Often, when people think about the negative effects of alcoholism, the first images to come to mind are those of people dying of alcohol poisoning, getting into car accidents, or otherwise struggling with sudden, immediate issues. However, alcoholism also causes problems over the long-term, including a wide range of physical and mental health disorders and conditions that can arise from continued and repeated abuse of alcohol.
Alcoholic gastritis is just one of the many physical disorders that can arise as a result of drinking alcohol. This stomach problem may seem to be nothing more than a slight stomachache or heartburn after drinking. However, it can lead to further health complications that could potentially be avoided by not abusing alcohol.
What Is Gastritis?
As defined by the National Library of Medicine, gastritis is an inflammation of the stomach lining, usually caused by some kind of irritation or infection. It can be acute or chronic, and it can be caused by:
- Taking painkillers like aspirin or ibuprofen
- Infection by certain types of bacteria
- Bile reflux
- Autoimmune disorders
- Consuming too much alcohol
While these are the chief causes of the condition, there are other activities and circumstances that can contribute to the irritation, including high levels of stress, smoking, and eating certain kinds of foods. Gastritis can either be chronic or acute, with many people who develop chronic gastritis having an acute episode when the issue first appears.
Alcoholic Gastritis Symptoms and Signs
Gastritis can be caused when excessive alcohol use begins to irritate or even erode parts of the stomach lining, as described by Mayo Clinic. This, in turn, can leave the stomach lining exposed to the acids produced by the body to digest food. In some cases, it can make the stomach more sensitive to the acids and other substances in foods themselves. All of this combines to produce various symptoms, such as:
- Upper abdominal pain, ranging from a burning ache to stabbing pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Bloated or full feeling in the abdomen
- Regurgitation of food
In individuals who experience these symptoms from drinking alcohol, as compared with other causes, the symptoms may come on after an evening of binge drinking or exhibit as a chronic condition for individuals who engage in regular heavy drinking as with alcoholism. The symptoms may also commonly arise between meals, and can either be helped or worsened when eating, depending on the food.
How Common Is It?
According to one study of damage to the stomach lining, from the journal Annales UMCS, this condition occurred in 100 percent of individuals who drank chronically while occurring in only 72 percent of people who were not drinking. In those who were diagnosed with alcohol addiction and who had been drinking for more than 10 years, 13 out of 14 had a type of gastritis that was causing the stomach lining to atrophy.
This study, among other literature, indicates that alcoholic gastritis is nearly universal among those who regularly drink heavily. In addition, of those who experience this uncomfortable condition, more severe, related conditions can develop, leading to complications and long-term health issues that are more challenging to treat and can lead to a lower quality of life for those experiencing them. The complications of chronic, long-term gastritis can also include the potential for death resulting from severe damage to the stomach.
Complications and Long-Term Problems
Because alcoholic gastritis results in physical damage to the stomach lining, it can lead to more severe complications, such as bleeding in the stomach or intestine. This is a medical emergency that requires intervention, and it can indicate that an ulcer (an open sore on the stomach lining) has formed. While gastritis and ulcers are treatable, ulcers can cause medical emergency if the bleeding can’t be stopped, or if the stomach lining is perforated and releases digestive acids into the body cavity around the stomach, as discussed in Lancet.
Other long-term issues with gastritis, described by MedicineNet, include:
- Development of anemia
- Stomach cancer
- Scarring that can lead to obstruction
- Kidney problems
Some of these conditions may require surgery to completely resolve, and can cause lifelong discomfort in the case of chronic gastritis. In particular, obstruction or perforation of the stomach are emergency situations that require immediate intervention and can lead to death if not treated.
Reversing the Damage?
It is possible to treat gastritis using medicines that soothe and heal the stomach lining if other means don’t work. However, the first steps to dealing with the issue usually involve trying to eliminate the cause of the inflammation and damage to begin with. Based on this, for people who abuse alcohol on a regular basis and who experience acute gastritis or develop chronic gastritis, one way to potentially reverse the damage is to stop drinking.
If the damage is extensive before drinking is stopped, it may not be able to be fully reversed, and lifelong management of the chronic gastritis may be required, including reparative surgeries, regular medication, avoidance of irritating foods, and other treatments to prevent the damage from leading to the emergency situations described above. However, it is certain that stopping drinking will lead to diminishing the symptoms of the condition and easing discomfort, improving the person’s quality of life by removing the main source of the irritation.
Treating Alcoholic Gastritis
As stated above, the first step in treating gastritis is removing the irritant; that means that alcoholic gastritis is primarily treated by stopping alcohol use. If gastritis has progressed to the point where medicine is needed to soothe and repair the stomach lining, the following methods may be used, according to Healthline:
- Antibiotics to control the bacteria that may contribute to the irritation and damage
- Proton pump inhibitors and other acid reduction medicines
- Antacids to neutralize acid that is produced
- Probiotics to encourage helpful gastric bacteria
Each individual has different factors contributing to whether acute gastritis will develop into a chronic condition. If this is the case, working with a doctor is the best way to determine the individualized treatment needed to help the person manage the gastritis. However, the ability to do this hinges specifically on the person’s ability to stop drinking alcohol. Without removing this main cause, the gastritis is likely to continue even with the most effective medical intervention. For this reason, it’s important to get one’s drinking under control while other steps are being taken to manage the gastritis.
Stopping Alcohol Use
If addiction to alcohol, or alcoholism, is a factor in the development of alcoholic gastritis, it can be a challenge for the person to stop drinking in order to provide the best chance for helping this painful condition. In this case, professional, research-based rehab could be necessary to help the person manage the alcoholism – also a chronic disorder – providing the therapy, skills, and tools needed to recover from alcoholism and manage gastritis into the future. Research indicates that a comprehensive, individualized alcoholism treatment plan is most likely to help individuals stop drinking alcohol and stay abstinent, minimizing the potential for relapse.
With a firm commitment to treatment and recovery, and to achieving long-term abstinence from alcohol, alcoholic gastritis can be managed, and the individual can return to a healthier state of being for the long run. In addition, with treatment, those who are struggling with alcohol abuse or alcoholism and have not yet developed alcoholic gastritis can potentially avoid developing the condition altogether, contributing to overall health and quality of life.