Alcohol can affect every part of your body, especially when it is used heavily or for prolonged periods of time. One effect of alcohol use that can occur with just a single episode of alcohol consumption is abdominal discomfort. Drinking alcohol can affect your stomach lining and how your digestive system functions, causing unpleasant symptoms that can be distressing for some people.

Article at a Glance:

  • Alcohol suppresses saliva production, leading to dental and oral diseases.
  • Alcohol increases the risk of throat cancer and internal bleeding in your throat.
  • Stomach ulcers, gastritis and stomach cancer are all risks of alcohol use.
  • Brain and nutritional problems can develop from alcohol’s effects on the intestines.

Alcohol’s Effect on the Mouth

Your mouth is the first part of your digestive tract, as it’s where food begins its journey through your body. Alcohol can affect the health of your mouth, leading to dental and digestive problems. 

The main mouth-related problem that alcohol consumption causes is dry mouth, a condition known medically as xerostomia. Heavy alcohol use decreases the flow of saliva, causing this dryness to develop. While a dry mouth may not seem like a big deal, it actually has an impact on your digestive system and dental health. 

Saliva begins the digestive process. While saliva in the mouth only plays a small role in digestion, an absence of saliva can affect the digestive process. Saliva also helps good bacteria to grow in your mouth. When your mouth is chronically dry, it can lead to dental decay and other dental problems.

Alcohol’s Effect on the Throat and Esophagus

After food enters the mouth, it proceeds to the stomach via a tube called the esophagus. This tube is located in your throat and goes down into your abdomen, where it empties into the stomach.

There are several problems that alcohol consumption can cause in your throat. These include:

  • Cancer: Alcohol use has been shown to increase the risk of developing cancers of the head and neck. While neck cancers take time to develop, this is a serious long-term risk of alcohol use.
  • Regurgitation: Using large amounts of alcohol can cause the contents of the stomach to regurgitate back into the esophagus. The acidic stomach contents burn the esophagus, causing heartburn and other unpleasant symptoms. 
  • Esophageal varices: Esophageal varices are a very serious problem actually caused by the liver. When alcohol affects the liver, it can cause increased pressure in the circulation of the liver. This pressure backs up into the veins of the esophagus, causing weak and swollen veins called esophageal varices. Esophageal varices do not cause symptoms until they rupture; at this time, they cause serious and sudden bleeding into the esophagus. Esophageal varices can be deadly if they rupture.

Alcohol’s Effect on the Stomach

When food exits the esophagus, it passes through a valve and empties into the stomach. In the stomach, food will be churned by strong stomach muscles and mixed with acids to break it down. Food is then slowly released into the intestines — the next part of the digestive system — so that nutrients can be absorbed. 

Drinking alcohol affects the stomach in many different ways. It can cause:

  • Ulcers: Ulcers can be more likely to occur with alcohol use because alcohol irritates the stomach’s lining. This can cause damage to the lining and allow acidic digestive juices to eat into the stomach’s wall, causing an ulcer.
  • Cancer: Just as alcohol increases the risk of developing cancer in the throat, it also increases the risk of developing stomach cancer
  • Vomiting: Alcohol increases the amount of stomach acid that is released while also delaying the emptying of the stomach. This causes gastritis and can potentially lead to vomiting. This digestive symptom is more likely to occur with binge drinking.

Alcohol’s Effect on the Small and Large Intestine

Once food has been broken down in the stomach, it enters the small intestines and then the large intestines before it exits the body. The intestines help to absorb water and nutrients found in food. 

There are several ways alcohol-related effects can impact the health of your intestines. These include:

  • Inflammation: Alcohol causes inflammation in the wall of the intestines. This can lead to discomfort and also create unpleasant symptoms like diarrhea.
  • Decreased absorption: Because alcohol causes inflammation, it makes the wall of the intestines become swollen and thicker. This makes it harder for the intestines to absorb food. Over prolonged periods, this can lead to malnutrition since few nutrients are able to be absorbed by the body.
  • Bacterial imbalance: The types of bacteria in your intestines can impact your health in a variety of ways. Alcohol changes the balance of bacteria in your gut, creating many potential health problems.
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome: Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is a disorder that causes inflammation in the brain that can become permanent. Thiamine deficiency is the sole cause of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, and it can occur due to the effects alcohol has on the intestines. Alcohol prevents the intestines from absorbing enough thiamine (vitamin B1). 

Alcohol’s effects on the body and brain can lead to life-threatening complications, so it’s important for people to limit their use of alcohol. However, stopping alcohol use on your own can lead to dangerous symptoms, especially if you drink heavily or have been drinking for a long time. For these reasons, it’s important to seek out professional treatment if you’re ready to quit drinking.

If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol abuse and addiction, The Recovery Village is here to help. Through a full continuum of care that includes medical detox, inpatient treatment, outpatient services and long-term aftercare, we can help you recover from alcohol addiction in a safe and effective way. Contact us today to learn more about alcohol addiction treatment programs that can work well for your needs.


How do you know if alcohol is affecting your stomach?

You may not initially realize that alcohol is affecting your stomach. When it begins to create symptoms, you may feel a burning, painful sensation in your stomach or throat. You may also have increased nausea or vomiting, especially when drinking alcohol.

How can you protect your stomach lining from alcohol?

The best way to protect your stomach lining from alcohol is to avoid drinking alcohol. If you do use alcohol, there is no good way to ensure your stomach is fully protected. However, drinking in moderation or on a full stomach may reduce potential alcohol-related damage to your stomach lining.

How are ulcers formed from drinking alcohol?

Ulcers occur when the inner lining of the stomach breaks down, allowing stomach acids to eat away at the muscles of the stomach. Alcohol increases the acidity of your stomach contents, making it easier for stomach contents to break through the lining of your stomach and corrode the wall of the stomach.

What is alcohol gastritis and what does it feel like?

Alcohol gastritis is a form of inflammation that affects the lining of your stomach and is caused by heavy alcohol use. Gastritis may not create any symptoms, but it often causes a person to feel sore or nauseous. Gastritis can also lead to complications such as anemia (low blood levels) and tumors.

Where is the stomach pain felt in alcoholic gastritis?

The stomach pain caused by alcoholic gastritis is often over the area of the stomach in the upper left side of the abdomen, but it can also occur anywhere in the upper abdomen. In some people, this pain may radiate up into the chest or into the back.

Does alcohol harm gut bacteria?

Alcohol upsets the balance of the different types of bacteria that live in your gut. Alcohol ultimately leads to inflammation and reduces the number of bacteria that help promote healthy digestion.

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
Benjamin Caleb Williams
Medically Reviewed By – Benjamin Caleb Williams, RN
Benjamin Caleb Williams is a board-certified Emergency Nurse with several years of clinical experience, including supervisory roles within the ICU and ER settings. Read more

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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.