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COPD, liver disease, hypertension, diabetes linked to unhealthy drinking

People with several chronic health conditions are less likely to drink alcohol to excess, but those with diabetes and A-fib may be exceptions. File photo by bridgesword/Pixabay
People with several chronic health conditions are less likely to drink alcohol to excess, but those with diabetes and A-fib may be exceptions. File photo by bridgesword/Pixabay

May 13 (UPI) -- Adults with diabetes, COPD and atrial fibrillation are more likely to consume alcohol at higher-than-recommended levels than generally healthy people, a study published Wednesday by JAMA Network Open said.

However, in findings the study's researchers described as "good news," most adults with underlying medical conditions -- including asthma, atherosclerosis, kidney disease, heart disease, dementia, HIV, and osteoarthritis, osteoporosis or osteopenia -- seem to comply with recommendations regarding alcohol use.

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"Alcohol can exacerbate health problems and complicate treatment," study co-author Stacy Sterling, a member of the drug and alcohol research team at Kaiser Permanente, told UPI.

"However, people with a few common, chronic conditions -- diabetes, hypertension, COPD and chronic liver disease -- who reported drinking were more likely than those without these conditions to drink at unhealthy levels," she said.

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Kaiser Permanente is among the largest non-profit healthcare plans in the United States, with more than 12 million members. It operates 39 hospitals and more than 700 medical offices.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that women consume no more than one drink per day -- or seven total over the course of a week. For men, the agency suggests that consumption should be limited to two drinks per day, or 14 over seven days.

For their study, Sterling and her colleagues sought to identify links between 26 common medical conditions and alcohol consumption in more than 2.7 million adults screened for unhealthy drinking.

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In general, they found that those with asthma, atherosclerosis, chronic kidney disease, chronic pain, heart disease, dementia, HIV, migraine, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, osteopenia and Parkinson's disease were up to 50 percent less likely to report unhealthy alcohol use.

"We found that people with most medical conditions were less likely to drink alcohol, probably for a variety of reasons, compared to those without those medical problems," Sterling said. "And those who reported that they drink alcohol at all were less likely to drink at unhealthy levels."

Conversely, they observed that while people with cancer and atrial fibrillation -- or A-fib, an irregular heartbeat that increases risk for heart attack and stroke -- were less likely to report alcohol use in excess of recommended daily limits, they were more likely to consume alcohol at levels above suggested weekly limits.

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Meanwhile, people with diabetes were up to 11 percent more likely to report alcohol use that exceeded recommended daily limits, but less likely to report exceeding weekly limits.

And, adults with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, were 16 percent more likely to drink in excess of recommended daily limits.

"It's important for everyone to stay within the low-risk limits if they choose to drink alcohol, and it's especially true for people with medical conditions," Sterling said, while acknowledging that mental health problems that arise from chronic medical issues drives some to excessive alcohol consumption.

"We know that there is significant medical and mental health comorbidity, as well as between mental health problems and unhealthy alcohol use, and we hope to examine the relationships between those in future work," she said.

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