Alcohol’s effect on host defense

Gyongyi Szabo, Banishree Saha

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

84 Citations (Scopus)


Alcohol affects many organs, including the immune system, with even moderate amounts of alcohol influencing immune responses. Although alcohol can alter the actions of all cell populations involved in the innate and adaptive immune responses, the effect in many cases is a subclinical immunosuppression that becomes clinically relevant only after a secondary insult (e.g., bacterial or viral infection or other tissue damage). Alcohol’s specific effects on the innate immune system depend on the pattern of alcohol exposure, with acute alcohol inhibiting and chronic alcohol accelerating inflammatory responses. The proinflammatory effects of chronic alcohol play a major role in the pathogenesis of alcoholic liver disease and pancreatitis, but also affect numerous other organs and tissues. In addition to promoting proinflammatory immune responses, alcohol also impairs anti-inflammatory cytokines. Chronic alcohol exposure also interferes with the normal functioning of all aspects of the adaptive immune response, including both cell-mediated and humoral responses. All of these effects enhance the susceptibility of chronic alcoholics to viral and bacterial infections and to sterile inflammation.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAlcohol Research: Current Reviews
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 27 2015


  • Acute alcohol exposure
  • Adaptive immune response
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Alcohol effects and consequences
  • Alcohol exposure
  • Alcohol use pattern
  • Alcoholic liver disease
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Bacterial disease
  • Chronic alcohol exposure
  • Immune response
  • Immune system
  • Immunity
  • Immunosuppression
  • Infection
  • Inflammation
  • Inflammatory response
  • Innate immune response
  • Pancreatitis
  • Proinflammatory response
  • Viral disease

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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