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How Are Ulcers Formed from Drinking Alcohol?

There is no doubt that excessive drinking can take a toll on one’s health. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, drinking too much for too long can cause damage to the heart, brain, liver, and pancreas. It can also weaken the immune system overall, making the drinker more susceptible to diseases, ranging from the common cold to pneumonia.Other studies in recent years have found a correlation between drinking alcohol and the development of peptic ulcers – open sores that can occur along the lining of the stomach. Ulcers are incredibly painful, and they can also cause nausea, bloating, and a heartburn sensation. But what is it about alcohol that can lead to this condition?

How an Ulcer Forms

To start, we first need to consider how peptic ulcer disease, or PUD, develops in the average body. Ulcers are the product of a bacterium known as Helicobacter pylori or H. pylori. This bacterium infects the stomach, inflaming and irritating the stomach lining until a sore develops. Once the ulcer has developed, the person will need a combination of antibiotics and antacids to promote healing in the stomach. Unfortunately, the person will often have to simply deal with the pain until the ulcer has healed.

Of course, H. pylori is not the only culprit when it comes to ulcers. A study from the journal Clinical Endoscopy published a report in 2016 wherein they reviewed the various risks factors for PUD.

Along with H. pylori infection, the study found that some risk factors for developing ulcers included:
  • Old age
  • Using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin or ibuprofen
  • Heavy smoking
  • Heavy drinking

Other studies suggest that ulcers are psychosomatic and that destructive behavior, such as alcohol abuse or excessive tobacco use, are merely signs of a greater mental and emotional problem.

The Dangers of Alcohol and Ulcers

There is a great irony that surrounds the connection between alcohol abuse and peptic ulcers. While a few glasses too many can leave a drinker with a gnawing pain in the gut, some experts believe that light to moderate alcohol intake may actually prevent the H. pylori bacteria from safely making their way to the stomach. In this way, ulcers and alcohol have a similar relationship to alcohol and just about everything else; drinking in moderation can be fine, but drinking to excess can be extremely dangerous.

Still, there are those who argue that alcohol is not the direct cause of peptic ulcers. Instead, these experts consider alcohol use a mere red herring – an errant symptom of a much bigger problem. In an issue of Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, researchers stated that “heavy alcohol consumption is a form of self-medication … Thus, alcohol drinking may result from poor work environment conditions, poor marital relations (avoidance of going home), or poor social relations…” It is those poor conditions, that cause the ulcer, they argued, not the drinking itself. Regardless of the details, one fact remains: Alcohol abuse can contribute to a painful sore in the stomach.

Whether or not drinking is causing a person’s ulcer, science has concluded that drinking doesn’t help an ulcer heal. In fact, drinking when one has an ulcer can actually make the condition worse. If left untreated, or if exacerbated by alcohol, ulcers can cause problems like internal bleeding, the formation of holes in the stomach wall, and scarring that can impede digestion. Physicians encourage people suffering from ulcers to abstain from heavy drinking while they heal. While this is a simple enough direction for most people, if a person is suffering from alcoholism, it is essentially impossible to heed this advice without professional assistance.

Treatment for Ulcers Due to Drinking

The development of ulcers due to drinking is a clear sign that alcohol abuse is an issue. While medical treatment is needed to monitor and care for the ulcers, addiction treatment is needed to address the underlying substance abuse issue. If the person seeks medical care for the ulcers without stopping alcohol abuse, it’s likely that the ulcers will simply return.

Ideally, individuals should seek care at a treatment facility that can provide medical care and monitoring. Since alcohol withdrawal can involve life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, such as seizures, it’s imperative that individuals don’t simply stop drinking on their own; medical care is required.

In addition, medical professionals can offer care for the ulcers during the sensitive withdrawal process, ensuring pain and discomfort are effectively managed.

While detox and medical care are important parts of addiction treatment, they must be followed by comprehensive addiction therapy. If researchers who believe that ulcers are partially due to psychological issues are correct, working through emotional stress in therapy is important to management of this medical issue. In addition, therapy will address issues that contributed to alcohol abuse, helping clients to successfully achieve recovery on all fronts.

Last Updated on April 16, 2021
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