Rehab 4 Addiction

Effects of Alcohol on the Thyroid

Thyroid disease is one of many co-occurring health conditions which can make alcoholism even worse for the body.

Alcohol can have an impact on the functioning of the thyroid, which can cause health problems. In this article we go through the ways in which alcohol affects the thyroid, including symptoms you may suffer from if you have thyroid disease and alcoholism.

How does alcohol affect the thyroid?

Alcohol use has a significant impact on the thyroid, both directly and indirectly.

The direct impact of alcohol on the thyroid occurs through acetaldehyde, a chemical which is involved in hangovers. Acetaldehyde is one of the metabolites of ethanol, the main chemical found in alcoholic beverages.

Acetaldehyde stops hormone receptors in the thyroid from doing their job, meaning that the thyroid gland has to work harder. Large amounts of acetaldehyde can lead to hypothyroidism, which is when your thyroid produces fewer hormones than needed.

Hypothyroidism can lead to lots of unpleasant symptoms, such as fatigue, weight gain and constipation.

The indirect effect of alcohol on the thyroid occurs through the liver and adrenal glands. The thyroid is closely linked to the liver and adrenal glands, and when they stop working as well as they should it causes problems for the thyroid.

What exactly is the thyroid and what does it do?

The thyroid gland is found on the windpipe. There are lots of blood vessels in the thyroid.

The thyroid is an important gland which plays a part in producing the sound of the voice. It also secretes two key hormones, T3 and T4, which are necessary for a range of bodily functions. .

T3 and T4 are necessary for three things: maintaining body temperature at the right level, keeping a good rate of metabolism, and making sure energy levels don’t drop.

T4 can only be used by the body once it has been turned into T3, a process that relies on the muscles, kidney and liver. Therefore, in order for the thyroid gland to do its job, the muscles, kidney and liver must be functioning correctly.

If the liver is not working because of alcohol-related liver disease, or is busy metabolising alcohol, then this slows down the process by which T4 is turned into T3, which in turn can have an impact on body temperature, metabolism and energy levels.

Thyroid statistics:

  • Thyroid disease is more prevalent among women than men, because women have more oestrogen than men, and oestrogen can accelerate inflammation.
  • According to the NHS, around 1 in every 50 women has hyperthyroidism or an overactive thyroid. This is about six times the number of men who have hyperactive thyroids. [1]
  • Thyroid problems are thought to be present in around 1 in 20 people in the UK, although this could be an underestimate. Thyroid problems often go undetected. [2]
  • Around 2% of people in the UK have an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism).
  • Hyperthyroidism is most common among women between the ages of 18 and 24.
  • The chances of getting a thyroid condition increase as you get older.

Alcohol, the liver and the thyroid

The liver has several jobs, including:

  • Creating and getting rid of bile, which is essential to digestion
  • Activating enzymes
  • Storing minerals and vitamins
  • Excreting fluid and hormones
  • Getting nutrients from food to make energy

Besides these functions, the liver is also the main organ responsible for detoxification, which is the process by which toxic materials are eliminated.

Under normal conditions, the average person’s liver takes around two hours to process an alcoholic beverage. During this time, the liver will be less able to perform any of the other functions listed above.

If someone is consuming a lot of alcohol, that can slow down the breakdown of T4 in the liver, which means that there will be less T3 in the body. With lower levels of T3, hypothyroidism can happen, which can cause a range of negative health consequences.

Health problems caused by hypothyroidism include:

  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Dry skin
  • Facial swelling
  • Fatigue
  • Hoarseness
  • Impaired memory
  • Increased blood cholesterol
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle aches and stiffness
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Weakness in muscles
  • Weight gain

Due to the link between the liver and the thyroid, doctors will only prescribe certain thyroid medications if the liver is in a sufficiently healthy state.

This is true of methimazole, which is one of the medications used to treat hyperthyroidism.

One of the most common medications for the thyroid is levothyroxine. This is not recommended for anyone who had had problems with their adrenal glands, which are also connected to the thyroid.

What other health problems affect people with alcoholism and thyroid disease?

Many of the symptoms which go with thyroid problems are exacerbated by alcohol use.

For example, hypothyroidism can cause depression, dry skin, impaired memory, weight gain and fatigue. Depression, dry skin, weight gain, memory loss and fatigue are also symptoms of alcoholism.

Alcoholism and hypothyroidism are an especially bad combination. Hypothyroidism causes various processes in the body to slow down, and alcohol is a depressant, which means that it slows them down even more.

Treatment for alcohol and thyroid

If you are suffering from alcoholism and a thyroid disease, we recommend you seek treatment as soon as possible.

Due to the higher risk of health complications, if you do have alcoholism and a thyroid disease you should strongly consider going to alcohol rehab.

In alcohol rehab, trained healthcare professionals will be able to watch over you 24 hours a day to monitor your symptoms. They will also be able to prescribe medications to help you with your thyroid disease and with any alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

In therapy, you will be able to discuss the origins of your addiction with a therapist. They will help you to unpack the reasons why you abuse alcohol.

Aftercare, which is the treatment you receive after leaving rehab, will help you to ease back into normal life.

Final thoughts

Having alcoholism and a thyroid problem means that there is added incentive to give up drinking, since it will have even more disastrous health consequences for you than the average person.

If you do suffer from both of these conditions, we wish you the best of luck, and hope you can beat your addiction (and your thyroid problems) as soon as possible.

[1] NHS Inform. (2019). Overactive Thyroid. Available at: https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/glands/overactive-thyroid

[2] British Thyroid Foundation. (2019). Thyroid Disorders Affect One in Twenty People in the UK. Could You Be One of Them? Available at: http://www.btf-thyroid.org/8-general/2-thyroid-disorders-affect-one-in-twenty-people-in-the-uk-could-you-be-one-of-them

boris

Boris is our editor-in-chief at Rehab 4 Addiction. Boris is an addiction expert with more than 20 years in the field.  His expertise covers a broad of topics relating to addiction, rehab and recovery. Boris is an addiction therapist and assists in the alcohol detox and rehab process. Boris has been featured on a variety of websites, including the BBC, Verywell Mind and Healthline.