Alcoholic Gastritis: Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on

Alcoholic gastritis is a stomach condition caused by heavy drinking. It causes ulcers and heartburn as the stomach lining becomes irritated and possibly eroded. Treatment for this condition may include treatment for alcohol abuse.

Alcoholic Gastritis: Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment

Hangovers can be rough on anyone. When individuals consume alcohol in excess, a hangover can be expected the next day. People who drink heavily on a regular basis may develop a condition known as alcoholic gastritis, among many other physical health-related complications due to alcohol abuse.

Developing gastritis may start off as heartburn or a slight stomach ache, however, continued alcohol consumption leads to more stomach irritations. Over time, symptoms worsen and become more intense, more painful, and more unmanageable.

Stomach issues related to alcohol consumption can cause significant medical conditions, and if left untreated, can result in permanent damage. Alcoholic gastritis is the result of repeated alcohol consumption and its effect on the stomach lining and gastrointestinal system.

What Is Alcoholic Gastritis?

When a person consumes food or drink it goes through our digestive system and gets deposited into the stomach. The stomach then breaks down food into nutrients so your body can absorb them. The lining of the stomach is made of special cells that produce enzymes and acids to break down food.

Alcohol acts as an irritant to the stomach. In the early stages of alcoholic gastritis, this can feel like stomach pain or indigestion. Repeated heavy drinking can cause further irritation and inflammation of the stomach, leading to tissue damage and erosion of the stomach lining.

The lining of the stomach also has a membrane that protects the rest of the body from the enzymes and acids needed for digestion. Damage to the stomach lining can cause these enzymes and acids to further damage the membrane, creating a cycle of destruction within the stomach.

The Link Between Alcohol Abuse And Gastritis

Dating back to 1972, researchers have found data connecting gastritis to alcohol consumption around the globe.

A study from Germany in 2009 revealed that even moderate alcohol consumption was associated with the development of gastritis, which raises the risk for the development of stomach cancer. There were nearly 9,500 participants in this study alone.

Another study reported that atrophic gastritis was only present in individuals with alcohol addiction, and in most cases, had been drinking for a minimum of 10 years. The same study revealed that hydrochloric acid secretion levels were lower than average the longer the addiction.

Several studies available through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and peer-reviewed journals report alcohol being a key factor in the majority of cases of gastritis, not only alcoholic gastritis.

Types And Symptoms Of Gastritis

There are different types of gastritis. Each of these types can develop into either chronic (develops slowly and is long-lasting) or acute (develop quickly and lasting a short time).

These common types are helicobacter pylori gastritis (due to an h. pylori infection), reactive gastropathy, autoimmune gastritis, acute erosive gastropathy, and alcoholic gastritis.

Acute Gastritis

Acute gastritis is the sudden inflammation or swelling in the lining of the stomach. It usually lasts a short period of time coming in small bursts. Acute gastritis can affect people of all ages but is most commonly found in adults and older adults.

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Acute gastritis can have many common causes including viruses, stress, alcohol, spicy foods, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), injury, steroids, or bacteria. Alcoholic gastritis is also a form of acute gastritis.

Common symptoms of acute gastritis include:

  • stomach ulcers
  • peptic ulcers
  • bloating
  • gas
  • reflux
  • stomach irritability
  • upset stomach
  • abdominal pain
  • nausea and vomiting
  • heartburn
  • hemorrhage

Untreated Alcoholic Gastritis

If alcoholic gastritis goes untreated, erosive gastritis can occur. This type of gastritis is characterized by bleeding in the stomach.

Symptoms of erosive gastritis are:

  • tar-like (black) bowel movements
  • red blood in vomit or bowel movements
  • weakness
  • dizziness
  • shortness of breath
  • Chronic Gastritis

Chronic gastritis happens when the lining of the stomach stays inflamed for an extended period of time. When this happens, the stomach lining loses its protective function and the acid inside the stomach starts to eat away at the lining.

This can be caused by bacteria, consuming too much alcohol, chronic stress, certain medications, or other immune system problems.

Typical symptoms of chronic gastritis include:

  • anemia from internal bleeding
  • anemia from low iron
  • feeling tired
  • loss of appetite
  • dull pain in upper abdomen
  • upset or irritated stomach
  • stomach polyps

Chronic gastritis can cause metaplasia or dysplasia, which are precancerous changes in cells that can lead to cancer if left untreated.

Causes And Risk Factors

Heavy alcohol consumption can cause many health complications and risks. Research supports the link between alcohol use and alcoholic gastritis.

One study found gastric mucosal inflammation was present in 100 percent of the test participants that had a history of chronic drinking.

Some additional causes are:

  • tobacco and other drug use
  • high-fat diets, especially saturated and trans fats
  • stress
  • chronic alcohol use
  • over-the-counter pain medication (aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen)
  • infections
  • autoimmune disorders

Long-Term Effects Of Alcoholic Gastritis

Alcoholic gastritis is sometimes also associated with other complications of alcohol abuse, such as gastrointestinal bleeding. If an individual suspects they might have GI bleeding, it is a medical emergency and they should seek medical attention immediately.

Vomiting blood can indicate ulcers have developed in the stomach or duodenum (top portion of the small intestine) or an esophageal tear. Upper gastrointestinal bleeding can be fatal if the bleeding is left untreated.

If the lining of the stomach has become penetrated, it could lead to the release of the digestive acids into the body cavity. This could lead to life-threatening complications, like sepsis, multiorgan failure, and generalized peritonitis.

Some other long-term effects of alcoholic gastritis include:

  • upper gastrointestinal infection
  • upper gastrointestinal bleeding
  • anemia
  • stomach cancer
  • Mallory-Weiss tears (tear in the mucous membrane)

Is It Possible To Treat Gastritis Caused By Alcohol Abuse?

If you notice any symptoms of alcoholic gastritis it is important to seek medical attention. A doctor can diagnose you properly and get you the necessary treatment.

Alcoholic gastritis is diagnosed through physical exams of the stomach and abdomen, including a biopsy, endoscopy, urine test, blood test, or stool test.

Because alcoholic gastritis is caused by alcohol consumption, the primary treatment is to stop drinking alcohol. Treating alcoholic gastritis can be challenging, so it is important to work with your doctor to determine the best possible treatment.

Some gastritis treatment options are:

  • proton pump inhibitors
  • probiotics to promote the growth of helpful gastric bacteria
  • antibiotics to control gastrointestinal bacteria
  • antacids to neutralize stomach acid
  • lifestyle changes including quitting smoking, avoiding alcohol, and reducing daily stress

Treatment Options For Alcohol Addiction

Long-term excessive alcohol abuse is one of the main causes of alcoholic gastritis, but it is also indicative of an alcohol use disorder. An inpatient substance abuse treatment program can oftentimes meet the needs of someone who will also need medical and prescription care.

Please contact our treatment specialists today. We can help find a treatment center that can offer addiction treatment for someone with additional health care needs.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on
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