Alcohol-Related Breathing Problems


Alcohol is a depressant, meaning it will slow down your nervous system. Depending on the amount of alcohol you consume, you may experience a variety of emotional and physical changes. For example, when alcohol is absorbed in your bloodstream, it is then dispersed to other organs. The liver is responsible for dispelling the alcohol from your body. However, if the liver cannot keep up with your alcohol consumption, then the alcohol will build up and lead to you becoming intoxicated, which cause certain functions controlled by your nerves to be impaired. Breathing is one of them.


  • Alcohol can cause problems with your breathing in a variety of ways. However, the most immediate breathing problem is after the alcohol leaves the stomach. After alcohol is consumed, it will pass through the stomach and rest in the small intestines for a short time. The alcohol is then immersed into the bloodstream from the walls of the intestines. The alcohol is then distributed to other areas of the body, and because it acts as a depressant, it begins to slow your breathing down.


  • If you mix alcohol with narcotics or medications, i.e. heroin or Thorazine, you are at risk of experience breathing problems that have the potential to be fatal. When you consume alcohol with drugs or other medications, each substance will compete for absorption into the body and this can be very dangerous. So if you are on medication, you may want to refrain from drinking alcohol.

Breathing Problems When Asleep

  • Alcohol irritates your nasal airway, so your airway may be rebellious when breathing. This defiance can cause you to have breathing problems when you sleep. For example, if you consume a moderate to high amount of alcohol before going to sleep you can put yourself at risk of experiencing "obstructive sleep apnea". Obstructive sleep apnea, OSA, is a disorder that causes the upper air passage to narrow or close during sleep which means you can stop breathing. The pause in your breathing will cause you to wake; however, if this continuously happens throughout the night the amount of sleep you get will be drastically reduced.

Alcohol Poisoning

  • If you suddenly experience difficulty breathing you should visit the emergency room. Irregular and difficulty breathing are also signs of alcohol poisoning, which essentially means you have consumed a large amount of alcohol in a short span of time. Additional signs of alcohol poisoning are: paleness, vomiting, mental confusion, and seizures.

Safe Drinking Tips

  • If you are going to drink alcohol, you should try to do so responsibly. To prevent breathing problems during sleep, refrain from drinking alcohol right before going to bed. If you want to prevent the alcohol from reaching the bloodstream so fast, drink slowly. In addition, you should never drink on an empty stomach.

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  • Photo Credit Image by, courtesy of Adriano Agulló
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