Medically Reviewed

How Are Ulcers Formed from Drinking Alcohol?

Stomach ulcers are painful and potentially dangerous medical conditions that impact the lining of your stomach. Many aspects of your lifestyle can influence the development of stomach ulcers.

This page will help you learn more about what stomach ulcers are, the risks associated with developing an ulcer, symptoms of stomach ulcers, how alcohol consumption can affect the development of stomach ulcers, whether you can still drink if you have an ulcer, how ulcers are treated, and what the outlook for recovery is when you have an ulcer.

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What Is an Ulcer?

An ulcer, which may be referred to as a peptic ulcer or stomach ulcer, is a type of sore that occurs within your stomach lining.1,2 When the protective lining of the stomach becomes irritated and inflamed, the stomach acid can further aggravate the area and lead to these sores.2 These types of ulcers can also develop in the duodenum, which is the first part of your small intestine.1,2 Ulcers often develop as a result of infection with a bacteria known as Helicobacter pylori, commonly known as H. pylori.1,3 Other risk factors such as taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen for prolonged periods can also lead to the development of peptic ulcers.1

Although not all ulcers cause noticeable symptoms, most people do notice some pain or discomfort that can indicate an issue.2 Pain can be short, lasting for several minutes, or prolonged, lasting for several hours, and typically starts within hours of consuming food.2

The symptoms of ulcers can vary from person to person, but commonly include:2,3,5

  • A dull, burning, or gnawing sensation in the stomach.
  • Blood in stool or vomit, which occurs in severe cases.
  • Bloating or burping after eating high-fat foods.
  • General malaise.
  • Heartburn.
  • Indigestion or sour stomach.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Pain that may radiate from the center of the abdomen to the neck, to the belly button, or towards the back.
  • Pain that occurs between meals or wakes you up at night.
  • Pain which returns after eating or taking antacids, even if it is temporarily relieved.
  • Prolonged stomach pain, lasting for days, weeks, or months.
  • Weight loss.

The Dangers of Alcohol & Ulcers

Alcohol isn’t known to directly cause ulcers, although it can make you more likely to develop a peptic ulcer – especially if you also possess other risk factors.1,2 Since alcohol in itself is a risk factor for developing a peptic ulcer, it can significantly raise the likelihood of developing an ulcer.4 If you already have a peptic ulcer, drinking alcohol can exacerbate the condition and worsen the symptoms that you are experiencing.2 In particular, heavy drinking can worsen ulcer symptoms.4,6 Heavy drinking is defined for men as having more than 4 drinks in a day or greater than 14 drinks weekly, or women having more than 3 drinks in a day or greater than 7 drinks weekly, or binge drinking at least 5 times within the last month.6

Can I Drink If I Have an Ulcer?

If you have been diagnosed with an ulcer, it can be dangerous to continue to drink alcohol while suffering from this medical issue.2,7 Before deciding to drink, you should speak to your physician about your alcohol use, since they know the most about your condition and can provide the most accurate information about your prognosis and treatment plan. It is generally suggested that people with ulcers avoid things that can trigger symptoms or make them worse, including alcohol.2,3 Over time, the consequences of addiction on your body can be more pronounced, and if you have a hard time staying away from drinking alcohol, it could be a good idea to speak to your doctor about getting help.

However, it is important to be aware of the fact that drinking alcohol when you have an ulcer can exacerbate the symptoms and potentially lead to dangerous complications.2 If complications arise, it can involve longer healing time and the need for more invasive treatments.1 Complications associated with ulcers can include bleeding, perforation of the affected area, obstruction of the affected area which prevents food from passing through the digestive tract, and/or peritonitis, which is an inflammation of the membrane that lines the abdomen.1,2 These complications can be severe and life-threatening.2

Ways to Get in Contact With Us

If you believe you or someone you love may be struggling with addiction, let us hear your story and help you determine a path to treatment.

There are a variety of confidential, free, and no obligation ways to get in contact with us to learn more about treatment.

Treatment & Outlook for Ulcers

The typical treatment for an ulcer depends on what caused it.2 For ulcers that are caused by H. pylori, antibiotics are typically prescribed to kill the ulcer-causing bacteria.2 Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are also often used to treat ulcers that are caused by NSAID use. PPIs work by reducing the acid levels in your stomach.2 You may have to stop taking NSAIDs since ulcers can recur if you continue to use NSAIDs after temporarily stopping.2 With treatment, peptic ulcers typically heal within a couple of months.2

Even if alcohol plays a role in the development of your ulcers, they can heal if you follow proper treatment and avoid triggers.2,3 Ulcers that don’t heal with treatment may require additional courses of treatment, or in some cases, can require surgery.2,3 However, stopping alcohol usually isn’t enough to heal an ulcer, and they typically won’t get better without medical treatment.3

If you are unable to stop drinking even after suffering negative consequences to your health, you might also be suffering from an alcohol use disorder. Attending a detox followed by an inpatient alcohol rehab or outpatient alcohol rehab can help you avoid alcohol while treating your co-occurring ulcer. Treatment can also allow you to learn the skills needed to identify unhealthy patterns of thought and behavior, develop effective coping skills, prevent relapse, improve communication skills, strengthen problem-solving abilities, and form a supportive group of sober peers.8

Sources

  1. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2014, November). Definition and facts for peptic ulcers (stomach ulcers).
  2. NHS Inform. (2021, April 2). Stomach ulcer.
  3. S. National Library of Medicine. (2020, October 2). Peptic ulcer.
  4. Lee, S.P., Sung, I-K., Kim, J.H., Lee, S-Y., Park, H.S., & Shim, C.S. (2017). Risk factors for the presence of symptoms in peptic ulcer disease. Clinical endoscopy, 50, 578-584.
  5. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2014, November). Symptoms and causes of peptic ulcers (stomach ulcers).
  6. National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). Drinking levels defined.
  7. Thirupathaiah, K., Jayapal, L., Amaranathan, A., Vijayakumar, C., Goneppanavar, M., & Ramakrishnaiah, V.P.N.. (2020). The association between Helicobacter pylori and perforated gastroduodenal ulcer. Cureus, 12(3).
  8. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). Principles of drug addiction treatment: A research-based guide (3rd edition).
Last Updated on February 2, 2022
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