Stomach Pain After Drinking – Is It A Hangover Or Alcohol Gastritis?

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KEY TAKEAWAYS

While unusual, symptoms of alcoholic gastritis can appear to be routine hangover symptoms.

Continued stomach pain after drinking may indicate acute or chronic inflammation of the stomach lining (mucosa).

Have symptoms disappeared after 24 hours? No – seek medical attention.

Do I still have abdominal discomfort or stomach pain when not drinking? Yes – seek medical attention.

Understanding Hangover Symptoms vs Gastritis

Excessive alcohol use can raise stomach acid levels[1], causing pain which may be confused with gastritis.

To understand the differences, let's consider the symptoms of each.

Hangover Symptoms

If broken down into two components, the terms ‘hang’ and ‘over’ implies these feelings are ‘hanging’ ‘over’ the person the day after alcohol use.

Hangover symptoms include:

  • Dehydration
  • Nausea
  • Over heating
  • Chills
  • Muscle aches
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Body shakes
  • Racing heart
  • Stomach pain or upset stomach

These common symptoms usually ease after 24 hours, but issues such as dehydration may take longer to alleviate.

In some cases, electrolytes may help counteract dehydration. In severe cases, hospitalisation may be required.

Aspirin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), paracetamol, or ibuprofen, can aid stomach pain follwoing excessive drinking.

However, some medicines will interfere with this condition[2], causing even greater discomfort.

If stomach pain after drinking doesn't subside and is left untreated, consult a medical professional.

Stomach Pain after Drinking – Is it a hangover or Alcohol Gastritis

Acidity From Alcohol Overuse

Regular drinking can contribute to acidity symptoms[3] including:

  • Peptic ulcer
  • Chronic gastritis
  • Acute gastritis
  • Upset stomach
  • Acid reflux
  • Crohn's disease
  • Damage to digestive tract

Alcohol And Stomach Sensitivity

Heavy drinkers may not be at more risk than those with modest alcohol intake.

An individual with lower sensitivity to alcohol, and the acidity it generates, can be symptom-free.

Whereas, a person with greater sensitivity, can develop gastritis symptoms from very little alcohol intake[4].

Acute Alcoholic Gastritis

Gastritis is inflammation of the stomach lining [5] (known as mucosa).

Acute gastritis is a sudden flare up of acidity causing severe stomach pain.

In some cases, acute gastritis can lead to internal bleeding, as the stomach lining becomes red, and may peel or burn away.

Common signs of gastritis:

  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Regurgitation
  • Hemorrhage
  • Stomach ulcers

Chronic Alcoholic Gastritis

Alcoholic gastritis typically occurs alongside alcohol addiction, following ten or more years of excessive drinking.

Alcohol destroys the healthy cells in the stomach mucosa and small intestine, causing gastritis symptoms. [6]

Chronic gastritis signs:

  • Stomach Pain in the upper abdominal region
  • Tiredness
  • Anemia
  • Appetite Loss
  • Stomach irritation

Certain foods, e.g. spicy such as spicy foods that, when combined with alcohol intake can exacerbate symptoms.

Alcohol gastritis and acid reflux symptoms may improve with:

  • Reduced or ceased alcohol intake
  • Adjusted diet to include probiotics such as kombucha, yoghurt and sauerkraut, lean meats, and vegtables.
  • Increased intake of Vitamin B12

Chronic gastritis can be diagnosed by a variety of different methods such as:

  • Upper Endoscopy - camera into stomach via the mouth to investigate the stomach lining
  • Blood Tests – can also test for Helicobacter Pylori and anemia
  • Stool Tests

Long-Term Effects Of Alcohol Gastritis

Possible long-term side effects or complications of chronic alcohol gastritis include:

  • Anemia - the body no longer creates enough red blood cells to transport oxygen around the body
  • Upper GI Tract Bleeding - from esophagus, stomach or duodenum
  • Mallory Wiess Tears - occur in the oesophagus , caused in some cases by excessive coughing or vomiting.
  • Increased risk of stomach cancer

Again, if possible, the elimination or vast reduction of alcohol intake is encouraged, to ease symptoms and promote recovery of the stomach lining.

Areas to be considered when reviewing alcohol intake with a view to reducing symptoms:

  • How long the symptoms have been occurring without seeking treatment
  • How long the patient continues to drink in excess after first diagnosis
  • Type of alcohol intake e.g. straight vodka, whisky etc
  • If binge drinking is occurring
  • Is the patient dependent upon alcohol, and requiring treatment

How To Limit The Effects Of Alcohol Gastritis

To limit the effects of alcoholic gastritis:

  • Speak to a medical professional about your symptoms
  • Stop drinking or moderate intake (always seek professional help)
  • Reduce stress
  • Exercise regularly
  • Review diet and introduce stomach-friendly food
  • Avoid large amounts of caffeine
  • Avoid large intake of anti-inflammatory drugs or stop if advised
  • Take all medications only as prescribed

Alcoholic Gastritis Treatment

Some of the most easily accessible treatment options for alcohol gastritis are:

  • Probiotics
  • Proton Pump Inhibitors
  • Antacids
  • Antibiotics for gastrointestinal tract bacteria

The medications prescribed for treatment are aimed at relieving the stomach lining, e.g antacids.

Antibiotics can be prescribed if the presence of a bacterial infection has been identified in the upper gastro intestinal tract.

Care must be shown if taking Aspirin or Ibuprofen to manage stomach pain after drinking, as these can exacerbate symptoms. Seek medical guidance as appropriate.

Is It Alcohol Gastritis Or A Hangover

The signs and symptoms of a hangover and alcohol gastritis may be similar in some cases, e.g. nausea or stomach pain after drinking. With a hangover, symptoms generally begin to ease around 24 hours.

Whereas, symptoms of alcohol gastritis may continue after 24 hours have passed. It is important to seek medical help if this is the case, as underlying symptoms such as stomach ulcers or hemorrhage may be present.

Consider:

  • Have the symptoms disappeared after 24 hours? No – seek medical attention.
  • Do I still have abdominal discomfort or stomach pain when not drinking? Yes – seek medical attention.
  • Am I dependent on alcohol, and do I require a clinically managed detox to stop my drinking?
  • Yes – consider supervised rehabilitation treatment


Clinically Managed Detox For Those Dependent On Alcohol

Clinically managed detox is a safe, professional, and monitored way to withdraw from alcohol.

Detoxing in a clinic means the prescription can be modified to meet the needs of each individual. 

The clinic can administer medication at the required times throughout the day, in a safe and supportive environment.

Success rates for completing detox are high, as the patient is removed from the home environment, and from the ability to purchase and use alcohol or drugs.

Whilst undertaking therapy conducive to achieving and maintaining long-term sobriety.

For daily drinkers it can sometimes be hard to assess why stomach pain, especially if they have gotten used to a dull or sometimes sharp pain in this area.

And in some cases, light drinkers may encounter alcohol gastritis due to the sensitivity of the stomach lining.

The recommendation is not to ignore this stomach pain, but to seek medical attention if concerned. In all cases it is better to rule out alcohol gastritis than to go on suffering without appropriate medical care.

To learn more about our residential treatment at Abbeycare, ring us direct on 01603 513 091 .

Last Updated: January 18, 2023

About the author

Peter Szczepanski

Peter has been on the GPhC register for 29 years. He holds a Clinical Diploma in Advanced Clinical Practice and he is a Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Misuse for Abbeycare Gloucester and works as the Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Use in Worcestershire. Peter also co-authored the new 6th edition of Drugs In Use by Linda Dodds, writing Chapter 15 on Alcohol Related Liver Disease. Find Peter on Respiratory Academy, Aston University graduates, University of Birmingham, Q, Pharmaceutical Journal, the Dudley Pharmaceutical Committee, Dudley Council, Twitter, and LinkedIn.