Can Alcohol Cause Ulcers?

Last Updated: December 13, 2023

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

Article at a glance:

– Alcohol use does not directly cause stomach ulcers, but it can increase the likelihood of developing them.
– Stomach ulcers are primarily caused by an infection from a bacteria called H. pylori.
– Alcohol can worsen the symptoms of stomach ulcers and make them more painful.
– Heavy alcohol use can irritate the lining of the stomach and increase the risk of developing stomach ulcers.
– Treatment for stomach ulcers typically involves medication to reduce acidity and treat the bacterial infection, as well as lifestyle changes such as avoiding alcohol.
– Stomach ulcers that go untreated or do not heal properly can lead to complications and may require surgery.

Although alcohol use does not directly cause ulcers to develop, it can potentially worsen ulcer symptoms and lead to other health risks.

Alcohol use can create a variety of health concerns, and some people may wonder whether drinking can lead to stomach conditions such as ulcers. Although alcohol1 is unlikely to cause stomach ulcers on its own, it can still make them more likely to develop2. Most stomach ulcers are caused by an infection from a specific type of bacteria called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori)

While alcohol may not be the underlying cause of stomach ulcers, it is believed to make symptoms of these ulcers worse, potentially aggravating ulcers that do begin to form.

What Is a Stomach Ulcer?

A stomach ulcer5 occurs when the protective lining of the stomach is damaged. This lining, called the mucosa, protects the rest of the stomach and prevents stomach acid from reaching areas that it shouldn’t. When the mucosa is damaged, corrosive stomach acid is able to reach the outer layers of the stomach and begin to digest them. This can cause the damaged area to grow; in severe cases, it can cause the stomach to leak into the abdominal cavity.

Stomach ulcers are unpleasant, as the effect of stomach acid eroding the outer layers of the stomach is painful. Ulcers can also lead to bleeding or infections, as the corrosion affects blood vessels and can allow the contents of the stomach to leak.

What Causes Stomach Ulcers?

The main cause of stomach ulcers is an infection from a bacteria called H. pylori. This bacteria embeds itself in the wall of the stomach and leads to damage of the mucosa. Often, other compounding factors will work with H. pylori to make symptoms worse or increase the damage that stomach ulcers cause.

Risk Factors for Developing Ulcers

The biggest risk factor for developing a stomach ulcer3 is the presence of H. pylori. Simply having an H. pylori infection does not mean that a stomach ulcer will develop, but it does increase the risk. Other risk factors for developing a stomach ulcer include:

Symptoms of Stomach Ulcers

Stomach ulcer symptoms4 can include:

  • Pain when your stomach is empty
  • Pain that goes away when eating or using antacids
  • Pain that feels like a burning feeling in your stomach
  • Indigestion
  • Gassiness
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Heartburn

The Link Between Alcohol and Ulcers

While ulcers are not normally caused by alcohol use, heavy alcohol use can irritate the lining of the stomach6 and increase the risk that stomach ulcers will develop. There are some medical researchers who believe that light or moderate drinking may not increase this risk. Further, some believe light or moderate drinking may even provide a small benefit7 in reducing the risk of ulcers.

Does Alcohol Cause Stomach Ulcers?

Alcohol, especially in heavy amounts, leads to irritation and inflammation of the lining of the stomach. Just like raw, irritated skin is more prone to damage, the raw, irritated lining of the stomach becomes predisposed to injury. The use of alcohol is not thought to actually cause stomach ulcers, but it can create a condition that makes stomach ulcers more likely to develop.

Can You Drink Alcohol With a Stomach Ulcer?

If you have a stomach ulcer, it is generally recommended to avoid alcohol8. Alcohol is naturally irritating to the lining of your stomach, and using it can aggravate an existing ulcer, potentially making it worse. 

If you have a stomach ulcer, it also means that the conditions necessary to create an ulcer exist. Alcohol increases the risk of stomach ulcers and makes conditions in the stomach even worse. This can cause additional stomach ulcers to develop and make ulcer treatments less effective.

Stomach Ulcer Treatment

If a stomach ulcer exists, treatment9 will usually include medications to reduce the acidity in the stomach and treat any existing infection. Doctors will likely use antibiotics to kill H. pylori in the stomach. Medications that reduce the acidity of stomach juices will help make the juices less corrosive and allow the stomach to heal.

In extreme situations, surgery may be necessary. Surgery typically involves removing the part of the stomach that contains a severe ulcer and reconstructing the healthy parts of the stomach. Treatment for stomach ulcers also includes lifestyle changes. This may involve stopping the use of NSAIDs, stopping smoking, avoiding spicy foods and reducing or eliminating alcohol.

How Long Does It Take for an Ulcer to Heal?

Stomach ulcers that are being treated should heal within eight to 12 weeks10. If a stomach ulcer takes longer than this to heal, it is considered to be a complicated, unique case that will likely require more advanced treatments than just a typical course of medicine. More complex stomach ulcers may take several months or more to heal, but this depends on the specific situation.

Do Stomach Ulcers Go Away on Their Own?

Some stomach ulcers may go away on their own. However, stomach ulcers that go away by themselves are likely to reoccur11. This is because the environment that caused the ulcer to initially occur still exists. Without treatment, stomach ulcers may heal by themselves, but the underlying problem will make them reoccur over and over again until the problem is addressed.

Can an Ulcer Kill You?

While stomach ulcers are not often fatal, they can be. The main risk of stomach ulcers5 is bleeding that can occur as the ulcer affects the blood vessels in the lining of the stomach. This bleeding can be very difficult to staunch and may be very heavy in some situations, making it hard to stop.

Finding Treatment for Alcohol Abuse

One important sign that someone has an alcohol addiction is that they continue to use alcohol even though it is creating negative effects. If you or someone you love is using alcohol even when you have stomach ulcers, it should be an indicator that help is needed.


Located in New Jersey, The Recovery Village at Cherry Hill offers a full continuum of evidence-based care designed to promote lifelong healing and recovery from alcohol addiction. Through our medical detox program, we help clients stay as comfortable and safe as possible during the alcohol withdrawal process. Following detox, our addiction experts provide each client with the strategies, tools and resources needed to stay sober throughout the future. Contact us today to learn more about alcohol addiction treatment programs that can work well for your situation.

Sources

  1. U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Alcohol.” MedlinePlus, March 22, 2022. Accessed May 9, 2022.
  2. Ko, J.K.; Cho, C.H. “Alcohol drinking and cigarette smoking: […]r gastric ulceration.” Zhonghua Yi Xue Za Zhi (Taipei), December 2000. Accessed May 9, 2022.
  3. Lee, Sang Pyo; Sung, In-Kyung; et al. “Risk Factors for the Presence of Symptom[…]Peptic Ulcer Disease.” Clinical Endoscopy, November 2017. Accessed May 9, 2022.
  4. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. “Symptoms & Causes of Peptic Ulcers (Stomach Ulcers).” November 2014. Accessed May 9, 2022.
  5. National Health Services. “Stomach ulcer.” January 14, 2022. Accessed May 9, 2022.
  6. Salih, Barik A.; Abasiyanik, M. Fatih; et al. “H pylori infection and other risk factor[…] retrospective study.” World Journal of Gastroenterology, June 21, 2007. Accessed May 9, 2022.
  7. Hagmann, Micheal. “Drink Away Those Ulcers?” Science, April 14, 1999. Accessed May 9, 2022.
  8. Drinkaware. “Is alcohol harming your stomach?” February 24, 2022. Accessed May 9, 2022.
  9. DeBanto, John; Caufield, Sean P.; Schafer, Theodore W. “Peptic Ulcer Disease.” American College of Gastroenterology, April 2021. Accessed May 9, 2022.
  10. Kim, Heung Up. “Diagnostic and Treatment Approaches for […]actory Peptic Ulcers.” Clinical Endoscopy, July 2015. Accessed May 9, 2022.
  11. Alaska Regional Hospital. “Could I Have an Ulcer and Not Know It?” April 8, 2019. Accessed May 9, 2022.

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