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Stomach Pain After Drinking

Key Takeaways

  • Alcohol gastritis occurs when the stomach lining is inflamed.
  • There are 2 types of alcohol gastritis: acute and chronic
  • Risk factors include bacterial infection, NSAIDs, prolonged alcohol intake, smoking, and stress. 
  • Treatment for alcoholic gastritis includes medications, change of diet, and reparative surgeries.
  • Common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain.
  • Complications of alcoholic gastritis include gastrointestinal tract (UGI) bleeding, anemia, severe weight loss, ulcers, and stomach cancer.

Is Stomach Pain After Drinking a Sign of Gastritis? 

The stomach is lined with mucous cells that protect it from concentrated stomach acid (HCl). 

If you have stomach pain after drinking alcohol, you may have an inflamed gastric mucosa (stomach lining). This condition is known as gastritis

Alcohol triggers gastritis pain when it comes into contact with an inflamed stomach lining. 

Alcoholic gastritis symptoms include stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and gastric bleeding, especially in people who drink heavily.

When alcohol causes gastritis, it’s known as alcoholic gastritis.

What is Alcoholic Gastritis?

Alcoholic gastritis occurs when alcohol use damages the stomach lining. This leaves the delicate lining vulnerable to other irritants such as spicy foods, smoke, or drugs.

Studies show that 100 percent of people who drink chronically are at a higher risk of gastritis.1

Although symptoms of alcoholic gastritis might not occur immediately, they can worsen over time.

For example, when the inflamed mucosal tissue of the stomach lining is eroded away, an ulcer forms. This can cause further pain, stomach bleeding, and discomfort. 

According to research, continued stomach lining inflammation due to alcohol increases the risk of esophageal and stomach cancer.2

Types & Symptoms of Alcoholic Gastritis

The 2 main types of alcoholic gastritis are acute and chronic:

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1. Acute Alcoholic Gastritis

Acute gastritis occurs suddenly and is short-lived. In some cases, it’s more painful than chronic alcohol gastritis. 

Diagnosing acute gastritis is difficult without a medical check-up. If you vomit blood, seek emergency care immediately.

Common symptoms include:

  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting, which might contain blood
  • Abdominal pain
  • Appetite loss
  • Bloating and/or gas
  • Ulcers
  • Indigestion
  • A full feeling in the upper abdomen after eating
  • Black, tarry stool (rare)

2. Chronic Alcohol Gastritis 

Chronic gastritis is when stomach inflammation lasts for a long period.3 The condition worsens with time as the stomach acids eat away the exposed stomach lining.

The symptoms may be minimal, making it less likely for someone to address it compared to acute alcoholic gastritis. 

Symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Anemia
  • Appetite loss
  • Stomach irritation
  • Weight loss
  • Bleeding (in erosive gastritis)

Gastritis is erosive if the stomach lining is worn and ulcerated, exposing the tissue to acids and other irritants. This may cause bleeding.

Risk Factors for Alcoholic Gastritis

Several factors put you at risk of alcoholic gastritis, including:

  • Excess alcohol consumption: Alcohol may irritate your stomach lining, especially if you consume it regularly and in large amounts. Alcohol actually increases the normal amount of gastric acid that’s produced.
  • Cigarette smoking: Smoking cigarettes can cause inflammation that may develop into ulcers or cancer.
  • Spicy or acidic foods and drinks: Acidic foods and drinks may irritate your stomach lining, especially if combined with alcohol.
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): These drugs irritate the stomach lining and weaken its resistance to acidity and other strong substances such as alcohol.
  • Stress: The body’s response to stress may reduce the gastric lining’s ability to renew itself. This affects blood flow, which further increases the risk of gastric irritation and ulcers.
  • Bacterial infections: Bacteria such as H.pylori cause stomach inflammation and increase the risk of alcoholic chronic gastritis.4
  • Age: The stomach lining thins with age, which increases the risk of gastritis in older people.
  • Underlying conditions: Conditions such as HIV/AIDS or Crohn’s disease can increase the risk of alcoholic gastritis among drinkers.

Other Causes of Stomach Pain After Drinking Alcohol

Below are additional reasons behind stomach pain after drinking: 

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Ulcers

Frequent, ongoing alcohol use can destroy the stomach mucosal lining. This can lead to painful open sores, also known as ulcers.

Ulcers can cause severe gastrointestinal tract (UGI) bleeding. They may also develop into gastric cancer.5 

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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic digestive system disorder. There are many causes of IBS, including auto-immune and hereditary.

IBS can be severe in some people with specific types and may require ongoing medical care and even surgery. However, it doesn’t usually cause severe symptoms and can be managed through lifestyle changes.6

For people with IBS, drinking alcohol can flare up symptoms such as:

  • Vomiting 
  • Cramping 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Bloating
  • Constipation

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a digestive condition that affects the muscle between the stomach and esophagus, the tube connecting the mouth and stomach. 

If you have GERD, stomach acid flows back into the esophagus. This can cause irritation and pain that usually worsens when you drink alcohol

Pernicious Anemia 

Pernicious anemia is caused by the stomach’s inability to absorb vitamin B12.7 The lack of enough intrinsic factor (IF) causes this

The intrinsic factor is a special protein that binds with vitamin B-12 to enable absorption by the ileum. 

Drinking on an Empty Stomach

Alcohol can be harsh to your stomach lining. It causes the stomach to produce more acid. 

When you drink on an empty stomach, stomach acid mixed with alcohol can cause inflammation to the stomach lining. This can be painful.

When to See a Doctor for Stomach Pain After Drinking 

Occasional episodes of mild abdominal discomfort from stomach inflammation is normal. Usually, symptoms are short-lived and don’t require medical attention.

Call your doctor if your symptoms last for more than a week. If you’re vomiting blood or have black tarry/sticky stool, seek immediate medical attention.

Diagnosing Alcoholic Gastritis 

There are multiple ways to diagnose alcoholic gastritis. Some methods include:

  • Barium meal (x-ray): Checks the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) using a metallic fluid known as barium that is swallowed to examine the affected tissues. 
  • Endoscopy: Direct visualization of the upper GI tract using a small tube passed through the mouth and into the stomach can be used to check the mucosal lining. 
  • Biopsy test: Involves the removal of part of the affected tissue for further investigation, usually done during endoscopy.
  • Blood test: Checks for blood infections and the chemical status of the blood (H. pylori, vitamin B-12, and blood cell count).8 
  • Stool test: Checks for blood in your stool.

Potential Complications of Alcoholic Gastritis 

Alcoholic gastritis can pose complications, which include:

  • Intestinal bleeding
  • Anemia due to iron deficiency, internal bleeding, or B-12 deficiency
  • Tumors or polyps in the stomach lining
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Severe weight loss
  • Peptic ulcers due to H. Pylori

Treatment for Alcoholic Gastritis & Alcoholism 

Alcoholic gastritis and alcoholism are different conditions and are treated differently. 

However, they may occur together, and treatment options are similar:

Treatment for Gastritis 

Treatment for alcoholic gastritis depends on age, symptoms, and overall health. 

The first and most important treatment for alcoholic gastritis is to stop drinking alcohol. 

Continuing to drink alcohol will make the gastritis worse and unlikely to heal. Other options include:

Medication

Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics, antacids, Histamine (H2) blockers, or Proton pump inhibitors to alleviate the symptoms or eliminate bacteria that may cause or worsen gastritis.

For instance, the H. pylori kit treats H. Pylori bacteria, while Histamine (H2) blockers treat and reduce stomach acid production.9  

Diet Changes

Spicy foods and acidic drinks can irritate the stomach. Avoiding them will prevent the progression of and help manage the severe symptoms of gastritis. 

In particular, stopping alcohol use is critical to prevent ongoing stomach irritation and damage.

Reparative Surgeries

Reparative surgery may be required in cases of severe stomach lining damage. Some ulcers or tumors require surgical care to repair or remove them. 

The most effective way to treat alcoholic gastritis is to reduce alcohol consumption. This starts with identifying and preventing triggers. 

Tips for Healing Your Stomach Lining

  • Quit alcohol: Avoid alcohol to give your stomach a chance to heal.
  • Eat natural foods: Eat natural foods such as vegetables and fruit instead of manufactured foods that may be acidic or too spicy.10
  • Exercise regularly: Obesity increases the risk of gastritis. Regular exercise reduces stress and depression.
  • Reduce stress: Stress can cause the overproduction of stomach acid. Avoiding stressful situations is very important, when possible.

Foods & Substances to Avoid

  • Acidic foods 
  • Sugary foods
  • Spicy foods
  • Dairy products
  • Processed foods 
  • Fried foods
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Caffeinated drinks
  • Fruit juice
  • Tomatoes
  • Drugs such as cigarettes or NSAIDs

Treatment for Alcoholism

Alcoholism increases the risk of gastritis and prevents healing. Symptoms of alcoholism include:

  • Inability to quit even after negative consequences
  • Neglecting important duties to binge drink
  • Tolerance to alcohol
  • Risky behavior such as drunk driving
  • Irritability in the absence of alcohol

Treatments include the following:

  • Medical detox: This is done at an inpatient or outpatient rehab facility. It involves activities that help your body eliminate the drug from your system.
  • Individual and group therapy: Counseling helps you cope with the difficulties of recovery.
  • Oral medications: Drugs such as disulfiram (Antabuse) and Naltrexone may prevent heavy drinking.
  • Aftercare programs: Various programs can help recovering addicts avoid relapse. AA is one of the more successful ongoing treatment programs for people who want to recover from alcoholism.
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Updated on May 27, 2022
10 sources cited
  1. Bienia A. et al.,“The effect of chronic alcohol abuse on gastric and duodenal mucosa,” National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), 2002
  2. Shield K.“Chronic Diseases and Conditions Related to Alcohol Use,” National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), 2014
  3. Bode C. et al.,“Alcohol’s Role in Gastrointestinal Tract Disorders,” National Institute of Health (NIH)
  4. Gastritis,” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER)., 03 Apr. 2020
  5.  “Helicobacter pylori,”  Cleveland Clinic, 19, Mar. 2021
  6. Hansson L. “Risk of Stomach Cancer in Patients with Peptic Ulcer Disease,” World Journal of Surgery, 14 Feb. 2014
  7. Irritable bowel syndrome,” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER)., 01 Dec. 2021 
  8. Pernicious anemia,” National Library of Medicine, 30 Nov. 2021
  9. Diagnosis of Gastritis & Gastropathy: How do doctors diagnose gastritis and gastropathy?,”  National Institutes of Health (NIH)
  10. Gastritis,” Healthdirect,  Jan. 2021

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