Alcohol-related lung disease (ARLD) is the medical term for lung damage that develops in response to excessive alcohol consumption. This damage may result from various lung conditions, such as viral infections, pneumonia, and acute lung injury.

ARLD is a potential complication of alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Chronic use of alcohol causes inflammation and harms the immune system. Eventually, this can lead to lung diseases and infections.

ARLD can refer to any lung problems that chronic alcohol consumption has influenced, including pneumonia, tuberculosis (TB), and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).

This article looks at ARLD and the effects of alcohol on the lungs. It also looks at symptoms of lung problems, treatments, and more.

A person drinking a beer.Share on Pinterest
Emmanuel Hidalgo/Stocksy

Long-term heavy drinking causes inflammation and eventually harms the immune system. Over time, this can start to affect the lungs, making the body more vulnerable to lung infections and damage.

This is known as ARLD, which may present as several lung problems, such as pneumonia or TB. It can result from AUD.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), AUD is a medical condition in which a person has difficulty controlling their alcohol intake despite negative effects on their health, work life, and social life.

A 2015 study notes that AUD impairs a person’s immunity, increasing their risk of the following infectious lung diseases:

The symptoms of ARLD depend on the type of lung disease a person develops. Some examples are below.

Pneumonia signs and symptoms

Pneumonia is the medical term for infection and inflammation of the tiny air sacs or “alveoli” within the lungs.

A person who misuses alcohol over a long period may be more vulnerable to pneumonia.

According to the American Lung Association (ALA), pneumonia may cause the following symptoms:

Learn more about the types of pneumonia and how to treat them.

TB signs and symptoms

TB is an airborne bacterial infection that primarily affects the lungs. A TB infection may be more severe in those with a history of alcohol misuse.

According to the ALA, TB may cause the following symptoms:

  • a cough lasting more than 3 weeks
  • appetite loss
  • weight loss
  • fever, chills, and night sweats

Learn more about TB and how to treat it.


RSV is a common respiratory infection that typically causes mild, cold-like symptoms.

However, people with weakened immune systems, such as those who have misused alcohol for a long time, are at increased risk of developing severe and potentially life threatening symptoms.

According to the ALA, a barking or wheezing cough is often one of the first signs that RSV is developing into a serious illness.

Additionally, chronic use of alcohol makes people more vulnerable to other viral infections, not just RSV.

Learn more about RSV and how doctors treat it.


ARDS is the medical term for acute lung injury resulting from infection or trauma.

People with a history of alcohol misuse may be more vulnerable to ARDS and may have more severe symptoms.

ARDS is a life threatening condition. Symptoms of the condition may include the following:

Learn more about ARDS and how to treat it.

Alcohol can have both short-term and long-term effects on the lungs. Some examples are below.

  • Asthma: According to Asthma and Lung UK, alcoholic beverages contain substances called histamines and sulfites, which may cause asthma symptoms in some people. These substances are more abundant in red and white wine, beer, and cider.
  • Choking or aspiration pneumonia: Alcohol is a stomach irritant that increases the risk of vomiting. As such, a person who passes out from alcohol intoxication is at risk of vomiting and accidentally inhaling the vomit. This can lead to choking or aspiration pneumonia, both of which can be fatal.
  • Lung injury and disease: The NIAAA states that heavy alcohol consumption can reduce levels of the antioxidant glutathione, which typically protects the smaller airways of the lungs from oxidative damage. As such, heavy alcohol consumption makes the lungs more susceptible to serious injury and disease.

If a person begins to worry about their drinking and its effects on their physical health, they can contact a doctor.

A doctor can refer them to an AUD specialist and recommend counseling. They can also start treatment for any conditions present.

People may find it difficult to seek help for AUD, but several services and organizations can provide support.

If someone wishes to seek help or learn more about AUD, some helpful organizations include:

People may wish to reach out to family and friends, as any support is helpful when tackling AUD.

ARLD describes lung problems that result from excessive alcohol consumption. It is a possible complication of AUD.

Excessive alcohol consumption can weaken a person’s immune system, increasing their susceptibility to lung conditions, such as pneumonia, syncytial respiratory virus, and acute respiratory distress syndrome.

Excessive alcohol consumption can also worsen asthma and increase the risk of choking and aspiration pneumonia.

Those who have concerns about their lung health or alcohol consumption can speak with their doctor for further advice and guidance.