Alcohol and COVID – what are the risks?

a profile photo of Dr Sarah White
Associate Clinical Director, Bupa Health Clinics
13 April 2021

The stress and uncertainty of the last year may have had you reaching for a drink a little more than before. And, as coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions slowly ease, you may now be looking forward to raising a glass or two with friends and family. But looking after your health – including being sensible with alcohol – continues to be so important. Here I’ll explain why.

Alcohol and COVID risk

Drinking alcohol – especially if you regularly drink to excess – can weaken your immune system. Not only could this make you more vulnerable to catching COVID, but if you do get infected, your body might find it harder to cope. You’re also more at risk of severe respiratory (breathing) problems if you’re a heavy drinker.

It’s not just the effects on your immune system that impact your risk. It doesn’t take many alcoholic drinks to seriously affect your judgement and decision-making. When one beer or glass of wine with friends turns into two or three, it’s easy to get lax with restrictions and distancing rules. This puts you at greater risk of catching COVID – or passing it on.

Alcohol and mental health

You may have been using alcohol as a way to relax and de-stress during the pandemic. But it’s easy to fall into the trap of relying on a drink to make you feel better. And although alcohol may help you to relax in the short-term, it can increase feelings of depression and anxiety in the long-term. If you’ve been feeling low, reducing or stopping drinking can help to improve your mood.

Alcohol and COVID vaccinations

There’s no official guidance to say you shouldn’t drink alcohol before or after having a COVID vaccine. However, as the vaccines works by triggering your body’s immune response, it makes sense to try to make sure your immune system is at its best. Not drinking for a couple of days before your vaccine, and for two weeks afterwards, may help with this. This doesn’t mean the vaccine won’t work if you drink, or that you should turn down a jab because you don’t want to stop drinking. It’s still much better to have a vaccine whether you intend to stop drinking or not.

Alcohol and recovery from COVID

If you’re recovering from COVID, it’ll take some time to build yourself back up to normal. It’s best to avoid alcohol while you have COVID and while you’re recovering. Once you feel up to it, drinking within recommended guidelines should be fine. But don’t overdo it, as you could set yourself back. You may have cut back or stopped drinking while you’ve been ill. In that case, it might even be the ideal opportunity to make long-term changes by sticking to your new, healthier habits.

Cutting down on drinking

There are some simple measures you can take to reduce your alcohol intake, especially if you’re managing your drinking at home.

  • Try to have some alcohol-free days every week. If you’re finding it hard to break the habit, you could plan ahead for these days or evenings, and arrange something other than alcohol that you can look forward to. It could be anything you really enjoy, from cooking a new recipe, to settling down with that new film you’ve been meaning to watch.
  • Watch your measures. Use smaller glasses for wine, or use an alcohol measuring cup to keep track of exactly how much you’re drinking.
  • Find alternatives. There’s a whole range of different soft drinks, as well as lower-strength or alcohol-free alternatives available. Experiment to find something you like. You might even want to give our mocktails a try.

Are you interested in learning more about your health? Discover more about our range of health assessments.

a profile photo of Dr Sarah White
Dr Sarah White
Associate Clinical Director, Bupa Health Clinics

    • Alcohol and COVID-19: what you need to know. World Health Organization., April 2020
    • Drinkaware issues precautionary advice about alcohol and the COVID-19 vaccine. Drinkaware., 18 January 2021
    • Coronavirus: alcohol and mental health. Drinkaware., last reviewed 18 March 2018
    • Recovering after COVID-19. Drinkaware., published 11 June 2020

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