High levels of alcohol consumption can lead to a greatly increased risk of contracting key lung diseases including pneumonia - according to new research presented at the British Thoracic Society’s Winter Meeting today (Thursday 7th December 2017).

The study showed that consuming drinks that contain 10-20 grams of (pure) alcohol everyday - i.e. 1-2.5 UK units of alcohol - was linked to a small increased risk of developing certain lung diseases: 

  • an 8% increased risk of acquiring community acquired pneumonia
  • a 12% increased risk of tuberculosis  

Researchers used the data to then show that drinkers with a higher alcohol intake may double their risk of getting community acquired pneumonia (CAP), and increase their risk of tuberculosis (TB) by between 2 - 2.8-fold.  

The study also found that people who consume any amount of alcohol are approximately 25% more likely to have obstructive sleep apnoea compared to people who don’t drink alcohol.

The researchers will tell delegates that:

  • regular high alcohol consumption is just one factor, among many, that can greatly increase an individual’s risk of developing these lung diseases – but it has not been studied extensively in the past
  • its role is likely to be indirect i.e. contributing to a weakening of the immune system, leaving people more susceptible to the bacteria, viruses and other triggers that can cause lung problems

The findings come from a systematic review of 135 international research papers published over 30 years, between 1985 and December 2015 (for TB a separate search was conducted between 2005 – 2017).  

The researchers analysed the relationship between alcohol consumption and the risk of asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), community acquired pneumonia (CAP), Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), tuberculosis and obstructive sleep apnoea. 

Alcohol consumption was shown to have an impact on all the lung diseases studied - except asthma and COPD.

Dr Evangelia Simou a researcher from the University of Nottingham, explains:

“The toll of regular high alcohol consumption on our hearts and livers is well recognised, but there is much less awareness that alcohol can have a big impact on our lungs. This study suggests that if we drink less alcohol, we may reduce the risk of respiratory diseases such as pneumonia, TB and sleep apnoea.

We believe that regular alcohol consumption can have a significant effect on our immune system - as it weakens our defences it makes us more susceptible to bacteria and viruses that can cause lung problems.

It’s likely that, on the whole, people at most risk are those who drink to excess regularly and whose immune systems are also compromised by a number of other factors – including poor nutrition, poverty, obesity, and other medical conditions.”      


For more information prior to the British Thoracic Society Winter Meeting (that is, before Wednesday 6thDecember 2017), please contact:

Rosie Strachan: t: 020 7831 8778 or 07566 223644

Charlotte Sutton: t: 07958 279240

Ed Gyde t: 020 7831 8778 or 07809 574801            

During the British Thoracic Society meeting (from Wednesday 6th to Friday 8th December 2017):

Please contact the BTS news media office on t: 020 7798 4801/ 020 7798 4541 or the mobile numbers above.

Note to Editors: 

The British Thoracic Society is the UK’s professional body of respiratory specialists. The Society seeks to improve standards of care for people who have respiratory diseases and to support and develop those who provide that care.  A registered charity, it has over 3,400 members including doctors, nurses, respiratory physiotherapists, scientists and other professionals with a respiratory interest. For more information, go to www.brit-thoracic.org.uk


The British Thoracic Society Winter Meeting takes place from Wednesday 6th to Friday 8th December 2017 at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster, London.