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By Boris M | 14 November, 2019 Published in Resources
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While the allure of alcohol advertises its ability to increase your confidence and fond memories, too much of a good thing can lead to stomach pain after drinking and the development of serious health issues.

When alcohol use turns to long-term abuse, conditions like alcohol gastritis often come to the forefront.

With a lining operating as your stomach’s shield, the related gastric tissues, mucous membrane, enzymes and acids suffer the first line of damage and digestion trouble in an attempt to protect your body from alcohol’s harmful effects.

To further explain the connection between alcohol and gastritis, this article breaks down what gastritis is.

We also explain how doctors diagnose the condition, and treatment and diet plans to deal with alcohol gastritis and heal the stomach lining.

What is gastritis? Acute v. chronic

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines gastritis as inflammation in the stomach lining’s innermost layer, called the mucosa [1].

Symptoms are categorized as being either acute or chronic.

1. Acute gastritis

Acute gastritis occurs when digestive acids attack a previously weakened stomach lining, producing severe pain and swelling.

These symptoms usually appear quickly and without warning.

Irritants like alcohol, drugs, heavily spiced foods, injury and bacteria exposure can all lead to the condition.

While symptoms are often intense, they typically subside with treatment in under two weeks.

2. Chronic gastritis

On the other hand, chronic gastritis is a slower, duller version of the condition.

Unlike acute gastritis, symptoms come on gradually over time and pain is more persistent rather than intense.

However, this does not mean chronic gastritis is less serious when it comes to health issues.

With chronic gastritis, symptoms extend beyond weeks and can last years.

Over time, the condition can also lead to more serious medical issues like gastrointestinal tract bleeding, bowel blockage, ulcers, mucous membrane tears, anaemia, liver damage, stomach cancer and in rare cases death.

Types of gastritis

Different types of gastritis occur depending on the initial cause.

These causes stem from issues like infections, injuries, illnesses and repeated alcohol or drug abuse habits.

1. Stress gastritis

Stress gastritis is an acute version of gastritis that causes halted blood flow to the stomach lining.

This often occurs after a sudden injury, illness or infection. Instead of keeping bodily functions in place, stress gastritis causes stomach acid to invade and attack the stomach lining.

2. Alcohol gastritis

Alcohol gastritis occurs as alcohol destroys the mucous membrane in the stomach over time.

When this happens, acids normally designated for digestion attack the stomach lining instead and make the body more sensitive to irritants and food.

Likewise, extended drug abuse with substances like cocaine or over-the-counter medicines like aspirin and ibuprofen cause similar digestive issues.

3. Atrophic gastritis

Atrophic gastritis is a result of long-term mucosa inflammation and often exposure to the Helicobacter pylori bacteria.

The chronic gastritis condition causes the body to attack healthy cells in the stomach, harming its ability to absorb vitamin B-12 and function normally.

Typically, an affected person then develops anaemia due to their inability to properly produce red blood cells.

Often, alcohol gastritis leads to the development of atrophic gastritis.

After years of alcohol wearing down the stomach lining, atrophic gastritis sets in and destroys the stomach glands, leaving the body more vulnerable to stomach cancer.

When does alcohol use become abusive and lead to gastritis?

Chronic alcohol gastritis is not something that occurs after one night of hard-drinking.

While a person may experience acute symptoms like a burning sensation or stomach pain after drinking, long-term alcoholism is the true culprit when it comes to alcohol gastritis.

In a 2002 study on alcohol gastritis, researchers tested both chronic alcoholics ranging from five years drinking to 20 years and a control group for mucosa inflammation.

While researchers found that 72 per cent of the control group showed signs of the stomach lining swelling, 100 per cent of the chronic alcoholics showed swelling symptoms consistent with the alcohol gastritis condition.

Out of the 79 subjects, 14 also showed signs of atrophic gastritis, with 13 of the 14 people labelling themselves as alcoholics of over 10 years [2].

This research asserts that people with a decade-long or more history with alcohol abuse are at the highest risk for alcohol gastritis and further stomach lining inflammation-related issues.

It also shows a strong correlation between alcohol abuse and the development of other forms of gastritis, like atrophic gastritis.

Which symptoms indicate alcohol gastritis?

When it comes to gastritis, symptoms and signs may vary depending on the cause or type.

While gastritis can be present with no symptoms, often digestive issues signal the problem.

Detailed below are the symptoms that specifically signal the presence of acute or chronic alcohol gastritis.

1. Acute alcohol gastritis symptoms

These symptoms are more consistent with a hangover after excessively drinking the night before or drinking consistently for several nights in a row.

However, acute alcohol gastritis symptoms may also indicate developing alcoholism and the start of chronic gastritis issues.

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • appetite loss
  • hiccups
  • bloating
  • sharp stomach pain or burning sensation

2. Chronic alcohol gastritis symptoms

These symptoms are more consistent with long-term alcoholism and substance abuse.

While chronic symptoms are often not as painful as acute alcohol gastritis problems, they can lead to more serious or life-threatening issues and should not be ignored.

  • acid reflux and indigestion
  • decrease in weight
  • vomiting blood
  • black stool
  • ulcers
  • anaemia
  • persistent stomach discomfort
  • pain at meals or during sleep

What tests will your doctor run to determine a diagnosis?

While the symptoms above can help indicate alcohol gastritis, they are also common symptoms of other conditions like pancreatitis and Crohn’s Disease.

To rule out other conditions, doctors will run a series of tests before diagnosing alcohol gastritis.

1. Medical history

First, your doctor will assess your medical history and experience using alcohol or drugs.

Then, they analyze stomach conditions or disorders you were diagnosed with in the past.

This helps to point out possible genetic conditions and personal behaviours that negatively affect health and cause gastritis.

2. Physical exam

During a physical exam, a doctor may press on the stomach to analyze pain and bloating.

In addition, gastritis patients may appear pale or weaker than their typical self.

From these initial observations, doctors will determine which additional tests to run.

3. Urine test

Urine tests are useful because they can detect the presence of the Helicobacter pylori bacteria.

When it comes to diagnosing women, doctors also often call for a urine test to rule out pregnancy.

4. Stool test

Stomach inflammation commonly presents itself with dark or black stool.

By testing the fecal matter, doctors can confirm the presence of stomach inflammation and possible gastritis.

5. Blood test

Running a blood test will help to rule out other infections and illnesses.

In addition, a blood test can show the presence of bacteria consistent with gastritis, provide a red blood cell count and check for vitamin B-12 deficiency, low protein levels or high gastrin hormone presence.

6. X-ray

While X-rays are less common when it comes to diagnosing alcohol gastritis, they can be helpful to add a more in-depth view of the stomach, small intestine and oesophagus.

7. Biopsy test

Similar to a blood test, a biopsy test can show the presence of the Helicobacter pylori bacteria in stomach tissues.

During a biopsy test, a small tissue sample is removed for analysis. Biopsy tests are usually done during an endoscopy.

8. Endoscopy

Radiological tests like an endoscopy are also useful for getting a visual of the stomach lining.

During this test, a small camera is sent down the throat and into the stomach to assess swelling in the mucous-rimmed lining.

Treatment options for alcohol gastritis

The first step of treatment is to stop the behaviour triggering gastritis.

With alcohol gastritis, the cause is clear and easier to determine.

However, the solution is not always as easily achieved because it requires patients addicted to alcohol to give up drinking to see a reduction of gastric symptoms.

While the recovery process is not always quick or easy, there are effective treatment methods that can reduce alcohol gastritis symptoms and battle the underlying cause of alcoholism.

1. Medication

As the first line of defence, there are several different medications a doctor can prescribe depending on which symptoms they are looking to alleviate.

Antibiotics like amoxicillin are useful against the Helicobacter pylori bacteria because they slow down its growth and reach.

If gastritis symptoms are severe, proton-pump inhibitors like Prilosec offer the strongest medication available used to combat the production of stomach acid.

Doctors may also prescribe milder medicines like antacids and vitamin B-12 supplements or injections in an attempt to reduce acid reflux and indigestion and fight off subsequent conditions like anaemia and iron deficiency.

2. In-patient rehabilitation

In chronic alcoholics who have been drinking for over a decade, medication may not be enough to reduce gastritis symptoms and heal the stomach lining.

If a patient continues to drink after finishing antibiotics or other medications, chronic gastritis will linger and can damage the stomach lining beyond the point of recovery.

To avoid this scenario, doctors may order the patient to attend in-patient rehabilitation.

During this process, patients are admitted to the hospital and their detoxification is monitored.

By controlling their environment, this gives doctors a chance to help alcoholics cut drinking out of their routine.

The first week is dedicated to detox, while the following weeks or months focus on lifestyle changes.

While detoxification is one major aspect of in-patient rehabilitation, therapy is the other big tenant.

While quitting their drinking habits, patients may consult counsellors in individual and group setting and assess how their outlook on life affects their decision-making and health.

3. Out-patient programs

In addition to in-patient rehabilitation, many doctors will recommend out-patient programs to keep alcoholics on the road to recovery and make the best effort to avoid relapse.

Usually, doctors will place importance on the first year of recovery but other programs are designed to offer lifelong help against alcoholism.

While in-patient programs have required overnight attendance, out-patient programs allow addicts to regain their position in the community and sort out their issues from home.

Out-patient programs typically offer counselling, support groups and educational treatment materials at clinics patients can attend at will.

Programs like Alcoholics Anonymous also exist to offer sponsors and further deterrents to drinking.

In a 2006 study, researchers found that out of 180 chronic alcoholic subjects, 52 per cent abstained from alcohol for a period of at least seven years with the help of supervised out-patient therapy programs.

Those who stayed with the program, experienced a 75 per cent alcohol abstinence rate, while those who dropped out in the second year dropped to a 50 per cent abstinence rate [3].

4. Alcohol gastritis diet

When alcohol gastritis is present, the stomach lining not only swells but also becomes weaker.

In terms of diet, a patient diagnosed with alcohol gastritis will likely need to cut out heavily-spiced and acidic foods that trigger uncomfortable symptoms and additional swelling.

Replacing triggers with foods that promote stomach health and digestion will start the healing process.

Are all forms of alcohol bad?

When struggling with alcohol gastritis, a chronic alcoholic may pose the question of whether abstinence is the only answer or if some alcoholic drinks are less damaging than others.

While sugary drinks and fermented alcohols like beer, wine and cider are often hardest on the stomach, this doesn’t mean you are in the clear with a distilled drink or hard alcohol.

The main issue with the development of alcohol gastritis is not the type of alcohol you consume, but rather that the behaviour has become a daily process causing a chronic condition.

When making changes to your diet to heal, it is best to avoid alcohol entirely.

Foods and drugs to avoid

Unfortunately, an alcohol gastritis diet cuts out what many consider “fun foods” in favour of natural alternatives that are softer on the stomach.

While alcohol is something you should cut from your diet completely, the foods below should be temporarily avoided to allow the stomach lining to heal.

  • acidic foods
  • spicy foods
  • fried foods
  • processed foods
  • sugary foods
  • dairy products
  • tomatoes
  • fruit juice
  • carbonated drinks
  • caffeinated drinks
  • drugs, cigarettes or NSAIDS

Foods that reduce Helicobacter pylori bacteria

On the other hand, natural foods can be used as a defence against alcohol gastritis.

Since the presence of Helicobacter pylori bacteria is a big indicator of gastritis development, the following foods reduce its strength and ability to spread.

  • broccoli
  • kale
  • apples
  • berries
  • honey
  • olive oil
  • tea
  • garlic
  • celery
  • beans

High fibre foods

High fibre foods help the stomach heal and repair itself after battling gastritis and ulcers.

In addition, high fibre foods improve bowel function and help the body avoid digestive issues.

  • carrots
  • leafy greens
  • spinach
  • oatmeal
  • nuts and seeds
  • radishes
  • beets
  • green beans

Lean meats

Fatty meats like ground beef or pork can increase gastritis symptoms.

When searching for protein options, it is best to opt for lean meats like the options below to avoid additional stomach irritation.

  • chicken
  • turkey

Foods containing vitamin B-12

Since gastritis negatively affects cell function and red blood cell production, chronic alcoholics are often vitamin B-12 deficient.

Instead of supplements or injections, certain foods can raise B-12 levels.

  • fatty fish
  • yoghurt
  • eggs
  • breakfast cereal

Ways to heal your stomach lining

In addition to avoiding alcohol and making diet changes, there are other ways to reduce gastritis symptoms and heal a damaged stomach lining.

1. Regular exercise

Gastritis symptoms worsen if you are overweight. Therefore, including 30 minutes of daily exercise to your routine can help keep both your weight and gastritis symptoms in check.

Regularly working and strengthening your intestinal muscles also helps reduce symptoms like nausea and vomiting, bloating and the development of ulcers.

2. Stress reduction

Stress manifests in two ways when it comes to gastritis.

First, in a physical sense, stress can cause haemorrhaging and the erosion of mucus in the stomach lining.

In the latter sense, stress affects your mental well-being and can pressure the body to develop stomach ulcers.

Engaging in stress reduction activities is important to better manage gastritis symptoms and maintain focus on recovery instead of relapse.

Other positive effects of quitting alcohol use

Above, you learned that giving up alcohol can have a direct effect on reducing alcohol gastritis symptoms.

However, saying goodbye to the uncomfortable stomach pain after drinking symptoms also makes way for a healthier life and happier mindset.

In a 2019 study, researchers found that women who quit alcohol use showed a significant boost in their mental well-being [4].

Similarly, in a 2018 study, researchers found that participants who abstained from alcohol for a month were less likely to drink heavily over the following months.

They also recorded that 93 per cent of the 800 subjects experience a sense of achievement and over 70 per cent experienced improved overall health [5].

Overall, abstaining from alcohol is not an easy process.

However, resources like medication and in-patient or out-patient programs are widely available to help with the detoxification and recovery process.

While reducing or eliminating alcohol gastritis symptoms may be the first goal, cutting out alcohol for good can have long-term positive effects on mental health and your overall quality of life.

References

[1] https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/gastritis-gastropathy

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12898897

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16433735

[4] https://www.cmaj.ca/content/191/27/E753

[5] https://www.sussex.ac.uk/news/all?id=4713

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