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Can Alcohol Cause Gastritis?

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Gastritis is a common condition of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract where the innermost lining of the stomach – the gastric mucosa – becomes inflamed. It is categorized as either acute (sudden onset) or chronic (long-term). Acute and chronic gastritis affect approximately eight out of 1,000 and two out of 1,000 people, respectively. While multiple risk factors exist for developing this inflammatory condition, alcohol use is one of the most concerning yet preventable causes.

If you are experiencing alcohol-related gastritis due to substance use, treatment is available to assist you on the path to total wellness. Guardian Recovery offers programs such as alcohol detox and nutrition therapy to treat the emotional and physical components of alcohol use. 

Our treatment advisors are available 24/7 to answer any questions you have about our program model and specific therapies. Reach out today to discover how we can work with you on your journey to sobriety, and read on to learn more about the link between alcohol and gastritis.

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What is Alcoholic Gastritis?

Alcohol irritates your stomach lining and triggers biological processes contributing to acute and chronic GI problems. The CDC states men should drink no more than two and women no more than one standard-size alcoholic beverage daily to reduce the risk of immediate and long-term health problems. When you regularly consume more than the recommended amount of alcohol, you can develop painful, inflammatory conditions like gastritis.

Common Symptoms of Alcoholic Gastritis Include:

  • Stomach pain (often above the navel or between the ribs).
  • Heartburn or indigestion.
  • Excessive belching.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • A burning, gnawing sensation in the upper abdomen.
  • Lack of appetite.
  • Blood in your feces or vomit.

Causes of Alcoholic Gastritis

Like all parts of the body, your stomach relies on maintaining stable, consistent functioning (homeostasis) for optimal health. Natural gut bacteria, healthy tissue, and good motility are all necessary for proper digestion and overall wellness. Unfortunately, alcohol impacts GI stability.

It disrupts the balance between helpful and harmful bacteria in your stomach, leading to the overgrowth of bad bacteria, such as Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). These unwanted organisms trigger your body’s immune response, including inflammation. When coupled with excess acid secretion, this inflammation causes heartburn, pain, and nausea. Left untreated, patches of inflammation can lead to mucosal erosion that causes dangerous, excruciating stomach ulcers or gastric cancer in later stages.

Symptoms of Gastric Ulcers May Include:

  • Excessive bloating after meals.
  • Feeling full after eating little food.
  • Inability to digest fatty, heavy foods.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Burning stomach pain or hunger relieved with food.
  • Pain that is worse between meals or overnight.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Black tarry stools.
  • Blood in your vomit.
  • Fatigue.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Gastritis may be challenging to differentiate from other GI disorders due to vague or overlapping symptoms. If you are open with your healthcare provider about persistent, uncontrolled alcohol use, it can help narrow down the cause of your symptoms. 

Diagnosing Alcoholic Gastritis Includes the Following Tests:

  • History and physical exam to check for abdominal tenderness and any concerning masses.
  • Endoscopy: a procedure where a camera is used to visualize the stomach lining to look for any redness, erosions, or ulcerations.
  • Barium swallow: a special X-ray to assess for functional or physical abnormalities in the GI tract
  • Biopsy: collecting a small tissue sample for lab analysis.
  • H. pylori testing via stool, blood, or breath tests to rule out non-alcoholic, bacterial causes.
  • Bloodwork to check for anemia due to stomach bleeding or electrolyte imbalances due to poor nutrition.

Treating alcoholic gastritis first requires alcohol cessation. During or after treatment for alcohol use disorder, some drugs may be prescribed to alleviate disruptive symptoms and promote stomach healing. No medication can properly heal the stomach if you are still actively drinking.

Common Medications to Treat Alcoholic Gastritis Include:

  • Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs), such as Nexium or Prilosec, to inhibit cellular acid production.
  • H-2 (histamine) Blockers, such as Zantac or Pepcid, to limit how much acid is released into your stomach.
  • Antacids, such as Tums or Gaviscon, to neutralize stomach acid or form a protective barrier.
  • Vitamins and minerals, such as B12, folate, thiamine, calcium, and magnesium to correct deficiencies caused by excessive drinking and poor appetite.

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What Are Some Other Causes of Gastritis?

Alcohol is a significant risk factor for the development of gastritis, but additional causes lead to stomach inflammation with or without alcohol. Diseases, infections, and certain medications can interrupt the normal digestive process and encourage gastric irritation.

Bile reflux

Bile is a greenish liquid produced by your liver and held in the gallbladder. It is released into the first segment of your small intestine (the duodenum) to break down fats. If the closure between the lower part of your stomach and the duodenum (the pyloric valve) is weak, some bile will leak into the stomach. The combination of bile and stomach acid can cause gastritis or heartburn. 

Chronic vomiting

Chronic vomiting is a condition that persists for four weeks or more. It can be due to medications, infections, delayed gastric emptying, or long-term disease. When you vomit, stomach acid is expelled through the esophagus. The corrosive nature of stomach acid leads to stomach and esophageal tissue damage, in addition to potential bleeding and mucosal tears from the excessive physical stress of vomiting.

Helicobacter Pylori (H.pylori) infection

Approximately half of the world’s population is infected with H. pylori, making it the most common, long-term bacterial infection in humans. These bacteria have evolved to withstand acidic environments and can break through the stomach’s protective mucus layer to reach the gastric wall. The specific mode of transmission from person to person is still unknown. 

While many individuals are asymptomatic, those with chronic gastritis usually seek treatment. Combining antibiotics and a PPI is a typical therapy. Treatment lasts up to 14 days, followed by an eradication test. Reinfection is possible, although unusual. 

Medications

Corticosteroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and aspirin, are frequent culprits in medication-induced gastritis. Both classes of medications block special compounds known as prostaglandins, which protect the stomach lining. Prostaglandins increase mucus and bicarbonate (an antacid) production, supply blood to the gastric tissue, and lower the amount of acid secreted. NSAIDs and steroids inhibit this action, resulting in increased acid production and a lack of protective mucus on the stomach lining. With prolonged use, these drugs cause chronic gastritis.

Other infections

pylori is the most common infectious cause of gastritis, but other bacteria and viruses also cause stomach inflammation. Herpes, Cytomegalovirus (CMV), Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC), and the Epstein-Barr virus (mononucleosis or “mono”) have all been implicated in acute and chronic gastritis. Because infection often initiates a system-wide inflammatory process, these organisms encourage gastric irritation. 

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Gastritis interferes with multiple aspects of daily life. The pain, nausea, fatigue, and food intolerance associated with this condition can be debilitating. While it has numerous risk factors, perhaps none is more preventable than alcohol use. Although moderate to severe drinking is a significant cause of stomach inflammation, the effects are reversible with alcohol cessation.

Guardian Recovery knows that alcohol use affects everyone differently, so your treatment must be tailored to your specific health needs. Our individualized approach allows us to focus on your entire health history and create a plan to help you meet your wellness goals. 

Our admission process is simple: Once you reach out, we will provide a free, no-obligation health insurance benefit check and complimentary assessment. The entire process takes just 15 minutes at one of our local facilities. Contact us today for more information about how we can help you heal.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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