Does Alcohol Cause Ulcers?

Published On: July 3, 2023

If you drink alcohol, particularly in large amounts, frequently, you may increase your chances of developing an ulcer.

This is a painful and debilitating condition that can make it difficult to eat or sleep comfortably and could potentially be dangerous if complications arise.

So why are ulcers and alcohol use so intrinsically linked?

Learn more about whether alcohol directly causes ulcers, the risk factors that make you more likely to develop an ulcer, how to spot the symptoms of this condition and the most effective ways to treat and recover from an ulcer.

What is an ulcer?

Close up of man in shirt and tie clutching stomach

An ulcer is a sore that can develop on your stomach lining when it becomes irritated. They may also be found in the oesophagus or small intestine. [1]

We all have a type of mucus that acts as a protective shield over the lining of these areas. When this mucus stops working effectively, the stomach tissue can be damaged by your body’s own naturally produced acids, and this causes the ulcer.

You may also hear this condition referred to as a stomach or peptic ulcer.

An ulcer is considered to be an open wound and can be extremely painful. They can cause bleeding and even perforate the stomach wall.

It is fairly common for people to get an ulcer during their lifetime, but treating the cause is important to prevent this condition from reoccurring.

Does alcohol cause ulcers?

Two glasses of whisky being poured

While drinking alcohol can make you more likely to develop an ulcer, it does not cause stomach ulcers to occur.

When you drink alcohol, your stomach produces excess acid as it processes and digests this substance.

Over time, this can wear away at your stomach lining and leave it susceptible to ulcers and their potential complications.

If you drink alcohol, you are more likely to develop a stomach ulcer. This risk is greater when you drink large amounts of alcohol or drink alcohol frequently.

If you have other risk factors that can make you more likely to develop a stomach ulcer and also drink alcohol, you are extremely likely to experience this condition.

So while alcohol does not directly cause ulcers, it can make them far more likely to occur.

What are the symptoms of an ulcer?


A stomach ulcer usually comes with several symptoms that can indicate there is a problem.

The most common symptom is stomach pain, which can range from dull to severe.

You may have an ulcer if you notice some of the following symptoms:

  • A burning pain in the stomach
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Frequent heartburn
  • Feeling bloated after eating fatty foods
  • Passing gas after eating fatty foods
  • Indigestion
  • Pain in the stomach between meals
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Waking up at night with pain in the stomach
  • Stomach pain which is temporarily relieved by eating food
  • Blood in your stool or vomit

It can be difficult to self-diagnose with an ulcer as there are many conditions which can include these symptoms.

This is why you should speak to your doctor if you are concerned that you may have developed an ulcer.

While most people will experience one or more of these symptoms, it is possible to develop a stomach ulcer and have no symptoms.

Some people are completely unaware that they have an ulcer until complications arise, such as bleeding or vomiting.

What are the risk factors for developing ulcers?

woman holding tummy

Some people are more prone to developing ulcers than others, and several risk factors can make you more likely to experience this condition.

Some of the risk factors for developing ulcers include:

  • Drinking alcohol, particularly large amounts, on a frequent basis
  • Long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Developing a Helicobacter pylori bacterial infection [2]
  • Anyone who is over the age of 70
  • A history of developing ulcers
  • Living a stressful lifestyle
  • Tobacco use
  • Certain medications, such as corticosteroids
  • Genetic conditions such as Zollinger-Ellison syndrome

If you meet one of the above risk factors and are experiencing the symptoms of a stomach ulcer, you should seek medical assistance as soon as possible to prevent complications from occurring.

Can I drink alcohol if I have an ulcer?

less alcohol

It is not recommended to drink alcohol if you have an ulcer, particularly if you believe that your alcohol consumption may have contributed to the development of this condition.

Drinking alcohol can make it more difficult for your body to recover and heal the ulcer. It can even irritate it more, causing additional pain and worsening symptoms.

You may have also been prescribed medication to treat the ulcer, which could potentially react badly with alcohol.

Even lower-strength alcohol, such as certain types of wine or beer, may also make the ulcer worse.

Avoiding alcohol will not cure the ulcer by itself, but if you want the ulcer to heal quickly, then you should avoid drinking any type of alcohol while you are recovering.

How can I tell if alcohol is making my ulcer worse?

A nurse in a mask and scrubs

If you have a stomach ulcer or have been regularly experiencing them, you may be curious as to whether alcohol is making it worse.

For many people, it is fairly easy to tell whether alcohol is making their ulcers worse.

In most cases, drinking alcohol will make an existing ulcer worse as it will cause your stomach to produce more acid and aggravate your stomach lining further.

You may notice more stomach pain and other symptoms while you are drinking alcohol, as well as during the next day.

Continuing to drink alcohol can lead to complications such as stomach perforation, and you will usually become aware of this due to intense pain and/or sticky black stools and blood in your vomit.

If you do not meet any of the other risk factors for developing ulcers aside from drinking alcohol, there may be a connection between your alcohol consumption and recurring stomach ulcers.

How can I prevent ulcers that are worsened by alcohol?


When you drink alcohol, your stomach lining becomes irritated.

If you are already prone to developing stomach ulcers, this combination can be a recipe for discomfort.

The simplest way to protect your stomach from alcohol is to avoid drinking alcohol or to only drink small quantities on infrequent occasions.

You should always stick to the recommended levels of alcohol, which is no more than 14 units a week for both men and women.

These units should be spread out across the week, and you should aim to have a few alcohol-free daysdo not drink all 14 units in one session.

Line your stomach with food before eating and drink a glass of water between each alcoholic drink.

You should also take care to eat a nutritious and healthy diet, with smaller meals, if you are more prone to developing ulcers.

It can be helpful to reduce your intake of high-fat, acidic and spicy foods to avoid irritating your stomach lining.

Other ways that you can reduce the likelihood of developing ulcers are to reduce your stress levels and give up smoking,

If alcohol is contributing to the development of your ulcers, it may be worth completely giving up this substance to avoid experiencing any complications in the future.

Are ulcers dangerous? Can I die from an ulcer?

A man turning away

Ulcers are a fairly common condition, particularly if you drink a lot of alcohol.

Although painful and debilitating, in the majority of cases, they are not dangerous – particularly if they are treated promptly and effectively.

If left untreated, a stomach ulcer can cause a hole in the lining of the stomach and damage blood vessels. This causes bleeding, vomiting and/or dark and sticky stools.

A stomach perforation can be fatal if you do not seek medical assistance.

In rare cases, an ulcer can grow so large that it blocks off a section of the stomach. This can cause difficulties with eating and may lead to weight loss and malnutrition. [3]

Ulcers can also become infected, which can spread to the stomach lining and potentially lead to sepsis which can be a fatal condition.

Most people will not die from an ulcer, but the complications that can arise if they are left untreated can lead to death in some cases.

Am I an alcoholic if my drinking has caused an ulcer?


If you drink large quantities of alcohol and have developed a stomach ulcer, there is likely a connection between the two.

However, it does not necessarily mean that you are an alcoholic. It is possible to develop an ulcer even if you are not addicted to this substance.

You may be more susceptible to developing ulcers due to the risk factors listed above or may have a thinner or more sensitive stomach lining.

However, it is an indication that you should be more mindful about the amount of alcohol you drink as well as the frequency.

Even if you do not currently have an alcohol addiction, your body may be trying to tell you something.

If you are concerned that you may have developed an alcohol addiction, speak to your doctor or call Rehab 4 Alcoholism on 0800 111 4108.

What should I do if I think I have an ulcer?

Individual therapy

After reading through the symptoms above, as well as the risk factors, you may be concerned that you have an ulcer.

The first thing you should do is remain calm and try not to panic. Ulcers are generally a simple condition to treat, particularly if you already know what may have caused it.

You are unlikely to develop any serious complications as long as you seek medical assistance as soon as possible.

Make an appointment with your doctor and let them know your symptoms and concerns.

If you are passing black sticky stools or have a sudden sharp pain in your stomach that continues to get worse, call NHS 111, as this could be a sign that the ulcer has perforated your stomach.

You should call 999 or go to A&E if you begin vomiting bright red or dark grainy blood. [4]

How are ulcers diagnosed?

Women talking

As the symptoms of an ulcer can be similar to other conditions, your doctor may need to perform several tests before they can diagnose you.

Additionally, they will need to investigate the cause of the ulcer to prescribe the most effective treatment.

If your ulcer is thought to be caused by a Helicobacter pylori bacterial infection, your doctor will test your stool, blood or breath to confirm and then prescribe treatment.

You may also need to undergo a gastroscopy, where a tube with a tiny camera on the end is passed down your throat to look inside your stomach and spot the ulcer.

A small sample of your stomach tissue may be taken and tested to confirm the presence of a stomach ulcer.

How are ulcers treated?


The treatment for an ulcer depends on what has caused it, as well as any complications that may have occurred.

Alcohol cannot cause an ulcer, but it can worsen it and make you more likely to develop one.

Many people develop ulcers due to a Helicobacter pylori bacterial infection, so a simple course of antibiotics such as amoxicillin, clarithromycin or metronidazole will be prescribed to restore a healthy balance. [5]

You may also need to take a type of medication known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) which lower the amount of acid that your body produces. This can prevent the ulcer from being further irritated while it heals.

The most common types of PPIs prescribed include omeprazole, pantoprazole and lansoprazole.

Some people also develop ulcers as a result of taking non-inflammatory medications known as NSAIDs, which can also be treated with PPIs or another type of medication called H2-receptor antagonists.

In general, you will be required to rest, avoid alcohol and spicy foods and eat a healthy diet.

If the above treatments do not work, you may require surgery to completely heal the ulcer.







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