Alcohol does not cause gallstones, but it can still negatively impact gallbladder health. Additionally, it may increase the risk of gallbladder cancer.

Article at a Glance:

Moderate alcohol consumption is not linked to the development of gallstones. It may actually reduce the risk of the condition.

Liver problems that result from heavy drinking, such as cirrhosis, are linked to gallstones.

Heavy drinking is linked to cancer of the gallbladder.

An Overview

Alcohol has the potential to impact many areas of your health and your body, especially when the substance is used heavily. There are a variety of alcohol-related risks to be aware of, but avoiding heavy use and only drinking in moderation can help you avoid many of them.

We typically tend to think of things like breast cancer and liver conditions when considering the damaging effects of alcohol. However, there are many other ways it can cause health problems. For example, alcohol use can affect the gallbladder in both direct and indirect ways.

What Is the Gallbladder?

The gallbladder doesn’t tend to get a lot of attention unless a problem arises. Your gallbladder is located directly below the liver, and if something is wrong with it, you’ll usually feel pain below the ribs. It’s a small organ that’s responsible for storing bile, a substance that helps you break down and digest the fat you consume.

One of the most common disorders of the gallbladder is the formation of gallstones, which form from cholesterol and bile that’s hardened. Other problems associated with the gallbladder can include cancer and pancreatitis. Some types of pancreatitis occur when gallstones move from the gallbladder and block pancreatic enzymes from going to the small intestine.

The Gallbladder and Alcohol

Because of the gallbladder’s proximity to the liver, some people wonder how drinking impacts the gallbladder. We know that alcohol affects the liver — consuming too much alcohol can cause a variety of liver problems that range from mild to severe. However, alcohol use and gallbladder health don’t have the same clear relationship.

Currently, research shows that alcohol does not contribute to gallstones. In fact, a small amount of alcohol may actually help protect against the condition. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should start drinking to keep your gallbladder healthy. This is especially true because heavy drinking is linked to other gallbladder problems, including cancer of the gallbladder.

FAQs

Is beer good for gallbladder stones?

Some research suggests that alcohol reduces the risk of gallstones. The reason for this is not clear. Alcohol does, however, increase the risk of gallbladder cancer, a far more serious health concern.

Can drinking alcohol cause gallbladder pain?

Drinking alcohol may cause pain in the pancreas, or in some cases the liver, but can reduce the risk of gallbladder pain. The main cause of gallbladder pain is the presence of gallstones, and alcohol reduces the risks of gallstones occuring. Alcohol increases the risk of gallbladder cancer, but this cancer is normally painless and difficult to detect until it advances to obstructing the gallbladder.

Does alcohol affect bile production?

Alcohol affects bile production in two different ways. Firstly, alcohol reduces bile production whenever it is consumed, temporarily suppressing bile synthesis. Secondly, chronic, heavy drinking can lead to long-term liver damage, further affecting the liver’s ability to produce bile over a longer-lasting period.

The Connection Between Alcohol and Gallstones

While alcohol does not directly cause gallstones, drinking heavily could indirectly contribute to the condition. One way is through liver cirrhosis, a serious liver condition linked to drinking. About a third of people with cirrhosis get gallstones, often due to complications from liver scarring.

Something else to note about alcohol and gallbladder conditions is that if you have acute pancreatitis as a result of gallstones, drinking alcohol can make the problem worse. If you have gallbladder problems, it is normally best to avoid alcohol or drink in moderation.

If Alcohol Doesn’t Lead to Gallstones, What Does?

There are a number of reasons gallstones can form, including:

  • Too much cholesterol in the bile
  • Too much bilirubin in the bile
  • Low levels of bile salts in the bile
  • Problems emptying the gallbladder
  • Obesity
  • Sudden weight loss

Although alcohol is not linked to gallstones, the substance can still have a major impact on your health. If you struggle with drinking and want to quit to lead a happier, healthier life, The Recovery Village is here to help. Contact ustoday to learn more about alcohol abuse and addiction treatment programs that can work well for your situation.

Jonathan Strum
Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
Jessica Pyhtila
Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD
Dr. Jessica Pyhtila is a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist based in Baltimore, Maryland with practice sites in inpatient palliative care and outpatient primary care at the Department of Veteran Affairs. Read more
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Columbia Surgery. “FAQs About Pancreatitis.” Retrieved December 27, 2020.

Cha, BH; Jang, MJ; et al. “Alcohol Consumption Can Reduce the Risk of Gallstone Disease: A Systematic Review with a Dose-Response Meta-Analysis of Case-Control and Cohort Studies.” Gut and Liver, January 2019. Accessed March 9, 2022.

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Leitzmann, MF; Tsai, CJ; et al. “Alcohol consumption in relation to risk of cholecystectomy in women.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, August 1, 2003. Accessed March 9, 2022.

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Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.