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Alcoholic Gastritis: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment 

Alcohol moves from your mouth, down your throat, and into your stomach. The longer it stays there, the more damage it can do. Sometimes, chronic alcohol exposure blossoms into alcoholic gastritis, or a swollen stomach lining.

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Swelling anywhere, including inside your stomach, can lead to long-term problems. The easiest solution is to quit drinking. Treatment programs can help you accomplish this goal if you have alcohol abuse issues. 

What Is Alcoholic Gastritis? 

Gastritis is a medical term for stomach lining inflammation. When this condition isn’t triggered by another cause, and it’s developed in someone who drinks, alcohol could be to blame.

When the stomach lining is inflamed, it makes fewer key elements like the following:[1]

  • Acids 
  • Enzymes
  • Mucus 

Digestion slows, as the stomach has fewer elements that it needs to break down food. And the issue can worsen if the trigger (like alcohol) doesn’t go away. 

Multiple types of gastritis appear. The acute version, which is triggered by things like infections, occurs in 8 in 1,000 people. The slower-developing version, triggered by things like alcohol, happens in about 1 in 10,000 people.[2]

What Causes Gastritis? 

Your stomach lining should not swell, no matter what you eat. But gastritis can alter almost everything about your tissues and cause serious problems over the long term. Digging into the two main types of gastritis and their causes can help you understand how to stay safe. 

Drinking Alcohol 

Alcohol is an irritant. All the tissues it touches, including those within the stomach, react to alcohol by swelling. Alcoholic drinks also prompt the stomach to release even more irritants, including hydrochloric acid. The more you drink, the more disturbed the stomach can become.[3]

Chronic drinkers damage their stomach lining, making pain and inflammation even more severe and strong. 

Other Causes & Triggers 

While alcohol can cause gastritis symptoms, it’s not the only cause of digestive problems. Other issues that can cause gastritis (or worsen the alcohol version) include the following:[4]

  • Substances: Drugs like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can worsen stomach lining secretions. Illicit substances like cocaine can cause gastritis too. 
  • Surgery: Weight loss procedures, such as bariatric surgery, can increase the flow of bile from the intestine to the stomach.
  • Sickness: Conditions that decrease blood flow to the stomach, such as burns or sepsis, can cause acute inflammation. Diseases like Crohn’s disease can worsen gastritis too. 
  • Infections: Some viruses, parasites, and fungi can cause gastritis too. 

Common Symptoms of Alcoholic Gastritis 

Some people with gastritis have no symptoms at all.[1] Any discomfort you feel could be explained as a hangover or simple digestive distress due to overindulging. 

If gastritis symptoms do appear, they can include the following:[5]

  • Abdominal pain typically described as burning or gnawing
  • Anorexia 
  • Bloating 
  • Burping 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting 

Many people with gastritis have symptoms that come and go. But if the problem worsens, severe symptoms like blood in vomit or stool can develop.[5]

Long-Term Health Impact 

Swollen stomach tissues can cause significant problems if left untreated. Not only can symptoms worsen, but they can also lead to additional health issues. 

Researchers say that untreated chronic gastritis can lead to the following problems:[2]

  • Bleeding within the stomach 
  • Ulcers in the abdomen 
  • Abdominal infections caused by perforated ulcers 
  • Obstructions in the intestines, leading to nausea and vomiting 

Diagnosing Alcoholic Gastritis 

You can’t spot alcoholic gastritis without a medical examination. Swelling isn’t visible from the outside, and since symptoms can come and go, they might not always be present.

Doctors use tests like endoscopy to diagnose gastritis and determine what’s causing it. They may also use blood and breath tests to spot other problems that could be contributing to the problem.[6]

If you have been a lifelong heavy drinker, your doctor may recognize that the problem stems from alcohol. But they’ll also ensure that you don’t have an underlying issue like cancer or Crohn’s disease that must also be treated. 

How Is Alcoholic Gastritis Treated?

Stomach swelling caused by drinking is typically reversible by quitting alcohol. But lifestyle adjustments can also help tissues to heal. 

Experts recommend the following steps:[2]

  • Eat smaller meals. Rather than eating three big meals per day, snack often. You’ll reduce stomach acid production as a result. 
  • Quit smoking. The stomach lining is irritated by cigarette exposure. Vaping with e-cigarettes is also not recommended.
  • Reduce stress. Many people feel a boost in acid production when they’re under pressure. 

Quitting drinking is a critical part of the recovery process. For many people, this isn’t easy. Treatment can help.

A treatment team can help you examine your reasons for drinking. In therapy, you can identify triggers that lead to a boost in the urge to drink. Once you spot those triggers, you can build new skills that can help you deal with them without drinking. 

Some people need medications to help them quit drinking completely. FDA-approved therapies can help you reduce the amount that you drink and the strength of your triggers. For some people, they’re game changers. 

These medications are often used as part of a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program. They’ll be combined with the use of therapy, often behavioral therapies, to help you build skills that support a healthy life without alcohol abuse.

Updated November 1, 2023
Resources
  1. Gut feelings about gastritis National Institutes of Health. Published November 2012. Accessed September 25, 2023
  2. Gastritis. Gastroenterology Published December 15,2017. Accessed September 25, 2023.
  3. Alcohol and you: An interactive body College Drinking. Accessed September 25, 2023
  4. Symptoms and causes of gastritis and gastropathy National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders. Published August 2019. Accessed September 25, 2023.
  5. Gastritis Davis C. Medicine Net. Published June 21, 2023. Accessed September 25, 2023.
  6. Gastritis and gastropathy National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Accessed September 25, 2023
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