Gastritis and Alcohol: Causes, Treatment & Recovery

Excessive alcohol consumption can cause gastritis, the inflammation of the stomach lining.1 Alcohol as a toxin irritates the stomach, which is one of the reasons for gastritis. When a person frequently consumes alcohol, there is not enough time for the stomach to recover from the irritation, which leads to structural damage of the stomach lining (mucosa).2

This means that individuals who are heavy drinkers have increased incidences of gastritis.3 If left untreated, alcohol-induced gastritis can not only have unpleasant effects such as bloating, but also very serious health consequences such as cancer.4

gastritis symptoms, recovery, treatment & healing time

What is Alcoholic Gastritis?

Gastritis is a medical condition characterized by an inflammation of the stomach lining. This type of inflammation can happen as a result of various factors, the most common of which include bacterial infections, injuries and exposure to toxic substances. Excessive alcohol consumption is among the most frequent causes of gastritis.14,15, 16

The type of gastritis directly caused by a high intake of alcohol is commonly referred to as alcoholic gastritis. Patients who develop gastritis and continue to consume alcohol are more likely to aggravate the condition and experience further health complications.2

Alcohol’s toxic properties irritate the stomach lining, also known as mucosa. With frequent exposure to alcohol over prolonged periods of time, the stomach becomes constantly irritated by these toxic substances. Without being given enough time to recover, the stomach lining becomes inflamed, and may even result in permanent damage.17

A person who suffers from alcoholic gastritis may experience unpleasant symptoms, such as bloating and abdominal pain. In addition to causing these symptoms, alcoholic gastritis may increase the risk of more serious medical conditions, including stomach cancer.9, 16, 17

What are the Effects of Alcoholic Gastritis? 

Heavy alcohol consumption can have adverse negative effects on your health. One of the many possible consequences is alcoholic gastritis. This type of gastritis can have both short-term and long-term effects on a patient’s physical wellbeing.12, 16

Some of the most common short-term effects of alcohol induced gastritis include feeling nauseous, vomiting, having diarrhea and experiencing abdominal pain. Individuals suffering from these symptoms are more likely to also experience dehydration and a loss of electrolytes. Without proper treatment, these short-term problems frequently lead to more serious ones, such as pancreatitis (an inflammation of the pancreas) and liver damage.9, 16, 17

Long-term effects of alcoholic gastritis may include weight loss, malabsorption, and a higher risk of developing esophageal and stomach cancer. Additional health problems that may also be caused by alcoholic gastritis include:9, 16

  • Injury to the stomach lining due to disturbances in microcirculation and the hormonal balance.
  • Disruption in the stomach lining permeability, which means that substances that would not normally pass from the stomach to the bloodstream can now do so.
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding, which may in turn cause various other conditions, such as anemia or ulcers.

People who drink alcohol excessively are statistically more likely to be affected by alcohol induced gastritis and are at a higher risk of developing gastrointestinal cancers. Cancer of the esophagus is another disease that has a higher incidence rate in heavy drinkers. This type of cancer, in fact, is ten times more likely to occur in people who regularly consume large amounts of beer.9

Symptoms of Alcoholic Gastritis

Gastritis symptoms typically include:2,4,5

  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Heartburn.
  • Bloating.
  • Pain in the upper area of the abdomen.
  • Abdominal bleeding.
  • Unpleasant mouth.
  • Diarrhea.

These symptoms may cause the person to lose appetite and take less food, which eventually results in weight loss and malnutrition, which is not uncommon in individuals struggling with alcohol abuse.4

Acute alcoholic gastritis appears quickly and often disappears in a few days. Chronic gastritis due to alcohol, however, may last for months or even years.5 Its symptoms may not be as noticeable but can be very harmful in the long run.3

Effects of Alcoholic Gastritis

When a person consumes alcohol, this alcohol comes into direct contact with the gastric mucosa (lining) and it is not influenced by other metabolic processes or conditions such as liver damage.3

Prolonged exposure to alcohol has the following effects on the stomach:2

  • It disturbs microcirculation and hormonal balance, which causes mucosal injury.
  • It disrupts the normal secretion and increases the permeability of the stomach lining. This means that the substances that would not enter the bloodstream are now allowed to pass.
  • The injury can cause bleeding, which may result in other stomach problems such as ulcer or some conditions that affect the entire body, such as anemia.
  • Since the stomach is unable to destroy the bacteria that enter with food, harmful microorganisms may stay in the gastrointestinal tract. For example, Helicobacter pylori infection has links with alcohol consumption.5

Moreover, alcohol is a risk factor in the development of cancers in the gastrointestinal tract. Heavy beer drinkers are 10 times more likely to develop esophageal cancer compared to people who drink moderately. This likelihood is even higher for heavy whisky drinkers—25 times.4

What Causes Alcohol Gastritis?

Alcohol gastritis is an acute inflammation of the stomach lining, or mucosa, caused by ingesting alcohol excessively. This type of gastritis is frequently accompanied by abdominal pain, severe stomach cramping, irritability and nausea.16

Although it happens due to excessive use of alcohol, other factors can contribute to the development of the condition and may trigger and aggravate its symptoms. Some of the contributing factors include:17

  • Bacterial infections, such as infections with Helicobacter Pylori.
  • The use of non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), such as aspirin or ibuprofen.
  • High coffee intake.
  • Smoking cigarettes.
  • Eating spicy food.
  • Autoimmune disorders.
  • Bile reflux.

These are some of the main factors which, in conjunction with heavy alcohol consumption, may cause a person to develop alcoholic gastritis. High stress levels and various other factors, such as the person’s lifestyle and unique physiological features may also contribute.11

Alcohol induced gastritis can indicate that a person is suffering from an alcohol use disorder (AUD) and should be seeking treatment for it. If you have reason to believe that someone you love is suffering from AUD, you may want to seek more information on how to address the issue by contacting a 24/7 alcohol addiction hotline. Be sure to consult a medical professional to diagnose and assess how serious the condition is.11

How to Diagnose Alcoholic Gastritis? 

Alcoholic gastritis can only be diagnosed by a medical professional. To be able to diagnose this type of gastritis, your physician will typically perform several tests and examinations that may include:17

  • Analyzing your medical history to determine the duration of your symptoms and their connection to alcohol consumption. 
  • A physical examination to check for symptoms of anemia, such as irregular heartbeat, skin paleness and shortness of breath. 
  • Stool tests to check for presence of blood, as gastrointestinal bleeding may indicate gastritis.
  • Endoscopy – a procedure in which a camera is inserted through the esophagus and into the stomach to check for ulcers or signs of bleeding. 
  • Blood work to determine if there are signs of infection or anemia. 
  • X – rays to uncover blockages or ulcers in your digestive tract.
  • Urea breath test – a test used to determine the presence of Helicobacter Pylori, one of the most common causes of gastritis.

If you are experiencing symptoms of gastritis, the best course of action is to visit a physician. A doctor will be able to determine the cause and develop a plan for your treatment.17

Risks of Untreated Alcoholic Gastritis 

Without proper treatment, an acute inflammation of the stomach lining may develop into a chronic one and result in more serious conditions, such as ulcers, gastrointestinal bleeding and eventually cancer.13, 14, 17

In addition to being a painful condition that interferes with your quality of life, untreated gastritis may cause gradual deterioration of the mucosal membrane and lead to a decrease of stomach lining thickness. Moreover, as the condition develops, the production of stomach acids also decreases, which may cause adverse digestive complications.14

If left untreated, gastritis may become a serious health issue with potentially fatal complications. If you think you may be experiencing symptoms of gastritis, it is imperative that you seek medical attention as soon as possible. Being diagnosed in the early stages and getting proper treatment is crucial to preventing severe forms of the disease.14

Treatment for Alcoholic Gastritis And Alcohol Addiction

There are several categories of medications used for gastritis treatment:6

  • Antibiotics are used for treating bacterial infections.
  • Antacids, proton-pump inhibitors, and H2 blockers are used to normalize the level of stomach acids.

Changes in the diet and lifestyle can also benefit an individual’s health. One can reduce their gastritis healing time by avoiding salty, spicy, acidic, and oily food, eating regular smaller meals, and staying hydrated.6

Nevertheless, gastritis recovery is not possible without stopping alcohol abuse.2 In some cases, when the person cannot overcome this issue on their own, organized intervention may be sufficient, but in other cases, a person needs to enroll in an alcohol addiction program at a certified treatment facility.

Depending on the severity of the disorder, the person addicted to alcohol will experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop alcohol consumption. The intensity of these symptoms may range from unpleasant, such as insomnia or sweating, to even life-threatening, such as delirium tremens.7 In some cases, the patient may need 24-hour care of treatment professionals whose job is to ensure that the patient can detox safely and proceed with further stages of treatment until they fully recover.

Treatment programs involve both psychosocial support, but also FDA-approved medications for treating alcohol addiction and helping patients remain abstinent.8

How to Get Help & Start Alcoholic Gastritis Recovery

When seeking treatment, it is important to look for treatment options that can meet the individual needs of the patient, which may extend beyond the treatment of the substance use disorder itself. A person may be suffering from alcoholic gastritis as a result of substance abuse, but the substance abuse may be closely linked with co-occurring mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, or chronic pain, which need to be adequately treated so that the person would not return to their addiction.

Calling one of the toll-free 24/7 helplines provided by institutions and organizations that offer help to people struggling with substance abuse issues can be the first step in finding the right directions for treatment.

American Addiction Centers offer alcohol detox and addiction treatment in their treatment centers available across the country and are able to meet the needs of patients with co-occurring disorders. Moreover, they are able to cater for the needs of treatment seekers who need inpatient services due to the severity of their condition, personal or family preferences, or co-occurring disorders.It is possible to immediately get all relevant information about treatment options either by phone or through the website. American Addiction Centers treatment navigators lead the patients through the process of admission and answer all the questions, including the ones regarding insurance coverage and payment options, so they can get treatment as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Frequently Asked Questions