Alcohol enters the body and the bloodstream through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. It comes into direct contact with these organs and can devastate their structure and function.
Effects of Alcohol on the Gastrointestinal Tract
Alcohol has the following effects on the GI tract:
- Impairs the functioning of the muscles that separate the esophagus from the stomach (lower esophageal sphincter). This causes esophageal reflux and heartburn and increases the risk for esophageal cancer.
- Reduces the ability of the esophagus to clear refluxed gastric acid
- Inflames esophageal mucosa
- Impairs muscle movements in the small and large intestines, causing diarrhea
- Inhibits the absorption of nutrients in the small intestine, resulting in malnutrition
- Increases the transport of toxins across the intestinal walls
- Damages the mucosa that line the walls of the upper GI tract, allowing bacterial toxins to pass more easily into the blood and lymph
- Inhibits the digestion and assimilation of nutrients into the body, resulting in malnutrition
- Damages the salivary glands and interferes with the production of saliva
- Interferes with stomach functions, such as the secretion of gastric acids, reducing the stomach’s ability to destroy food-borne bacteria. This may result in the growth of harmful microorganisms in the upper small intestine
- Impairs the functioning of the muscles around the stomach and small intestine, thereby increasing the amount of time food stays in these organs. As a result, bacterial degradation can begin, resulting in indigestion, gas and abdominal pain.
- Inhibits enzymes that are critical to intestinal function. As a result, the body does not properly metabolize drugs and milk sugar lactose, leading to lactose intolerance.
- Encourages overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine, which, with the increased permeability of the intestinal walls, allows for increased transport of toxins into the blood vessels. This leads to the liver, which promotes liver disease.
These issues are quite dangerous and can cause intense discomfort.
Digestive Consequences of Alcohol Consumption
The effects of alcohol on the GI tract can result in the following digestive problems:
- Abdominal pain
- Lactose intolerance
- Gastrointestinal bleeding
- Increased risk of gastrointestinal cancer
- Weight loss
- Lesions in the oral cavity and esophagus
- Internal lesions (aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen taken with alcohol may increase the chance of developing lesions)
- Increased risk of esophageal cancer
- Barrett’s esophagus (in which the lining of the esophagus is altered, leading to increased acid production and increasing the risk for esophageal cancer)
- Mallory-Weiss syndrome, which involves bleeding in the upper GI tract; almost half of all cases of this issue are caused by frequent vomiting due to acute alcohol intake
- Colonand rectal cancer
- Cell damage or cell death in the liver and other vital organs
- Fatty liver disease
- Cirrhosis of the liver
If you struggle with any of these problems, seek immediate help for your alcohol abuse.
Effects of Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol-related digestive problems are not limited to alcoholics and heavy drinkers. Occasional use of alcohol, especially in large amounts, can result in many of the aforementioned problems. Of course those who consume alcohol regularly, especially in large amounts, are at increased risk for the worst effects.
If you have any other questions about alcohol and its effect on the body, or if you would like help finding treatment for alcoholism, please call our toll-free helpline today. Counselors are available 24 hours a day to answer any questions you have and help you find treatment if you need it.