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What is Alcohol-Induced Gastritis?

Gastritis is a condition in which the lining of the stomach is inflamed. There are two kinds: acute and chronic gastritis. 

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

Chronic gastritis occurs when the stomach lining is damaged over an extended period. Symptoms tend to appear more slowly and sometimes are not felt at all.

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

How Can Alcohol Cause Gastritis?

Alcohol can cause gastritis in two main ways. When you wake up with stomach pain after a night of heavy drinking, you are likely suffering from acute gastritis. Irritants such as spicy foods or strong alcohol can cause this. 

After abstaining from anything that may irritate the stomach, this condition should pass relatively quickly. 

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 underneath to digestive acids. 

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

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, causing stomach ulcers and other harmful gastritis symptoms. 

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What are Some Other Causes of Gastritis?

Besides alcohol, there are other potential causes of gastritis. One of the main causes is a bacteria called Helicobacter pylori. It is unknown how it is transmitted but it is possible it is through contaminated food or water or person-to-person contact.3

Most people do not get sick from Helicobacter pylori bacteria (or H. pylori for short). But those with erosive gastritis have weaker stomach linings, allowing H. pylori to cause inflammation. Alcohol consumption raises your risk of contracting this infection by reducing stomach acid secretion. 

Crohn’s Disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disease, has been linked to gastritis in rare cases. This is because H. pylori is very common in patients suffering from the disease. Another possible co-occurring disorder is sarcoidosis, a condition in which collections of inflammatory cells grow throughout the body.

What are the Symptoms of Alcoholic Gastritis?

Alcoholic gastritis symptoms may include: 

  • A burning ache or pain between your navel and ribs
  • Nausea
  • Anemia (dizziness, weakness, or shortness of breath)
  • Belching or hiccups
  • Blood in vomit or stool (which may indicate gastrointestinal tract bleeding)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling bloated after eating

It is 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 are vomiting blood or see it in your stool, you should seek medical attention from a doctor.

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Who is at Risk for Alcoholic Gastritis? 

The main group 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.

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

Older people are also more likely to have bacterial infections or autoimmune disorders, both of which raise your risk for gastritis. 

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

How Long Does Gastritis Last From Alcohol? 

This depends on whether it is acute or chronic gastritis. Acute gastritis can resolve relatively quickly (2 to 10 days) after simple dietary changes. Chronic gastritis, if left untreated, can take weeks or even years to heal. 

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)
  • 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)

It is now well understood that the brain and the gut are connected: the brain helps control the gut. According to recent research, this relationship may go both ways, with the gut also influencing the brain.1 

Studies show a link between inflammation of the stomach lining caused by alcoholic gastritis and feelings of depression, anxiety, and reduced attention span.2 Stomach inflammation may also exacerbate or directly cause a variety of disorders like cancer and liver disease.1

How is Alcoholic Gastritis Diagnosed?

Alcoholic gastritis can be diagnosed through a physical exam. When you visit your medical care provider, you may go through any or all of the following tests: 

  1. 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 the sample contains radioactive carbon, that means you are infected with H. pylori.
  2. Endoscopy — The doctor inserts a thin and flexible lighted tube called an endoscope down your esophagus. This tube is equipped with a lens, 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).
  3. X-ray — 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.
  4. Blood test — This looks for signs of anemia and H. pylori infection.
  5. Stool test — This is done to check for H. pylori bacteria or blood, both of which are common symptoms of gastritis.

Treatment Options for Alcohol-Induced Gastritis

Medical treatment for alcoholic gastritis will depend on symptoms, age, and overall health. But the first thing a doctor will likely recommend is quitting alcohol. 

Other recommendations may include avoiding spicy or acidic foods (such as coffee), as well as stress. 

Acid-reducing medications, such as proton pump inhibitors (ex: Nexium), histamine blockers, antibiotics, or antacids may also be prescribed. 

Treatment options for alcohol misuse might also be pursued at the same time.

Is it Alcoholic Gastritis Reversible?

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

Do I Have a Drinking Problem?

Heavy drinking at the expense of social or work obligations, alcohol cravings, and anxiety or depression when not drinking are all signs you may have a drinking problem. 

If you recognize any of these symptoms, you should consider speaking to a doctor. You may be suffering from alcohol use disorder (AUD), more commonly known as alcohol addiction.

Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder (Addiction)

The primary symptoms of AUD include:

  • Inability to control the amount of alcohol consumed
  • Drinking alone
  • Neglecting important responsibilities or hobbies in order to drink
  • Powerful cravings for alcohol
  • High tolerance for alcohol
  • Using alcohol in unsafe situations, such as drinking or driving
  • Withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, sweating, and shaking

Treatment Options for 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.

Resources

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Bercik, Denou P., and J. Collins. “ The intestinal microbiota affect central levels of brain-derived neutropic factor and behavior in mice.” Gastroenterology, vol. 141, no. 2, 2011, pp. 599-609. pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.

Bishehsari, Faraz, et al. “ Alcohol and Gut-Derived Inflammation.” Alcohol research : current reviews, vol. 38, no. 2, 2017, pp. 163-171. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.go.

Cleveland Clinic. “ H. Pylori Infection. ” my.clevelandclinic.org.

Mayo Clinic. “ Bile reflux.” www.mayoclinic.org.

Mayo Clinic. “ Gastritis.” www.mayoclinic.org.

McKenna, Jon. “What Is Alcoholic Gastritis?” www.webmd.com.

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