Why does my stomach hurt when I drink alcohol?
A stomach ache after drinking alcohol might seem harmless or a nuisance, but it could be a sign of something more serious. You might have a problem called alcoholic gastritis.
What is alcoholic gastritis?
Gastritis means inflammation of the stomach. The word gastritis comes from gastric which means “of the stomach” and itis which means “inflammation”.
The walls of our stomachs are sensitive. If we expose them to excessive volumes of alcohol, they can become irritated and damaged. This damage leads to abdominal pain and a range of other acute gastric symptoms.
In some cases, alcohol-related gastritis can be mild and the gastritis symptoms may improve on their own. But, if the stomach lining is not allowed to heal, alcoholic gastritis can lead to more acute gastritis and potentially serious consequences.
Other causes of alcoholic gastritis
Alcohol is one of the most well-known causes of stomach pain and gastritis. But, there are many other substances and factors that can lead to alcoholic gastritis symptoms. In some cases, gastritis will develop as a result of multiple causes.
Other substances that cause stomach pain
- Painkillers such as Ibuprofen and Aspirin can cause acute gastritis
- Cocaine, Smoking
These substances can all irritate the stomach lining.
- Infection from a bacteria called H Pylori
- Infection with H Pylori is the most common cause of long term (chronic) gastritis.1
When the body experiences major physical stress, the stomach lining can become inflamed or develop stomach ulcers. Examples of such stress would be being in an accident, or undergoing surgery.
- Autoimmune problems
In some cases, the body’s immune system can mistake the stomach lining for an invading virus or bacteria. If this happens the immune system will attack the stomach, causing inflammation.
Do I have alcoholic gastritis?
The symptoms of gastritis are typically described as stomach aches and vomiting. In reality, there is a range of alcoholic gastritis symptoms. It is not always easy to recognise.
Gastritis can cause the following symptoms
- Abdominal pain
- Feeling sick/nausea
- Vomiting, Diarrhoea
- Bloated stomach
- Acid reflux (stomach acid coming back up your food pipe from your stomach)
- Vomiting up blood
- Passing stools with blood in it
If you’re experiencing these symptoms you should speak to your doctor. If you cannot predict or control your drinking then contact Castle Craig.
Where is the stomach pain felt in alcoholic gastritis?
People usually feel the pain of gastritis in their upper abdomen. Many people describe it as a stomach ache. Some people may also feel pain in their back.
People sometimes say the pain feels like it’s “burning” or “gnawing” through the stomach. Others may experience a dull burning ache.
Is alcoholic gastritis dangerous?
Many cases of alcohol-related gastritis are mild and will resolve on their own. But, if the stomach lining is not allowed to heal, acute gastritis can cause severe consequences.
Drinking alcohol heavily destroys the stomach lining. Excessive damage to the stomach lining can cause painful open sores called ulcers. Stomach ulcers are dangerous because they can cause severe gastrointestinal bleeding. People with bleeding gastric ulcers may need invasive procedures to stop the bleeding. Sometimes, the medical team may need to give a blood transfusion to replace all the blood lost.
In gastritis, the blood vessels in the stomach can bleed. This blood loss may be slow, so people do not always notice that there is blood in their stool. But this slow blood loss can lead to anaemia.
Anaemia is a condition where our bodies don’t have enough red blood cells to transport the oxygen we need. Anaemia can cause you to experience the following:
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Fatigue or tiredness
- Shortness of breath
Difficulty absorbing nutrients
Our bodies absorb many important vitamins and minerals through the stomach. When the stomach lining becomes inflamed, it is hard for our bodies to absorb these nutrients. People with chronic (long term) gastritis are at risk of developing nutritional deficiencies.
How is alcohol-related gastritis diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask you some questions about your stomach pain and your lifestyle. Your answers can help them gain information about the cause of your gastritis symptoms.
Questions your doctor might ask
They might ask:
- What symptoms you’ve been experiencing e.g. stomach pain
- When your gastritis symptoms started
- Whether you have recently started any new medications
- If you smoke or use recreational drugs
- How much alcohol do you drink
- Whether you have any family history of stomach problems
Tests for alcoholic gastritis
Depending on your gastritis symptoms, your doctor may suggest the following tests:
- Blood test
Your doctor can check your blood count to see if you have been losing blood. They may also run other tests on your blood to assess your overall health. If you have been drinking large amounts of alcohol, they may carry out tests to check on your liver health.
- Stool sample
Your doctor may ask you for a sample of stool to look for any traces of blood.
In some cases, your doctor may suggest a camera test called an endoscopy to look at the lining of your stomach.
- In an endoscopy, a healthcare professional puts a thin tube with a camera into your mouth.
- The camera goes through your mouth, down your food pipe and into your stomach. It is not painful but can be uncomfortable. During the procedure, you may be given something to help relax you.
During the endoscopy, your doctor may also take a small sample of the stomach lining. They can look at this under a microscope to look for inflammation.
- Special tests to look for H Pylori
Your doctor may carry out tests to check whether you have H Pylori bacteria in your stomach.
Other causes of stomach ache after drinking
If you’re experiencing stomach pain, it’s important not to ignore it. Stomach pain can be a sign of other serious conditions, such as:
- Gastric (stomach) cancer
Alcohol abuse excessively increases your risk of stomach cancer.2 Stomach cancer can be fatal, and must be treated.
The pancreas is an important organ that helps our body digest food and regulate our sugar levels. Binge drinking can irritate the pancreas, leading to a condition known as pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is dangerous and requires immediate treatment.
What is the Treatment for Alcohol-Related Stomach Ache?
If your stomach ache is caused by gastritis then your doctor may suggest the following steps:
Treating the cause of the gastritis
The most important treatment step is to protect the stomach lining from further harm.
- Quitting smoking/Stopping alcohol
- Stopping cocaine
- Treating other causes such as H Pylori infection or autoimmune disease
In people suffering from addiction issues, these steps may be hard. Fortunately, help is available.
Medications for gastritis
The other key part of treating gastritis is reducing the amount of acid the stomach produces.
There are three groups of medications frequently used in gastritis:
Antacids can be bought in most pharmacies and supermarkets. They provide instant relief from stomach pain by neutralising the acid in the stomach
- H2 Blockers
This type of medication can be bought from the pharmacy, or prescribed by your doctor. They work by reducing the amount of alcohol your stomach produces
- Proton Pump Inhibitors
These can only be prescribed by your doctor. Like H2 blockers they work to reduce the amount of stomach acid you produce.
We would advise speaking to your doctor before using these medications.
What can you do at home for acute gastritis and alcohol-related stomach aches?
Acute gastritis is a symptom of stomach inflamation. If your stomach aches are caused by alcoholic gastritis and your stomach pain is worse after drinking alcohol, there are a few steps you can take at home to manage your symptoms.
- Stop alcohol, cocaine and smoking
- Avoid foods that worsen the acute abdominal pain such as spicy foods or acidic foods
- Take steps to reduce stress
Can I drink alcohol with gastritis?
If you have gastritis, you must avoid drinking alcohol. Your stomach lining is inflamed and in a state of damage, and drinking alcohol can cause it to become worse.
Other problems associated with alcohol abuse
Drinking more than the recommended amount of alcohol is dangerous. Besides increasing your risk of gastritis and stomach ulcers, alcohol can cause a number of conditions:
- Alcoholic Liver diseases3
- Certain types of alcohol-related cancer3
- Cardiovascular disease4
- Mental health conditions4
Alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction can cause a range of physical problems. At Castle Craig we recommend complete abstinence from alcohol and through alcohol detox and therapy we help you quit drinking for good.
When choosing a rehab centre, it’s important to consider what medical support they can provide, especially if you have a history of alcohol-related gastritis.
At Castle Craig, we have trained doctors on-site at all times. Our doctors are highly experienced in managing the physical effects of addiction. They are onsite 24/7 to keep you comfortable and look after your physical health as you recover.
Get in touch today
To find out how we can help you quit alcohol please telephone Castle Craig on our 24-Hour Helpline: 01721 728118 or click here to arrange a free addiction assessment or here for more information about our treatment options.
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Want to learn more?
- Azer SA, Akhondi H. Gastritis. In: StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; July 6, 2021.
- Ma K, Baloch Z, He TT, Xia X. Alcohol Consumption and Gastric Cancer Risk: A Meta-Analysis. Med Sci Monit. 2017;23:238-246. Published 2017 Jan 14. doi:10.12659/msm.899423
- Rehm J, Baliunas D, Borges GL, et al. The relation between different dimensions of alcohol consumption and burden of disease: an overview. Addiction. 2010;105(5):817-843. doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.2010.02899.x
- World Health Organization. Global Status Report On Alcohol And Health 2018. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2018. https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789241565639. Accessed October 25, 2021.