is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. We strive to provide evidenced-based material for those seeking information on Alcohol Dependence (Alcoholism) and a sense of community through our Discussion Forums.
Educational Materials Through education, you can empower yourself with the understanding and tools you will
need when facing alcohol abuse or alcohol dependency. Whether it is for yourself or a loved
one, knowing the facts will provide for better treatment and better care for all concerned.

Font Size: Smaller Font Larger Font | Printer Icon Print


Return to the Alcohol Effects Your Body homepage

By: S. Rennie, LPN

Alcohol, even in relatively small amounts, can interfere with many stomach functions, i.e., altered gastric acid secretion, acute gastric mucosal injury, and interference with gastric and intestinal motility.1 (Motility: Biology. moving or capable of moving spontaneously: motile cells; motile spores.)2

Gastric acid and digestive enzymes helps break food down in the stomach. The production of excessive gastric acid may irritate the mucosa thus causing pain and could result in ulcers. In a study (Chari et al. 1993), it was found that alcoholic beverages such as beer and wine with a low alcohol content greatly increase the secretion of gastric acid and the gastric hormone gastrin, and then induces acid secretion. On the other hand, high-alcohol content beverages such as whisky and cognac do not increase gastric acid secretion or the release of gastrin. The reasons for this have not yet been found. Alcohol may topically stimulate the gastric mucosa or it may be more general - affecting hormone release and regulating nerve functions connected to acid secretion. Additionally, it has been found that by-products of the fermentation of beer stimulates gastric acid secretion, and not the alcohol (Chari et al. 1993).1

Chronic alcohol consumption can shrink the gastric mucosa and decrease gastric secretion. This lower gastric acid production inhibits the stomach's ability to kill food-related bacteria thus causing potentially harmful microorganisms to populate the upper small intestine. This can be partially reversed by abstinence.1

Although it is not known how alcohol damages the gastric mucosa, it is known that alcohol consumption can cause inflammation of the mucosa and is a major cause of bleeding gastric lesions. Parts of the mucosa can be damaged or destroyed by the bleeding lesions.1 This generally does not happen with low to moderate alcohol consumption in a healthy person. It is more likely to happen from even just one episode of heavy drinking.1

More damage that can occur during just one heavy drinking episode is the weakening of the lower esophageal sphincter. This is the two bands of muscle fibers at the end of the esophagus/beginning of the stomach. Weakening this sphincter can cause gastroesphageal reflux. Gastroesphageal reflux can lead to heartburn, inflammation and ulcers in that part of the esophagus. This also can be damaged during one single heavy drinking episode.1,3

Other muscle functions with which alcohol can interfere are those around the stomach wall and small intestine. This affects the time to move food through both organs. Beverages with alcohol contents 15% or more appear to delay the movement of food through the stomach. This could result in bacteria causing gases that, in turn, could cause feelings of being full and stomach discomfort.1

One important piece of information to take away from this topic is that while chronic alcohol dependence and alcohol abuse cause many stomach problems, even one single heavy drinking episode can cause much damage.


  1. Bode, Christiane, Ph.D. and Bode, J. Christian, M.D., Alcohol's Role in Gastrointestinal Disorders. Alcohol Health & Research World. Vol. 21, No. 1, 1997. 77-78

  2. American Psychological Association (APA): motility. (n.d.). Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved March 26, 2008, from website:

  3. Alcohol and the Digestive System/Gastrointestinal Tract.

This page was last modified on : 10/28/2013

To add a locator tool
to your site click here.
New Brochure - Treatment Options for Alcohol Dependence - Click for more information
In case of Alcohol Withdrawals or Alcohol Poisoning call 911 or seek immediate medical attention.
Home | About Us | Terms | Privacy Policy | Education | Recognizing The Problem | Health Issues | Treatment Options | Alcohol Withdrawal
What can I do to help | Women's Issues | Peer Support | Psychosocial Therapy | Brief Interventions
How to Dispose of Unused Medicines | FAQ | Resources | Links | Downloads | Glossary | Enabling |Site Map | Donate
PO Box 333
Farmington, CT 06034