What Is Alcoholic Gastritis?

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on May 29, 2023
4 min read

Gastritis means that your stomach’s inner lining is inflamed or worn down. Alcoholic gastritis is what people call it if gastritis happens because of alcohol use.

You can take steps to lower your risk, and doctors can help relieve some symptoms quickly. If heavy drinking is the cause of your gastritis, then cutting back or quitting alcohol will be part of the treatment.

Gastritis has many possible causes. Just a few of them are eating spicy foods, smoking, stress, diseases that attack your body’s autoimmune system, bacterial or viral infections, trauma, pernicious anemia (when your stomach has problems handling vitamin B12), and reactions to surgery.

Alcoholic gastritis is caused by drinking too much, too often. The alcohol can gradually irritate and erode your stomach lining. This triggers gastritis symptoms.

Gastritis doesn’t always cause symptoms. If it does, some people assume it’s just indigestion. If you get gastritis from any cause, symptoms may include:

  • A gnawing, burning ache in your stomach. It may get better or worse after you eat.
  • A constant pain between your navel and ribs
  • Belching and hiccuping
  • Bloated or full feeling in your stomach that gets worse if you eat
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • If you have anemia (too few red blood cells) along with gastritis, you may have fatigue and shortness of breath when you exercise. Bleeding in the stomach can cause anemia.
  • Blood in your feces or vomit, which may come from bleeding in the stomach lining

Other things can also cause these symptoms, so check with a doctor for a diagnosis and treatment.

Your doctor will give you a physical exam and ask about your health history and personal habits, including how much and how often you drink. That information may be enough for your doctor to diagnose gastritis. But you may need these tests:

  1. A breath test to check for bacteria that cause gastritis. You drink a special clear liquid and then blow into a bag. The bag is quickly sealed and tested. That reveals if the bacteria broke down the liquid in your stomach.
  2. An X-ray of your upper gastrointestinal (GI) system. This includes the esophagus (the tube leading from your throat to the stomach), stomach, and duodenum (the upper part of your small intestine). You first need to drink a liquid called barium, which helps show details on the X-ray.
  3. Upper endoscopy. The doctor uses an endoscope, which is a thin, lighted tube with a camera at one end. The doctor guides it down your throat to check your esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. They can also use the endoscope to remove some tissue for lab tests.
  4. Blood tests. These look for bacteria that cause gastritis and for signs of anemia.
  5. A stool test to check your feces for bacteria that can cause gastritis or for blood, which could mean your stomach or intestine linings are bleeding.

Your history and test results help your doctor see if you have gastritis and whether alcohol is a factor. Then the doctor can recommend a treatment plan for gastritis or another condition.

Most of the time, medication and other treatments ease gastritis symptoms quickly. But if your gastritis is related to drinking, quitting or cutting back on alcohol needs to be part of your plan, too. Also, treatment will differ, depending on how bad your gastritis is as well as your symptoms, age, and general health.

Medications often include:

  • Antibiotics to kill bacteria that cause gastritis
  • Antacids to reduce your stomach acid
  • Histamine (H2) blockers, which curb how much acid your stomach makes
  • Proton pump inhibitors, which treat stomach ulcers and reflux

In addition to asking you to cut back on alcohol, your doctor may recommend that you avoid spicy foods and acidic beverages like coffee, orange and tomato juices, and colas. And you may need to cut smoking, aspirin, caffeine, and over-the-counter pain medications. Your doctor also might suggest eating smaller meals.

Untreated gastritis can lead to serious problems. These include:

  • Anemia. This can happen if you get ulcers in your stomach and those ulcers bleed.
  • Peptic ulcers. These are painful sores in your upper digestive tract.
  • Gastric polyps. These are clumps of cells on your stomach lining.
  • Stomach tumors that may or may not be cancer

So don’t put off calling your doctor if you notice blood in your feces or vomit, dark or tarry-looking feces, extreme weakness, or unexplained weight loss. If you have gastritis related to alcohol or to any other cause, getting started on treatment right away is the right move.