Alcohol And Muscle Pain


The harmful ways alcohol affects the human body have long been known. Muscle pain associated with alcohol abuse is more common than you would think. You can experience joint pain but also swelling, tenderness, cramps, and weakness in one or more muscle groups - typically after an alcoholic binge. Do you drink alcohol and have muscle pain?

Short-term impacts of alcohol on muscles

If you are going for a drink, you probably do so because you like the mental and muscle-relaxing effects. And of course, it can be lots of fun too, in small doses. But if you carry on a bit too much with your alcohol intake you will find that alcohol withdrawal can give you the opposite effects. 

Muscular development and recovery

Imagine drinking after sport or exercise: you go to get a beer after a workout, or you have played a match and are going out to celebrate (or commiserate!). This does not sound like a bad idea; however, alcohol ingestion after sport and exercise worsens all major aspects of post-exercise recovery as alcohol slows down the repair process of exercise-induced muscle damage and it reduces muscle protein synthesis.1 Alcohol also disrupts the flow of calcium into the muscle cells and these cells need calcium to contract.2

Calcium absorption

Excessive alcohol interferes with the balance of calcium in the body. You need calcium to maintain healthy bones and muscle movement. Alcohol can interfere with the production of vitamin D, which is needed for calcium absorption, disrupting the calcium balance in the body even further.3,4

 Human growth hormones

If you tend to be a heavy drinker, please be aware that this can cause hormone deficiencies, for any gender you identify as or any gender assigned at birth! Heavy drinking can not only induce muscle weakness, and cause problems like osteoporosis but can also alter fertility.3

People assigned male at birth who drink excessively may produce less testosterone, and in people assigned as female at birth a chronic intake of alcohol can trigger irregular menstrual cycles: a factor that reduces oestrogen levels.5

The human growth hormone somatotropin, has an important role in human physiology as it drives a lot of processes, like skeletal and organ growth, calcium homeostasis, and the regulation of lean body mass. It is mostly known for its use and abuse by athletes (doping).6 Studies have also shown that plasma growth hormone levels were suppressed by alcohol consumption, as much as 75%.7 

Muscular cramps

When you have been drinking, you also might experience muscle cramps the day(s) after. These muscular cramps have to do with the lactic acid building up in your body.8  

Lactic acid build up 

When you engage in intense physical activities your body will form lactate to act as a buffer, it helps reduce the acidity in your muscles. Muscles produce lactic acid, using glucose, and then also burns it to obtain energy. Normally, it would not be an issue, your body is used to breaking down the lactic acid and getting rid of it after your exercises.2,8 

But since you have been drinking, your liver is prioritising getting rid of the alcohol first which makes the lactic acid linger longer than you are used to, and can cause additional muscle pain and cramps.2


Lactic acid is water soluble, so the more hydrated you are the less likely you are to have a buildup of lactic acid. Mind you, if you notice that you are thirsty during your workout, you are probably already dehydrated! 

Alcohol also causes dehydration by inhibiting another hormone called antidiuretic hormone (ADH). ADH needs to be at a constant level to prevent you from passing all the water out of your body but when you drink alcohol, your ADH levels drop, and you start to urinate more. For example, if you drink, say 15 alcoholic beverages in one night, you could end up well over 2 litres dehydrated!

Dehydration is not fun, on its own it can cause nausea, headaches, and dizziness. Furthermore, the older you get, the longer it will take your body to rehydrate and get rid of the aftereffects.5

Long-term impacts of alcohol on muscles

In the UKyou are classed as a heavy drinker when you drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week. If you stay under these 14 units, they should be spread out evenly over 3 days or more.9,10 

Alcoholic myopathy

What is alcohol myopathy? It is a condition where you experience muscle weakness and loss of muscle because the muscle tissues have started to break down. When you drink alcohol, the body needs to break down the alcohol and metabolise it. Both alcohol and the metabolites are toxic to the muscles and nervous system, leading to the breakdown of muscle tissue.  This breakdown leads to muscular dysfunction, which will have an impact on different parts of the body and their functions. It can be acute or chronic.11


Acute alcoholic myopathy results from binge drinking, whereas chronic alcoholic myopathy results from long-term heavy drinking.

Between 40% and 60% of individuals with chronic alcohol use disorder develop this condition, either acute or chronic, depending on their patterns of alcohol use.12 


The symptoms of acute alcoholic myopathy include cramping, darkened urine, muscle weakness, pain, swelling in affected muscles, normally in the extremities, and in severe cases even kidney failure!

Symptoms of chronic alcoholic myopathy include some muscle cramps, abnormal walking, dark urine, increasing muscle weakness around the pelvis and shoulders (progresses over a period of a week or months), muscle wasting, tightness, and/or twitching of the muscles.11,12 


A consequence of alcoholic myopathy is cardiomyopathy, or weakening of the heart muscle which can lead to bigger complications in the future, like heart disease and eventually needing a heart transplant. When muscle fibres break down, they release potassium into the blood. This elevates the levels in the blood (hyperkalaemia) which can alter your heart beat. So not only can your heart become weaker, it can also start to beat abnormally which is potentially fatal. Additional complications include kidney failure, as mentioned before, and other organs can fail as well and will be fatal if left untreated.

Thankfully, when alcohol use is stopped, the symptoms of alcohol myopathy improve significantly. Additionally, you want to keep alcohol-related liver disease and alcohol poisoning at bay. It is understandable that stopping or even cutting down on alcohol use can be difficult, especially if you are dependent on alcohol or are suffering from an alcohol use disorder; it may be hepful to seek addiction treatment to help you in the process.

Recovery is possible as many are alive today to tell the tale.11,12  


Alcohol consumption is one of the most serious substance abuse disorders worldwide and excessive or binge drinking is known for having several adverse health consequences. Alcohol consumption does not have to be chronic to be bad for your health. Sporadic but acute binge drinking also affects your body negatively. Serious consequences can be prevented by not drinking alcoholic beverages, or drinking occasionally and in moderation, while keeping properly hydrated.


  1. Lakićević N. The Effects of Alcohol Consumption on Recovery Following Resistance Exercise: A Systematic Review. J Funct Morphol Kinesiol. 2019; 4(3):E41.
  2. Parr EB, Camera DM, Areta JL, Burke LM, Phillips SM, Hawley JA, et al. Alcohol ingestion impairs maximal post-exercise rates of myofibrillar protein synthesis following a single bout of concurrent training. PLoS One. 2014; 9(2):e88384.
  3. What People Recovering From Alcoholism Need To Know About Osteoporosis | NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center [Internet]. [cited 2022 Sep 14]. Available from:
  4. Office of Dietary Supplements - Calcium [Internet]. [cited 2022 Sep 14]. Available from:
  5. Emanuele N, Emanuele MA. The Endocrine System. Alcohol Health Res World [Internet]. 1997 [cited 2022 Sep 13]; 21(1):53–64. Available from:
  6. Siebert DM, Rao AL. The Use and Abuse of Human Growth Hormone in Sports. Sports Health. 2018; 10(5):419–26.
  7. Prinz PN, Roehrs TA, Vitaliano PP, Linnoila M, Weitzman ED. Effect of alcohol on sleep and nighttime plasma growth hormone and cortisol concentrations. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1980; 51(4):759–64.
  8. Team HC. Lactic Acid In Muscles - Causes, Symptoms & Treatment. Health CheckUp [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2022 Sep 14]. Available from:
  9. Alcohol misuse. [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2022 Sep 14]. Available from:
  10. Alcohol poisoning. [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2022 Sep 14]. Available from:
  11. Simon L, Jolley SE, Molina PE. Alcoholic Myopathy: Pathophysiologic Mechanisms and Clinical Implications. Alcohol Res. 2017; 38(2):207–17.12.   Alcoholic Myopathy: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment. American Addiction Centers [Internet]. [cited 2022 Sep 14]. Available from:
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

Get our health newsletter

Get daily health and wellness advice from our medical team.
Your privacy is important to us. Any information you provide to this website may be placed by us on our servers. If you do not agree do not provide the information.

IIona Kosten

Master of Science - (MS), Immunology and Infectious diseases, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU Amsterdam), Netherlands

Ilona has a BSc and MSc in Biomedical Sciences and a PhD in Immunology with a sweet spot for “all things allergy”.
She’s published a number of articles in peer reviewed journals ranging from skin and mucosa tissue engineering, immunoassays, DCs, LCs and T cells."

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
Klarity is a citizen-centric health data management platform that enables citizens to securely access, control and share their own health data. Klarity Health Library aims to provide clear and evidence-based health and wellness related informative articles. 
Klarity / Managed Self Ltd
Alum House
5 Alum Chine Road
Westbourne Bournemouth BH4 8DT
VAT Number: 362 5758 74
Company Number: 10696687

Phone Number:

 +44 20 3239 9818