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Updated on July 31, 2023
5 min read

Understanding Alcoholic Gastritis: Symptoms & Treatment

Vince Ayaga
Dr P. E. Pancoast, MD
Written by 
6 Sources Cited
Vince Ayaga
Written by 
6 Sources Cited

What is Alcohol-Induced Gastritis?

Alcoholic gastritis is stomach inflammation caused by excessive alcohol use. Those who drink heavily may put themselves at an increased risk for gastritis. 

There are two kinds of gastritis: acute and chronic. 

Acute gastritis is usually caused by an irritant or infection. It can cause severe stomach pain and sudden inflammation and often resolves quickly with treatment. 

Chronic gastritis occurs when the stomach lining becomes damaged over an extended period. Symptoms tend to appear more slowly and sometimes aren’t felt at all. Long-lasting inflammation may take longer for the stomach lining to return to normal.

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What Causes Alcoholic Gastritis?

Repeated alcohol consumption over an extended period can raise your risk for chronic gastritis. Alcohol gradually irritates and erodes your stomach lining. This exposes your stomach tissues to digestive acids. 

At the same time, alcohol decreases the amount of stomach acid produced, making it more difficult for it to destroy bacteria. These bacteria can infect the stomach lining, causing ulcers and other harmful problems. 

If left untreated, chronic gastritis can lead to various symptoms and complications, such as  stomach cancer. 

Other Causes of Gastritis

Besides alcohol, there are other potential causes of gastritis. These include:

  • Irritants: Irritants such as certain medications, smoking, and certain foods can cause inflammation of the stomach lining
  • Infections: Certain bacteria, viruses, and parasites can cause gastritis. The most common infection-related cause is Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori)
  • Stress: Stress can also lead to gastritis, as it can increase the production of stomach acid

Symptoms of Alcoholic Gastritis

Alcoholic gastritis symptoms may include: 

  • A burning ache or pain below the rib cage
  • Nausea
  • Belching or hiccups
  • Blood in vomit or stool (which may indicate gastrointestinal tract bleeding)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling bloated after eating
  • Burping
  • Upset stomach

It’s important to note that gastritis can sometimes be asymptomatic. In addition, some of these symptoms can be due to other conditions, such as indigestion. If you’re vomiting blood or see it in your stool, you should seek medical attention from a doctor.

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Risk Factors for Alcoholic Gastritis

People at risk for alcoholic gastritis are those who consistently drink too much alcohol. Alcohol damages your stomach lining, making the stomach more vulnerable to digestive juices.

This category often overlaps with older adults. Older adults are at higher risk for gastritis because the stomach lining thins with age.  

Middle-aged and elderly adults suffering from alcohol addiction are particularly at high risk for alcoholic gastritis.

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Potential Complications of Alcoholic Gastritis

Complications from alcohol-related gastritis may include: 

  • Acute gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Weight loss
  • Malnutrition
  • Anemia (from iron deficiency, internal bleeding, or vitamin B-12 deficiency)
  • Acid reflux (a burning sensation in the back of the throat or chest)
  • Bile reflux (when bile flows back into your stomach and esophagus)
  • Esophageal cancer 
  • Peptic ulcers (painful sores in the upper digestive tract, often caused by H. pylori)
  • Gastric polyps (clumps of cells in your stomach lining)
  • Stomach cancer
  • Blood poisoning (a result of reduced stomach acid available to break down toxins)

The gut and the brain also influence each other. Studies show a link between inflammation of the stomach lining caused by alcoholic gastritis and feelings of depression, anxiety, and reduced attention span.2 

In addition, stomach inflammation may also exacerbate or directly cause various disorders like cancer and liver disease.1

How is Alcoholic Gastritis Diagnosed?

Alcoholic gastritis can be diagnosed with a careful look at your medical history and a thorough physical exam.

When you visit your medical care provider, you may go through any or all of the following tests: 

Breath Test

You drink a small glass of special clear liquid containing radioactive carbon. H. pylori breaks down this liquid in your stomach. You then blow into a bag, which is then sealed and tested. If H.pylori is present, then it will interact with the radioactive carbon and the test will be positive.

Endoscopy

The doctor inserts a thin, flexible lighted tube called an endoscope down your esophagus.

This tube is equipped with a camera, allowing the doctor to inspect your digestive system for signs of inflammation. The doctor can also use the endoscope to retrieve small tissue samples for laboratory examination (this is known as a biopsy).

Barium Swallow Test

First, you’ll drink a white metallic liquid called barium. Then the doctor takes an x-ray of your digestive system, examining your esophagus, stomach, and small intestine. This is to look for any abnormalities, such as stomach ulcers.

Blood Test

Blood tests usually measure the levels of certain substances in your blood. This looks for signs of anemia and H. pylori infection.

Stool Test

This is done to check for H. pylori bacteria or blood, which are commonly found with gastritis.

Treatment Options for Alcohol-Induced Gastritis

Medical treatment for alcoholic gastritis will depend on symptoms, age, and overall health. Here are some ways to treat alcoholic gastritis:

Lifestyle Changes

The first step in treating alcoholic gastritis is to stop drinking alcohol. This will help reduce inflammation and allow your stomach lining to heal.

Your doctor may also recommend dietary changes, such as avoiding spicy foods, caffeine, and acidic foods.

Medications

Your healthcare provider may prescribe medications to reduce stomach acid production and protect the stomach lining from further damage. These medications include antacids, H2 blockers, and proton pump inhibitors.

Surgery

In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove damaged tissue or repair a tear in the stomach lining.

Is Alcoholic Gastritis Reversible?

The good news is that, in most cases, alcoholic gastritis is completely reversible. Through abstinence from alcohol use and proper treatment, a person’s digestive system can completely recover (some scar tissue on the stomach lining may remain).

Treating Alcoholism

Heavy drinking, alcohol cravings, anxiety, and/or depression when not drinking are all signs of a drinking problem. 

If you have any of these symptoms, you should consider speaking to a healthcare professional. You may have an alcohol use disorder (AUD), more commonly known as alcohol addiction.

Addiction treatment options for AUD can include behavioral therapy and medical detox.

Mutual support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) can also be helpful. These options can be pursued in conjunction with treatment for alcoholic gastritis.

Summary

Alcoholic gastritis is a condition caused by excessive alcohol consumption that can lead to inflammation of the stomach lining. The condition may be reversible, especially when alcohol use is stopped. 

If you suffer from alcoholism, it’s important to seek treatment for both conditions.

Updated on July 31, 2023
6 sources cited
Updated on July 31, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. Bercik, P, et al. "The intestinal microbiota affect central levels of brain-derived neurotropic factor and behavior in mice." Gastroenterology, 2011.
  2. Bishehsari, F, et al. “ Alcohol and Gut-Derived Inflammation.” Alcohol research : current reviews, 2017.
  3. Kao, CY, Sheu, BS, Wu, JJ. "Helicobacter pylori infection: An overview of bacterial virulence factors and pathogenesis." Biomedical Journal, 2016.
  4. Li, G, et al. "A New Participant in the Pathogenesis of Alcoholic Gastritis: Pyroptosis." Cell Physiol Biochem, 2018.
  5. Redéen, S, et al. "Natural history of chronic gastritis in a population-based cohort." Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, 2010.
  6. “Gastritis.” NHS, 2022.
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