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Alcohol and Health

Can Alcohol Cause Gastritis?

Published:
June 12, 2023
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17 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
June 12, 2023
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17 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
June 12, 2023
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
June 12, 2023
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17 min read
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Reframe Content Team
June 12, 2023
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17 min read

Do you find yourself burping and hiccuping left and right whenever you drink? Maybe you also notice stomach pain after drinking alcohol, or you feel like you’re suffering from indigestion. While it’s easy to dismiss these as minor annoyances or side effects from drinking, they could be indicative of a more serious problem.

What is alcoholic gastritis? And what causes stomach pain after drinking? In this post, we’ll explore the relationship between alcohol and gastritis, symptoms of alcoholic gastritis, and discuss how to prevent and manage the condition. Let’s get started!

What Is Gastritis? 

Before we explore alcohol’s relationship with gastritis, it’s helpful to understand what gastritis actually is. Gastritis is the medical term for inflammation or irritation of the stomach lining. This lining protects our stomach from the acids, enzymes and microorganisms that pass through it every day. Gastritis happens when our immune system detects a threat to this barrier. It can occur suddenly (acute gastritis) or gradually (chronic gastritis).

There are two main types of gastritis:

  • Erosive gastritis. This type of gastritis wears away our stomach lining, leaving wounds or ulcers. This may occur from chemicals, like acid, bile, alcohol or drugs.
  • Nonerosive gastritis. This type of gastritis doesn’t cause erosion to our stomach lining, but it may cause irritation, such as reddening. Atrophic gastritis — a specific form of nonerosive gastritis — can cause our stomach lining to react by thinning or wasting away, which in turn can cause digestive issues. 

The Symptoms of Gastritis

Gastritis doesn’t always cause noticeable symptoms. If it does, that usually indicates that it’s more severe or has been going on for a long time. Symptoms may occur when our stomach lining is worn down so much that it can’t defend itself against its own acids and enzymes. These acids may cause symptoms of indigestion or stomach ulcers, which can hurt and bleed. If we have a bleeding ulcer, we may experience black, tarry stools or vomit blood or coffee ground-like material. These are some of the other common symptoms of gastritis:

  • Nausea or recurrent upset stomach
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Indigestion
  • Loss of appetite

Gastritis is relatively common, with as much as half of the world population experiencing chronic gastritis often associated with a widespread bacterial infection called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). We’ll learn more about that below!

Diagram about the 5 ways to prevent and manage gastritis

Can Drinking Cause Alcoholic Gastritis? 

Now that we have a better understanding of what gastritis is, we can turn to the next question: can alcohol cause gastritis? Simply put, yes! In fact, drinking heavily is one of the most common causes of gastritis behind bacterial infection. This is called alcohol gastritis (or alcoholic gastritis), and it can vary in severity depending on how long we’ve been drinking. 

Let’s take a look at the four different ways drinking can cause alcohol gastritis:

  1. Irritates stomach lining. Alcohol can directly irritate the stomach lining, leading to gut inflammation and damage. This is because alcohol is a chemical irritant that can break down the stomach’s protective mucus layer, making the stomach lining more susceptible to damage from acidic gastric juices. This process can cause acute gastritis — a sudden, severe inflammation of the stomach lining. This also might be why we experience stomach pain after drinking alcohol. 

  2. Damages cells and tissues. Alcohol can also contribute to the development of chronic gastritis, long-lasting inflammation of the stomach lining. This occurs due to alcohol’s toxic effects on the stomach cells, leading to cell death and tissue damage. Additionally, excessive alcohol consumption can impair the stomach's ability to produce mucus and bicarbonate, which are essential for protecting the stomach lining from acidic gastric juices.

  3. Increases stomach acid. Another way alcohol contributes to gastritis is by increasing the production of stomach acid, which can exacerbate gastritis symptoms. This is because certain types of alcoholic drinks can stimulate the release of gastrin, a hormone that promotes acid secretion in the stomach. High levels of stomach acid can further damage the stomach lining and worsen gastritis symptoms.

  4. Increases risk of infections. Alcohol consumption can also indirectly contribute to gastritis by increasing the risk of bacterial infections. The most common cause of chronic gastritis is infection with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), a type of bacteria that can colonize the stomach lining and cause inflammation. Alcohol can weaken the immune system, making it more difficult for the body to fight off H. pylori infections.


Risk Factors for Alcoholic Gastritis?

Now we know that alcohol gastritis is a real condition and consuming alcohol on its own can cause gastritis. However, there are 5 other factors that may increase our risk for developing gastritis:

  • NSAIDs. Prolonged use of popular painkillers called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NAIDs) can damage our stomach lining. Examples include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen.

  • Drugs. Cigarettes or drug use, particularly cocaine, are known to weaken the mucosal layer in the stomach.

  • Chronic illness. Autoimmune conditions, such as pernicious anemia or Crohn’s disease, cause the body to attack its own tissue (including the stomach).

  • Acute illness. Viral infections, such as cytomegalovirus and herpes simplex virus have been shown to damage the stomach. 

  • Mental health. Anxiety, panic disorder, eating disorders, and extreme stress can cause stomach issues. In some of us, depression may cause disrupted eating patterns that wreak havoc on the stomach.

Keep in mind that if we’re consuming alcohol in addition to any of these, we have a greater risk of developing gastritis. 

What are the Symptoms of Alcoholic Gastritis?

So, what are the symptoms of alcoholic gastritis? Even if we have symptoms, they can easily be mistaken for common gastrointestinal problems like indigestion or acid reflux. Just as with the other types of gastritis, alcoholic gastritis might not always present clear symptoms. 

With that in mind, here are some symptoms of alcoholic gastritis: 

  • Stomach pain after drinking alcohol
  • Burping or hiccups
  • Bloating or a feeling of fullness that worsens after eating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Stomach ulcers 

A healthcare provider can officially diagnose gastritis by giving us a physical exam and asking about our health history and drinking habits. They might also do a breath test to check for bacteria that cause gastritis, such as H. pylori. Depending on our condition, our doctor might also order tests such as an x-ray of our upper gastrointestinal (GI) system, various blood tests, or a stool test to check our feces for bacteria. In some cases, they may take a biopsy during an upper endoscopy exam, which involves using a tiny camera to view our esophagus, stomach, and small intestine.

In severe cases and if left untreated, chronic alcohol-induced gastritis can cause additional health issues. For instance, bleeding in the stomach or anywhere along the digestive tract can lead to anemia, a condition characterized by having too few red blood cells in the bloodstream. Furthermore, alcohol-induced gastritis can result in the development of gastric polyps, or abnormal growth of cells in the stomach lining. While many gastric polyps are benign, some may lead to tumors and eventually stomach cancer.

Alcohol Gastritis Treatment

If we’re experiencing any of the symptoms above or suspect we might have alcoholic gastritis, the most important things to do are to see a doctor and stop drinking. While we may not be able to reverse the damage done to our stomach lining from long-term heavy consumption of alcohol, continuing to drink only exacerbates symptoms. 

In addition to abstaining from alcohol, alcoholic gastritis treatment usually involves reducing inflammation and improving symptoms. Here are a few ways:

  • Antibiotics. Since an H. pylori infection is possible at the same time as alcoholic gastritis, a medical professional may prescribe antibiotics to deal with an underlying infection. Eliminating harmful bacteria reduces gut inflammation.
  • Antacids. In mild cases, over-the-counter antacids, such as Alka-Seltzer or Pepto-Bismol, can neutralize excess acid present in the stomach. This can also help with alcohol gut inflammation symptoms.
  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). Whereas antacids neutralize preexisting acid, PPIs are drugs that help reduce the amount of acid that our body produces. They include things like omeprazole (Prilosec), Iansoprazole (Prevacid), rabeprazole (Aciphex), and pantoprazole (Protonix). These are also often used to treat severe cases of acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
  • H2 blockers. Histamine, a compound that acts as a neurotransmitter and is involved in activating our immune response, can lead to inflammation. H2 blockers (aka histamine blockers) bind to (thereby blocking) histamine receptors in the stomach. By blocking these receptors, less stomach acid is produced. These include famotidine (Pepcid), cimetidine (Tagamet HB), and nizatidine (Axid AR). 

Before taking any medication, it’s important to consult a healthcare provider who can help us not only diagnose gastritis, but develop an effective alcoholic gastritis treatment plan based on our personal circumstances. Contact a medical professional right away if you have black or tarry stools, are vomiting blood or coffee ground-like material, or have abdominal pain that doesn’t go away.

Tips To Prevent and Manage Alcoholic Gastritis

As we’ve learned, the best way to prevent stomach irritation and decrease our chance of developing alcoholic gastritis is to reduce or eliminate alcohol. Here are 7 more tips for protecting ourselves from gastritis: 

  1. Wash your hands. This might seem obvious, but proper hygiene helps prevent H. pylori infections — one of the most common causes of gastritis. Get in the habit of washing your hands before handling food, after using the restroom, and after being in any public place, such as a gym, grocery store, etc.
  2. Limit certain foods. Avoid or limit your intake of foods that can irritate your stomach and make gastritis worse, such as acidic foods (like tomatoes and oranges), fried foods, pickled foods, and spicy foods. 
  3. Limit certain drinks. In addition to limiting alcohol, limit the amount of caffeinated beverages you consume, as these can be highly acidic. Fruit drinks and carbonated drinks can also irritate our stomach lining. 
  4. Eat healthy foods. Eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats can help promote overall digestive health and reduce the risk of gastritis. 
  5. Manage stress. Stress can exacerbate gastritis symptoms and increase the risk of developing this condition. Stress management techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, and regular physical activity, help reduce the risk of gastritis.
  6. Quit smoking. Smoking can affect the protective mucus layer in the stomach and it can increase stomach acid production, both of which can contribute to gastritis. Quitting smoking is an essential step in reducing your risk of developing gastritis and promoting overall health.
  7. Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water dilutes stomach acid and reduces irritation to the stomach lining. Staying hydrated also helps prevent dehydration, which can exacerbate gastritis symptoms. Aim to consume at least six 8-oz glasses of water a day. 

The Bottom Line About Alcoholic Gastritis

Gastritis occurs when the stomach lining becomes inflamed. It can be caused by consuming alcohol, as alcohol irritates the stomach lining, damages cells and tissues, increases stomach acid, and increases the risk for bacterial infection. While one night of excessive drinking can cause acute alcoholic gastritis and stomach pain after drinking, prolonged alcohol misuse can cause repeated episodes of inflammation that can lead to long-term damage. 

If you want to cut back on your alcohol consumption and enhance your digestive health, consider trying Reframe. We’re a neuroscience-backed app that has helped millions of people reduce their alcohol consumption and develop healthier lifestyle habits.

Summary FAQs

1. What is gastritis?

Gastritis is a gastrointestinal issue that occurs when the stomach lining becomes irritated or inflamed. It can occur suddenly, known as “acute gastritis,” or gradually, which becomes “chronic gastritis.”

2. Can alcohol cause gastritis?

Yes, consuming alcohol can cause both acute and chronic gastritis. It can do this by irritating our stomach lining, damaging cells and tissues, increasing stomach acid, and increasing our risk of bacterial infection.

3. What other things cause gastritis?

Gastritis can also be caused by the bacterial infection Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), prolonged use of certain medicines (such as aspirin and ibuprofen), smoking and drug use, autoimmune conditions, viral infections, and extreme stress. 

4. What are the symptoms of gastritis?

Some of the more common symptoms associated with gastritis include nausea or recurrent upset stomach, abdominal bloating, abdominal pain, vomiting, indigestion, and loss of appetite. 

5. How is gastritis treated?

Depending on the severity of our condition, a medical professional might suggest antacids or prescribe antibiotics, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), or histamine blockers (H2 blockers) to reduce inflammation and improve symptoms. 

6. What are some tips for preventing and managing gastritis?

One of the best things we can do is to reduce our alcohol consumption or eliminate it entirely. We should also focus on limiting our intake of foods and drinks that may irritate our stomach, such as spicy foods, fried foods, caffeine, and carbonated drinks. It’s also helpful to wash our hands, manage stress, and stay properly hydrated. 

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