Alcohol abuse can affect just about every bodily system, from the brain and the nervous system to the digestive system, including the stomach. We’re familiar with how alcohol affects our liver and brain, but how does alcohol abuse affect the digestive system? Unfortunately, it may be more harmful than you think.
Alcohol Abuse, Gastritis, Ulcers and Cancer
Alcohol abuse, even short term, puts an individual at risk for a number of gastrointestinal problems. Gastritis, an inflammation of the stomach lining, is surprisingly common among those that abuse alcohol. Individuals that abuse alcohol usually has erosive gastritis, where there’s more of a wearing away of the stomach lining than inflammation. This can cause the stomach to bleed or develop ulcers. Some people with even chronic, erosive gastritis don’t have any symptoms, but others experience pain or discomfort in their upper abdomen, nausea, and vomiting. Chronic gastritis, whether caused by alcohol abuse or other factors, does put a person at risk for peptic ulcers as well as polyps and tumors, whether benign or malignant, of the stomach.
An ulcer is a sore in the lining of the stomach. They’re only found in those areas that the stomach usually bathes in the digestive juices and acids. One of those juices is an enzyme called pepsin, hence how the peptic ulcer was named. Ulcers can cause a gnawing or burning pain in the abdomen between the navel and the bottom of the sternum. Some people report that the pain seems to be worse after meals and in the early morning. However, as with gastritis, some people don’t have that much pain or have no pain at all. Sometimes an ulcer becomes so invasive that it actually perforates the wall of the stomach, which is a medical emergency.
The relationship between alcohol abuse and gastric (stomach) cancer is not well understood. Some studies indicate that there is no link between alcohol abuse and cancer while others indicate there may be a strong correlation. Until we know, it is safer to avoid chronic alcohol abuse. Stomach cancer is an especially dangerous cancer because its early signs are either so vague that the patient ignores them or there are no signs and symptoms at all. By the time the patient begins to feel symptoms cancer may have already progressed.
It is important to understand that the human body begins to heal as soon as alcohol and drug abuse stop. Alcohol abuse is treatable and many people live healthy sober lives after treatment. Digestive problems may be particularly difficult to diagnose, given that the symptoms may appear vague, so it is important to be honest with your doctor about your alcohol use if you are experiencing stomach pains or digestive problems.
Alcohol abuse left untreated can damage not only the human body but also your life and your family. Fortunately, treatment is effective, safe and has helped many men reclaim a healthy lifestyle.