Is alcohol harming your stomach?
Find out how alcohol can irritate your stomach and digestive system
We’re exploring ways to improve support for people struggling with their alcohol consumption through their loved ones, and we need your help.
By taking part in our survey, you can enter a prize draw where two £100 vouchers are up for grabs as a token of appreciation for your time.
Drinking alcohol has a range of effects on our stomach and whole digestive system. In really simple terms, alcohol irritates your gut – including your stomach.
You can protect your gut and keep the health risks from alcohol low by following the UK Chief Medical Officers’ low risk drinking guidelines of not more than 14 units a week, with several drink-free days and not bingeing.
Your stomach is one part of the gastrointestinal tract system that digests food, taking the nutrition your body needs and getting rid of the waste. By adding acid and enzymes to food and drink you consume, your stomach breaks them down before they carry on their journey through your gut.
Drinking alcohol is associated with acid rising up from your stomach into your throat (known as acid reflux), or causing heartburn.1 Some evidence suggests alcoholic drinks can make your stomach produce more acid than usual, which can gradually wear away your stomach lining and make it inflamed and painful (gastritis).2 Over weeks or months, this could mean you develop painful ulcers in your stomach lining.
Gastritis is the medical name for inflammation of the stomach lining. It can be caused by drinking alcohol – whether acutely by just one session of heavy drinking, or chronically, over a longer period.
If you have gastritis, you could:3
The symptoms of gastritis can come on suddenly and severely (acute gastritis) or last a long time (chronic gastritis). Gastritis that lasts for a long time can increase your risk of developing a stomach ulcer, polyps (small growths) in your stomach, or tumours in your stomach.
If your symptoms aren’t severe, you can try treating it yourself with antacids from a pharmacy, and by making changes to your diet and lifestyle – like drinking less alcohol. But if you have indigestion that lasts a week or longer, or you’re vomiting blood or have blood in your poo, you should certainly make an appointment with your GP surgery.
Drinking too much can cause nausea and vomiting. Vomiting can be dangerous if someone is very drunk and not in control. Drinking large quantities of alcohol very quickly can lead to alcohol poisoning, which can be extremely dangerous.
If someone is unconsciousness and they’re sick, they may not cough and so could breathe vomit into their lungs, which can be fatal.
Alcohol poisoning can be fatal. If you suspect someone has alcohol poisoning you should dial 999 immediately and request an ambulance, while first placing the person on their side, so they are less likely to choke on their vomit.
Heavy regular drinking makes it more difficult for the body to digest food and absorb vital nutrients, particularly proteins, vitamins and minerals.4,5 This means someone who is a regular heavy drinker is like to become deficient in several nutrients.
And drinking alcohol increases the risk of a number of cancers associated with the digestive system: mouth cancer, pharyngeal (upper throat) cancer, oesophageal (food pipe) cancer, bowel cancer and liver cancer.6 Alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer and voice box cancer too.
The best way to protect your stomach and keep the health risks from alcohol low is to follow the UK Chief Medical Officers’ low risk drinking guidelines.
If you think you have gastritis, these tips can also help:7
Having a meal or snack before you drink may help slow the rate your body absorbs the alcohol, so if you do choose to drink, it’s a good idea to eat beforehand.8,9
Drinking water (or soft drinks) can also help, as long as it means you drink less alcohol. If you’re going to have more than one alcoholic drink, why not alternate with water or a soft drink? Drinking less alcohol overall will reduce the risk of negative effects for your stomach.
Even if you feel OK, you should still take care that your drinking remains within the CMOs’ low risk drinking guidelines and that you always avoid binge drinking.
Some painkillers, such as ibuprofen (and the whole family of drugs known as Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs, or NSAIDs) and aspirin cause irritation and may damage the lining of the stomach.10
You should always read the leaflet for any medication you are taking (and consult your doctor or pharmacist if you need to) about whether it is safe to drink alcohol if you’re on medication.
For example, if you are taking any prescription-only painkillers, you’re advised not to drink any alcohol while you’re taking them.
 Saldich, E. B., Wang, C., Rosen, I. G., Bartroff, J., & Luczak, S. E. (2021). Effects of stomach content on the breath alcohol concentration‐transdermal alcohol concentration relationship. Drug and alcohol review.
Last Reviewed: 24th February 2022
Next Review due: 24th February 2025