How Does Alcohol Affect the Stomach & Digestive System?
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The long-term effects of alcohol on the stomach can be uncomfortable or deadly, but treatment for alcohol addiction can help heal your gut.
Alcohol has many negative effects on the stomach and digestive system. While it is a popular way to unwind or socialize, alcohol has many long-term risks that people may be unaware of. The risk of adverse digestive effects grows the longer, or more heavily alcohol is used.
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Long-term Effects of Alcohol on the Mouth
Alcohol has several negative effects on your mouth, especially when you drink heavily or for prolonged periods. Alcohol reduces the amount of saliva you produce. While having a chronically dry mouth may seem minor, it has many harmful implications.
Saliva is necessary for good oral health. It helps wash away bacteria that build up, lubricate your food as you eat it and make your mouth more comfortable. A chronically dry mouth will cause bacteria to accumulate, leading to bad breath. More importantly, however, it increases the risk of tooth decay as bacteria have more time to build up. When coupled with the high sugar content of most alcohol, a dry mouth creates the perfect environment for bacteria to multiply and eat away at your teeth.
Another important long-term effect that can occur is oral cancer. Drinking alcohol increases your risk of many cancers, including digestive system cancers. Those who drink heavily can have a five times greater risk of developing oral cancer compared to non-drinkers.
Long-term Effects of Alcohol on the Esophagus
Alcohol can cause many harmful effects on the esophagus, the tube-like structure that connects your mouth to your stomach. These include:
- Increased risk of esophageal cancer: Alcohol increases the cancer risk throughout the digestive system, including the esophagus.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): Alcohol increases the risk of GERD, a condition in which the stomach contents regurgitate into the mouth. This condition causes heartburn and can further increase the risk of cancer.
- Esophageal varices: Esophageal varices are caused by the liver. Alcohol can impair blood flow in the liver, causing it to back up. This makes veins in the esophagus swell and becomes fragile. Esophageal varices can rupture, causing sudden, uncontrolled bleeding in the throat.
- Mallory-Weiss tears: Alcohol can cause vomiting, leading to the esophagus tearing. These tears are called Mallory-Weiss tears and cause bleeding and other complications.
Long-term Effects of Alcohol on the Stomach
Alcohol can lead to many harmful effects on the stomach, ranging from symptoms that occur right after drinking alcohol to ones that may take years to develop. Some of the effects of alcohol on the stomach include:
- Ulcers: Alcohol can cause the stomach wall to erode, allowing stomach acid to reach the stomach muscles and damage the stomach.
- Vomiting: Alcohol frequently causes vomiting, with short and long-term use.
- Cancer: Just like the other parts of the digestive system, alcohol increases the risk of cancers developing in the stomach.
- Bloating: Alcohol causes inflammation in your stomach. This leads to excessive gas production, bloating and increased flatulence.
- Pain: The inflammation alcohol causes in your stomach lining can cause chronic abdominal pain, especially when ulcers develop.
- Bleeding: Ulcers can erode the stomach wall to the point where bleeding occurs. This bleeding can be serious, even life-threatening, in some cases.
Long-term Effects of Alcohol on the Intestines
Alcohol’s effects on the digestive system extend to the intestines. The intestines are the long, tubular structure that food passes through after the stomach and are responsible for absorbing most of the nutrients in food. Intestinal problems that alcohol can cause include:
- Ulcers: Just as alcohol can erode the stomach wall, it can also erode the wall of the intestines, causing ulcers.
- Cancer: Alcohol increases the risk of cancer developing in your intestines, especially when used for prolonged periods.
- Gut flora imbalances: Alcohol can disrupt the healthy bacteria in the gut, leading to imbalances of bacteria that live in your intestines. This can cause many different health problems.
- Malnutrition: Alcohol inflames the intestines, affecting how it absorbs nutrients. This can lead to many different types of malnutrition.
- Mallory-Weiss tears: While Mallory-Weiss tears most commonly occur in the esophagus, they can also happen in the intestines, causing severe bleeding and other complications.
- Bleeding: Ulcers, Mallory-Weiss tears and inflammation increase the risk of bleeding in the intestines. This internal bleeding can be very serious and even deadly if untreated.
Alcohol’s effects on the intestines range from uncomfortable to deadly. The only way to avoid the dangerous impact of alcohol on the digestive system is to stop drinking as soon as possible.
At The Recovery Village at Baptist Health, we have extensive experience helping people stop using alcohol. We can support you in healing your gut through our evidence-based treatment programs that help you gain freedom from alcohol addiction. Contact a Recovery Advocate today to learn how we can help you start your recovery journey!
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Is stomach damage from alcohol reversible?
Most of the damage that alcohol causes to the digestive system is reversible if you stop using alcohol. Even more permanent problems, like stomach cancer, will benefit from you quitting alcohol. Only a doctor can tell you if your specific stomach problems are reversible if you stop using alcohol.
How long does it take for the gut to heal from alcohol abuse?
It takes about three weeks of abstinence for inflammation in the gut caused by alcohol to heal. However, the damage caused by inflammation can take much longer to recover. Conditions like ulcers could take months. Mallory-Weiss tears or cancer could even require surgery or more advanced treatments and may not heal on their own. Ultimately, the sooner you quit alcohol, the more quickly your gut will likely heal.
What does a stomach ulcer from drinking feel like?
The most common symptoms of a stomach ulcer are heartburn, indigestion, nausea and pain. These symptoms may improve while eating but often worsen while using alcohol due to their inflammatory nature. If you suspect you may have a stomach ulcer, you should always see a doctor to have it evaluated. Self-diagnosing is never wise, and letting it go untreated can be very dangerous.
Can alcohol cause intestinal inflammation?
Yes, alcohol is known to cause inflammation of the intestines. Alcohol is a toxic chemical that irritates the tissues it has contact with, including the skin, intestines and even internal organs, as alcohol circulates in the bloodstream.
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- Medical Disclaimer
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.