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The Risk of Stomach Damage from Alcohol

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

March 11, 2024

Table of Contents

Alcohol and stomach damage can be closely interrelated. This guide explores various stomach issues from alcohol and shows you how to engage with evidence-based treatment for alcohol addiction near you. Read on to learn more about stomach problems from drinking.

Does Alcohol Cause Stomach Issues?

Consuming alcohol can lead to a rise in stomach acid levels, potentially aggravating the lining of the stomach. Excessive alcohol intake is linked to several stomach-related issues, including gastritis, ulcers, and reflux, otherwise known as heartburn. These conditions can result in symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and appetite loss. Additionally, alcohol gut inflammation may stunt the proper absorption of nutrients from food.

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Alcohol Effects on the Stomach

Alcohol effects on stomach set in as soon as you drink alcohol. It starts affecting your digestive system, beginning with your esophagus and moving down to your stomach.

In your stomach, the alcohol starts to enter your bloodstream. If your stomach is mostly empty, the alcohol moves quickly to your intestines, where it keeps entering the bloodstream. Once alcohol is in your bloodstream, it spreads to every part of your body. The level of alcohol in your blood is described in terms of BAC (blood alcohol concentration).

Your body also starts to break down the alcohol as soon as it gets inside. The liver works on the ethanol in the alcohol, turning it into a harmful substance called acetaldehyde.

Even though acetaldehyde is eventually broken down into acetate, then water and carbon dioxide which leave your body, it can cause damage before it’s fully metabolized. This is why alcohol is a big risk for digestive diseases, as your digestive tract is exposed to a lot of ethanol and its by-products. This high exposure significantly increases the risk of digestive diseases and cancers.

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Types of Stomach Damage from Alcohol

These are the most common alcohol stomach problems:

  • Alcohol gastritis
  • Ulcers
  • Heartburn
  • Enlarged and bleeding veins
  • Increased risk of digestive system cancer

Alcoholic gastritis

Gastritis involves the inflammation of the stomach’s lining, and alcohol consumption can trigger this by irritating the stomach. This condition can occur during alcohol consumption, leading to discomfort and nausea. Gastritis can also develop into a chronic issue.

Common symptoms of gastritis include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Heartburn
  • Reduced appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

In some cases, gastritis may not involve any noticeable symptoms.

Untreated gastritis can progress to stomach ulcers, which carry serious and potentially life-threatening health risks. Gastritis is one of the most common alcohol and stomach issues, and it’s entirely preventable.

Ulcers

Stomach ulcers are open, painful wounds in the lining of your stomach. These ulcers can lead to feelings of sickness or induce vomiting.

Additional symptoms of ulcers include:

  • Excessive sweating
  • Pain
  • Decreased appetite

Consuming alcohol if you have an ulcer can inflame the condition and disrupt the healing process, leading to a damaged stomach lining from alcohol.

Heartburn

When acidic digestive fluids from the stomach flow back into the esophagus (the food pipe), this condition is known as reflux, and it can be exacerbated by excessive drinking.

Reflux often leads to a discomforting burning feeling, commonly referred to as heartburn.

Enlarged and bleeding veins

Esophageal varices are swollen veins that can bleed, forming in the lower part of the esophagus. These are frequently a result of cirrhosis, often related to alcohol consumption.

Increased risk of digestive system cancer

There is substantial evidence showing that alcohol consumption is linked to the development of cancers in the throat, esophagus, stomach, and colon. This risk tends to rise with higher levels of alcohol intake and is influenced by other factors such as smoking or metabolic syndrome.

National Cancer Institute report that moderate to heavy alcohol use is connected to an increased risk of various digestive system cancers. For instance, heavy drinkers face a risk of larynx cancers that is 2.6 times higher and a risk of throat and oral cancers that is 5 times higher than those who don’t drink alcohol. Even moderate drinkers are at a higher risk of alcoholic stomach issues, with a 1.4 times greater chance of developing larynx cancers and a 1.8 times greater likelihood of getting cancers in the oral cavity and throat.

When it comes to esophageal cancer, any amount of alcohol consumption is linked to a heightened risk of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma, a specific type of esophageal cancer. Beyond this, moderate to heavy drinking increases the risk of colon and rectum cancers by 1.2 and 1.5 times, respectively. There is also evidence suggesting a connection between heavy alcohol use and liver and pancreatic cancers.

Is Stomach Damage from Alcohol Treatable?

Some damage to stomach from alcohol can be treated and managed, depending on the severity and type of damage. Treatment usually involves a combination of lifestyle changes, medications, and, in some cases, medical procedures.

Reducing or stopping alcohol consumption helps initiate healing and prevents further damage to the stomach. Eating a balanced diet and staying hydrated can also significantly streamline recovery.

Doctors may prescribe medications to reduce stomach acid, heal the stomach lining, and treat any infections or complications stemming from this damage.

In severe cases – advanced ulcers or esophageal varices, for example – medical procedures may be necessary to treat the condition.

Consult with a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan if you are concerned about alcoholism and stomach issues. Early intervention can significantly improve outcomes and reduce the risk of long-term complications.

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Get Treatment for Alcohol Addiction at Renaissance Recovery

If you’re tired of the way alcohol affects your sleep and other areas of life, we can help you get back on track at Renaissance Recovery Center in Southern California.

We treat all types of addictions and mental health conditions in an outpatient setting at our luxury facility in Huntington Beach, CA. Outpatient therapy enables you to fulfill your day-to-day obligations without compromising your recovery. If you require a more structured and immersive treatment program, we also offer more intensive outpatient programs. Reach out, too, if you need help connecting with medical detox facilities in California to address the issue of physical dependence on alcohol.

At Renaissance, we appreciate that all addictions are unique. This is reflected in the personalized treatment offered, including therapies that may include:

Alcohol addiction is a progressive condition that is also highly treatable. When you’re ready to begin your recovery in Southern California, call 866.330.9449 right away.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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