higher prevalence of alcohol abuse.

For now, Scott suggests patients talk to their health care provider about the pain-relieving effects and reduced depression that appear to come along with moderate drinking, the release continues.

“It could be a stepping stone to increased quality of life, leading to more social interactions,” he concludes. “Fibromyalgia patients in particular have a lot of psychological trauma, anxiety, and catastrophizing, and allowing for the occasional drink might increase social habits and overall health.”

[Source(s): Michigan Medicine – University of Michigan, Newswise]