Alcoholic Gastritis

Gastritis is inflammation of the stomach lining, presenting as gnawing, burning pain, loss of appetite, belching, and heartburn. There are numerous causes, from certain medications to infections, but alcohol is a major culprit, particularly among chronic drinkers.

What is alcoholic gastritis?

Gastritis is irritation, inflammation, and eventually corrosion of the protective mucus lining of the stomach.

When gastritis is caused by alcohol, it’s known as alcoholic gastritis and is a common impact of alcohol abuse on health.

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What causes alcoholic gastritis?

The stomach contains harsh acids that break down food but can be irritating to the tissue of the body, as you’ll know if you’ve ever vomited and felt a burning in your throat and mouth afterward. The stomach itself has a gastric mucosal barrier to protect itself from and contain these harsh acids. This barrier features epithelial cells that secrete bicarbonate ions to neutralize these acids.

Ethanol is very acidic and harsh and can damage this protective lining. Beverages with ethanol contents of above 20% such as liquor and spirits and strong wines are particularly damaging.

Alcohol can also disrupt the protection of protective ions, further exposing gastric cells to the stomach’s acids and harsh foods. This changes the cells' membranes and damages and eventually kills them. The gastric lining erodes, exposing cells that don’t have protection from acid. This produces inflammation, causing the symptoms of gastritis.[1]

Other causes of gastritis

Other stomach irritants can cause gastritis, including:

  • spicy food

  • coffee and caffeine

  • aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

  • some other medications, including antibiotics

  • smoking

  • stress

Gastritis can also be caused by infection with the Heliobacter pylori bacteria.

What are the symptoms of alcoholic gastritis?

The symptoms of alcoholic gastritis include:

  • gnawing or burning pain in the stomach that feels like indigestion 

  • nausea

  • vomiting

  • feeling excessively full after eating

  • lack of appetite

  • bloating

  • burping

  • heartburn

  • peptic ulcers

If your stomach is bleeding, you might;

  • vomit blood 

  • have black, tarry stool

If you lose enough blood, you’ll develop anemia, a condition in which the blood has a low number of red blood cells and can’t carry enough oxygen. Symptoms of anemia include:

  • fatigue

  • paleness

  • cold hands and feed

  • dizziness and light-headedness

  • shortness of breath

  • chest pain

  • irregular heartbeat

  • mouth ulcers

  • sore or inflamed tongue

Untreated, gastritis can increase the risk of ulcers and stomach cancer.[2]

How to prevent alcoholic gastritis

The best way to prevent alcoholic gastritis is only to drink in moderation. Alcoholic gastritis is a signal you’re drinking too much and are suffering health consequences. If you’re struggling to control your drinking, you should seek treatment for alcohol addiction.

You can also prevent gastritis by:

  • avoiding spicy, acidic, fatty, and fried foods.

  • reducing your caffeine intake

  • avoiding aspirin and other NSAIDs

  • managing stress

  • eating small meals throughout the day rather than large meals

  • not lying down for two to three hours after meals

  • quitting smoking

washing your hands to avoid contracting H. pylori [3]

How is alcoholic gastritis treated?

The first step in treating alcoholic gastritis is to avoid alcohol and if you’re having difficulty doing so to seek treatment for addiction. If you continue drinking, you won’t give your stomach lining a chance to heal.

Diet for gastritis

While your stomach lining is still inflamed, you should be careful with your diet to avoid further irritation.

In addition to alcohol, you should avoid:

  • acidic foods such as tomatoes and some fruits such as lemons and oranges

  • fruit juices

  • fatty and fried foods

  • spicy foods

  • coffee

  • tea

  • carbonated drinks such as soda

  • pickled foods

  • foods high in sugar

  • processed deli meats

  • smoking

Medications for gastritis

If you’re still having symptoms when avoiding alcohol and other irritants, a doctor might suggest you take medication to promote the healing of your stomach’s mucosa and make you more comfortable. This might include:

  • proton pump inhibitors such as omeprazole (Prilosec) and lansoprazole (Prevacid) that block stomach acid production.

  • histamine blockers such as famotidine (Pepcid) and cimetidine (Tagamet HB) reduce acid production in the gastrointestinal system

  • antacids to neutralize stomach acid and provide rapid pain relief

  • antibiotics if you’re found to have H. pylori contributing to your gastritis

  • probiotics [4]

Alcohol addiction treatment

Alcoholic gastritis is a warning sign that your alcohol use is excessive and damaging your health. The only way to restore your stomach lining and feel comfortable again is to cut alcohol out of your life. If you’re struggling to quit alcohol despite gastritis and other adverse consequences, help is available.

This may include detox, in-patient rehab, therapy, support groups, or medications. To explore treatment options near you, click here.