Stomach pain after drinking alcohol is a common symptom experienced after binging drinking. Alcoholic drinks affect the gastrointestinal tract first, before the rest of the body. Chronic intake of alcohol can alter the structure and function of the gastrointestinal tract, leading to abdominal discomfort, stomachaches, heartburn, and acid reflux.
Stomach pain may also be a sign of something more serious than just a discomfort due to alcohol drinking. It is therefore important to know what the possible causes of the stomach pain are, how to treat it, and ways to prevent it.
Why Does Alcohol Cause Stomach Pain?
Alcohol is a chemical substance that is rapidly metabolized in the body, and is known to generate reactive oxygen species. As a pro-oxidant, it causes oxidative damage to the cells and tissues in the gastrointestinal tract.
The stomach and the intestines have a single layer of cells lining its inner side, which provides a protective barrier to substances that pass through the gastrointestinal tract. This inner lining is selectively permeable, and allows only important nutrients to be absorbed. When this barrier is disrupted, inflammation can occur, leading to stomach pain. The possible mechanisms which produce stomach pain include the following:
- Drinking too much alcohol or drinking repeatedly can trigger stomach inflammation or gastritis, which can lead to ulceration of the stomach lining. This can cause severe stomach cramping and pain, and sometimes, acute bleeding.
- Alcoholism can also cause shrinkage of the gastric lining (mucosa) which decreases the secretion of gastric acids. The loss of gastric acids can increase one's risk for gastric infection by bacteria called Helicobacter pylori, peptic ulceration, and inflammation (gastritis).
- Drinking alcohol chronically may lead to inflammatory bowel disease, which is often manifested by abdominal discomfort and diarrhea.
- Alcohol consumption can also trigger inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis) which can cause severe abdominal pains. These are often accompanied by nausea and vomiting.
- Stomach pains after drinking may also be caused by chronic cholecystitis, a disease of the gallbladder. This condition is characterized by the formation of stones in the gallbladder, otherwise known as gallstones.
- On the other hand, biliary colic, or contraction of the gallbladder that causes a steady pain in the right upper abdomen and radiating to the back, can also be triggered a couple of hours after drinking alcohol.
- Chronic alcoholism can lead to liver damage or alcoholic liver disease which may cause liver enlargement, inflammation, and abdominal pain.
Ways to Relieve and Cure the Pain
After a night of binge drinking, stomach pain and other hangover symptoms can be disturbing. Although these may sometimes resolve on their own, there are ways to reduce the pain and feel better. These include:
- Drinking lots of water to stay hydrated.
- Taking soup or fruit juice to replace lost fluids, salts, vitamins, and minerals. You can also add honey to juice because it is believed to burn alcohol faster.
- Resting and sleeping can reduce hangover symptoms including stomach pain.
- Eating a balanced diet a day after alcohol drinking can restore normal blood sugar levels which can reduce nausea, vomiting, and stomach aches.
- Avoid taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) which can trigger stomach pain.
- To prevent stomach pain after drinking alcohol, eat food before drinking. A full stomach will prevent rapid absorption of alcohol in the stomach lining.
- Avoid drinking alcohol at a fast pace by drinking a glass of water between drinks. This will not only help keep you hydrated but will also prevent you from drinking excessively.
Further Steps to Cure the Pain
The best way to treat the stomach pain after alcohol drinking is to control the habit of drinking excessively. Although experts believe that drinking a glass of wine or a bottle of beer occasionally has certain health benefits, drinking to excess is not healthy, and is a sure way to damage one's body.
Some people become addicted or dependent on alcohol, especially when they are depressed or stressed. This problem must be recognized and given proper attention, because treating symptoms of hangovers can only give temporary remedy, but the habit may persist. Chronic alcoholism can lead to serious complications which may be irreversible.
Aside from getting medical attention to treat physical health problems, one must also seek a support system from family, friends, and rehabilitation centers that can help them to recover from alcohol abuse and addiction. This support system can help them return to a healthy lifestyle and avoid alcoholism.
Avoid drinking alcohol, especially if it causes health problems like stomach pains. For most people, abstaining from this substance can prevent symptoms from recurring. However, in people who have a long history of alcohol drinking, damage to the gastrointestinal tract, including the liver, pancreas, and gallbladder, may be irreversible. Medical consultation is needed to treat the underlying condition causing the stomach pains and other related symptoms.