Why Alcohol and Sickle Cell Don’t Mix

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Have you ever wondered why you have pain or a crises after a night of drinking? Well let me break it down for you.

Alcohol is a diuretic. This means that it triggers your body to start peeing–alot. Not only are you losing water and fluids out that way, alcohol suppresses the secretion of Anti-diuretic hormone (ADH), which means that your body is unable to regulate how much water you are losing through pee. Usually when you are getting dehydrated, ADH kicks in and stops your kidneys from making more urine, but with the suppression of ADH by alcohol, there is no checks and balances. So you start peeing out a storm.

In addition to this, the liver is the main organ that gets rid of alcohol by breaking it down. It metabolises about 90% of the alcohol in our body while only about 10% is excreted through either our urine or breath. The liver metabolises alcohol at the rate of one to two units per ounces, sometimes less than that in women. The liver needs water to get rid of toxins from the body but, as alcohol acts as a diuretic, there will not be sufficient amounts in the body, so the liver is forced to divert water from other organs including the brain, which causes the throbbing headaches. In addition, your blood is thickened by this sever dehydration, leading to clumping, which then leads to a crises.

The liver also produces more toxins in the body as a by-product during the breakdown of alcohol. When the liver is metabolising alcohol it produces acetaldehyde, a substance which has toxic effects on our liver, brain and stomach lining, resulting in severe headache, nausea, vomiting and heartburn (aka hangover).

So, before you take that shot of whiskey (which is 1.5 ounces), realize that you are dehydrating your body at an alarming rate, doing damage to your kidneys and liver, as well as setting yourself up for a crises.Personally, on the 21st birthday, I overindulged, learned my lesson, and pretty much realized at that point that a hangover with a crises is a recipe for disaster!

Remember, with sickle cell, water is your friend…alcohol, not so much.

Stay safe and healthy.

28 COMMENTS

  1. Yup learned this the hard way! I was experiencing pain while out and at some point if If I drank some alcohol it would dull the pain. SMH the next day I was in the hospital with my first major crises at 28 yo. Thanks for the breakdown. I also noticed that Red Bull or monster energy drinks set me up for a crises. Wonder if this is so for others with Sickle Cell SC?
    Thanks for the breakdown…

  2. Wow! Thanks so much for the insight. This also explains why it is not a good idea to drink while taking Coumadin. Alcohol thickens the blood which defeats the purpose of the blood thinner. I have had my fair share of pain episodes after drinking. Finally I decided to only drink once in awhile as a result.

  3. yup,I was stupid enough to drink last night and stand for long periods.needless to say I didnt slip that nyt.had a major crisis after two years.i wont be drinkin anytime soon.as they say,a lesson learnt the hard way is a lesson well kept.

  4. Hi,
    I agree by half with the article. I have symptoms more related to sickle cell trait rather than sickle cell disease itself. Blood analysis made at a young age and recently show low amount of red blood cell.
    I’d just say from my experience that blond or lager beer make me feel a lot better than liquor alcohol. Apart the unwanted direct effects of drinking a beer, I’m christian raised and also culture minded the side effects is feeling sleepy or in a daze… but such effects don’t last too long with a beer so it’s quite ok, the other way around to avoid these when I’m having a beer by myself is to eat something consistent, the effects are almost invisible.
    But why is it like this? Where I would have headaches in the morning and sometimes throughout a day without a beer the day before, drinking a (up to 75cl 4,5%) beer would help me get rid of most of these symptoms. Let say I feel more “oxigened” with one beer.
    On the other hand, liquors (any) are quite painful for 2 to 3 days.
    That was my comment on this.

  5. Wow!!! This is interesting I have never had side effects or pain criisis after drinking…I have had many crisis but none after drinking. As we all know SC effects us all different so I guess this one skip me

    • MsLaker,

      you are so lucky that alcohol is not one of your triggers. At least it’s good to know that it doesn’t happen to everyone that way. Just keep taking care of you and thank you for the encouragement. SCW

  6. I went Birthday drinking nine days after my 27th on 9/8. I had a shot of Jack Daniels and Jack & coke and a bud. The pain I am in is regarded, like Gucci mane crazy. I don’t want to go to the hospital because I just left on 8/28 and I have a stupid anxiety to all needles that I’ve acquired over the years

  7. I found out that stuff like baileys or stout is okay.Spirits a no no on a night out had it mixed with juice in crisis d next day usually hard to find a vein but this time was worse the alcohol had dried me up had to wait a while b4 medication could be given.Thought it wise to keep my alcohol intake to myself.Never again lesson learnt

  8. Wow!!! I didnt know there were so many other people with this disease and that go through what i go through I just went out for a drink and I’m in major pain… I always get the pain after I drink but today its worse I had to Google why.thanks!

  9. Drink lots of water if you must drink alcohol. If you’re dehydrated or have sckle cell pains or any pains, do not, DO NOT, drink alcohol, do not drink coke. Make sure you get lots of rest. I’m a male, 53 yes with sickle cell SC.

  10. I gave up on hard drinks. I keep it to a minimum. Wine and beer with glasses of water throughout the night and especially before bed. Once I hit 25 I began having crisis regularly, per 45 days and with much more intensity when followed by drinking and partying. Tough pill to swallow when you live in the tri-state of NYC. Lesson learned.

  11. Wonderful article, I just came across this site for my first time n I’m 16 so this helps me to know how healthy I can live. Thanks so much.

  12. Wonderful article, I just came across this site for my first time and I’m 16 so this helps me to know how healthy I can live. Thanks so much.

  13. Alcohol may or may not be a trigger for me, the 1st time I had taken alcohol I was in serious crisis for about 2days straight. I regretted but being 21 now,it seems strange that I don’t drink alcohol on a night out or even a night in. I experimented and Frank a fair amount of mixed whiskey and after reaching my drunken state I drank water all through till morning, I did have a hangover, but not a single sign of a crisis, I still drink occasionally but very carefully and always with a separate amount of money specifically for water and I have avoided crisis even with drinking for 2 years now, I hope this helps. Water water water.

  14. Wahooo I’m amazed, alcohol don’t really trigger my own crises though, but has once trigger it before because I over used myself because of highness so I think not stabilizing myself caused the pain the second day… I always think alcohol helps not to get pain but thanks to this site to know more about it I will minimize taking of alcohol now… I didn’t search for effect of alcohol on SCA patient because it doesn’t affect me but someone told me not to take alcohol again, I was really really disturb… But thanks to you guys… I hope we always leave long… Long live SC patient.

  15. I never drink not even for health purposes but just cos i don’t like it but drank last night at my bestfriends birthday, feeling like a crises is about to begin but came online to Google why i have numb lips too and i somehow found this. I am really happy to see there are others, a lot of times its hard to say what’s really happening or explain to others. Always wished i knew another person with Sickle Cell. Is there a chance SICKLE CELL WARRIOR that you could create a whatsapp group or something where we can just join and talk to eachother?. Might be a terrible idea but i just thought it’d be nice

  16. Water and Powerade orange juice is good I learned in my 20s that booze wasn’t good for us and to be honest my dr said marijuana is good for us as long as we don’t smoke it but yeah I like the affects alcohol has on my man hood but I hate when the pain crisis kicks in so I just said the hell with drinking alcoholic beverages

  17. I am 17 and on a regular night out with my friends normally we should take a couple drinks and i would be fine,i have even gotten to the point where i was totally wasted and i woke up fine slight hangover but that was it. About a month ago i went to a party and had about 4 to 5 drinks, i was fine when i got home, but the next day i woke up with a terrible crisis and was hospitalized for 2 days!!!! This was really a shock to me because i have indulged in more, and was fine.

  18. Wow, thanks so much for this.it gives me more knowledge about this alcohol of a thing though I don’t drink it but just to enlighten some other warriors like me.

  19. I’m a 20 year old male SC patient. I was doing some research into whether I could start drinking or not, and this article has really helped me clarify things. Next time I’m out with my friends, I’ll know how to handle myself

  20. I’m a sickler, now 26 yrs, I’ve been taking vodka, whiskey but no beer – just a piece of advice, whatever your brand is when you’re taking it, be cautious, crisis ain’t no joke, take it but always please do so with lots of water!

  21. I slipped big time at the bodyshop I work at here in Memphis trying to keep warm in the artic vortex weather we’re having (20*) and on Friday all the fellas stop by the shop to hang out. Well, boo man comes in the office with a water jug full of Tennessee white lightening moonshine, so me being me, I pour a small cup to blend in with the other guys and low and behold here I am up at 5 am Saturday morning hurting like hell.

  22. I also would like to say that before moving to Memphis I had terrible health care in Jackson, Mississippi, but moving to Memphis under the guidance of Dr. Patricia Adams Graves I was able to go from 140 lbs to 180 lbs. She changed my medicine plan and treats my illness with concern and the best care!

  23. I love the lesson… I just drank alcohol yesterday and I feel perfectly fine because I didn’t drink too much I guess, so I will be drinking with caution because I don’t want to have another crisis….. So maybe three glasses on special occasions!

  24. Wow at VE! Thanks for that advice and may you live another 50 to that 50 you are now, in the name of what you believe in…I’m also a sickle cell and wish to live more of that too!

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