Alcoholism and stomach issues often go hand in hand, as we’ll explore. Overall, alcoholism touches every aspect of a person’s life. It often leads to job loss, broken relationships, financial struggles, and legal problems.
The physical consequences are even more concerning, including cirrhosis of the liver. However, alcohol is destructive long before it reaches the liver, causing several health problems – including stomach issues.
Alcoholism and Alcohol Use Disorder — What’s the Difference?
First, let’s define terms. Alcoholism and AUD are often used interchangeably, but there are slight differences. Alcoholism typically refers to a more advanced condition. The American Psychological Association puts it this way:
Alcoholism is a chronic, progressive disease marked by physical and psychological dependence on alcohol. AUD describes patterns of drinking that cause significant, recurrent, and adverse consequences.1
Notice that the APA doesn’t specify amounts; it emphasizes alcohol dependence and drinking patterns with bad outcomes. Those are different for everybody.
How much drinking is too much? It’s not just about heavy drinking or binge drinking. Excessive use also includes drinking before you’re of legal age and drinking when you are pregnant.2
Alcohol Abuse by the Numbers
According to U.S. government statistics3, even AUD is quite serious:
- In 2019, AUD affected close to 15 million Americans ages 12 and older.
- Binge drinking is an escalating problem. Compared to people who don’t binge drink, binge drinkers are anywhere from 70 to 93 times more likely to have at least one alcohol-related emergency.
- Alcohol abuse is the third-leading preventable cause of death.
- Like alcoholism, AUD marked by heavy drinking can cause severe or fatal conditions:
- Liver disease
- High blood pressure
- Heart problems
- Various cancers, especially of the upper digestive tract, which includes the voice organs, pulmonary tract, and esophagus
- Other non-medical alcohol-related incidents including car crashes, falls, drowning, violence.
Spiraling From AUD to Alcoholism
Believe us — unlike movie characters, you don’t have to hit rock bottom to get worried and get help. Even mild to moderate AUD can quickly get out of hand. Better understanding could prevent full-blown alcoholism.
People with AUD don’t necessarily drink every day or experience severe withdrawal symptoms when they stay sober. They might not drink enough to be physically impaired. They may never drink and drive.
By the APA’s definition, however, they’re still on a slippery slope. They pay “significant, recurrent and adverse” consequences for drinking, but they keep drinking anyway.
Red Flags for Alcohol Use Disorder
Here’s what the progression from AUD to alcoholism typically looks like:
- Trying and failing to cut back on drinking
- Having to drink more to get the same buzz
- Lying about drinking or hiding evidence
- Declining social activities that don’t involve drinking
- Performing poorly on the job or at school
- Having no memory of events after heavy drinking
- Neglecting responsibilities
- Quitting relationships, clubs, teams, or hobbies
- Having severe withdrawal symptoms, like tremors, hallucinations, or panic attacks, when alcohol is not available
- Having frequent accidents or unexplained injuries
The GI Tract, Alcoholism, and Stomach Issues
Alcoholism is a brain disease, but it impacts every organ in the body. The digestive system includes the gastrointestinal tract (GI) and the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas. In particular, the GI tract is where stomach problems occur.
The first stop for alcohol is the mouth, of course, so the gums, teeth, tongue, and salivary glands are exposed immediately. Oral health problems are pervasive with alcohol abuse. Alcoholism is also hard on the voice box, breathing organs, and esophagus. According to a new British study, alcohol is strongly linked to mouth and throat cancers.4 Smoking only increases this risk.
If alcohol can do that kind of damage when it’s just passing through, imagine the havoc it can wreak when it lingers for a while in your stomach. Whether you drink a little or a lot, your stomach suffers.
More Connections Between Alcoholism and Stomach Issues
For one thing, alcohol lowers acid production. Stomach acid jump-starts digestion and keeps harmful bacteria from entering the small intestine. A thick mucous membrane separates the stomach wall from the area where all the digestion takes place. Everything works well until alcohol becomes a problem.
When alcohol abuse breaks down the mucous membrane, acid and digestive enzymes attempt to digest the stomach itself. Inflammation, lesions, and excessive wear in the stomach lining can cause gastritis or peptic ulcers, which are open sores.
One or more of these symptoms might indicate an alcohol-related condition:
- Persistent, burning stomach ache
- Heartburn or acid reflux
- Persistent pain between the ribs and navel
- Frequent belching or hiccups
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea or vomiting
- Dark stool
- Blood in stool or vomit
- Difficulty breathing
- Feeling faint
Alcohol interferes with the overall function of the stomach. One of the stomach’s main jobs is to keep toxic compounds out of the bloodstream. Another is to prepare stomach contents for digestion and metabolism in the liver. Stomach damage can also prevent you from absorbing water and certain vital nutrients.
Studies show that drinking even in moderation can have adverse effects on the GI tract.5 6
Treat Your Alcoholism and Stomach Issues at Desert Cove Recovery
Fortunately, both alcoholism and stomach issues are treatable. The caring professionals at Desert Cove Recovery can help you start to heal long before you hit rock bottom. We’re committed to doing our part.
Our outpatient treatment plans include both time-honored approaches and the latest methods. We’ll address the emotional triggers that make you want to drink and replace them with healthy coping strategies.
Both physically and emotionally, you deserve a far better quality of life. Contact Desert Cove today.