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.
Table of Contents
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.
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
- 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 us today to learn more about alcohol addiction treatment programs that can work well for your situation.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease. “Gallstones.” Accessed December 27, 2020.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease. “Symptoms & Causes of Gallstones.” November 2017. Accessed December 27, 2020.
Bagnardi, V.; Rota, M.; Botteri, E.; et al. “Alcohol consumption and site-specific cancer risk: a comprehensive dose–response meta-analysis.” British Journal of Cancer, November 25, 2014. Accessed December 27, 2020.
Cha, Byung Hyo; Jang, Myoung-jin; Lee, Sang Hyub. “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 15, 2019. Accessed December 27, 2020.
Acalovschi, Monica. “Gallstones in patients with liver cirrhosis: Incidence, etiology, clinical and therapeutical aspects.” World Journal of Gastroenterology, June 21, 2014. Accessed December 27, 2020.
Columbia Surgery. “FAQs About Pancreatitis.” Retrieved December 27, 2020.
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