Does Alcohol Withdrawal Cause Upset Stomach?

Robert Gerchalk

Robert is our health care professional reviewer of this website. He worked for many years in mental health and substance abuse facilities in Florida, as well as in home health (medical and psychiatric), and took care of people with medical and addictions problems at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He has a nursing and business/technology degrees from The Johns Hopkins University.

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Understanding Stomach Pain from Alcohol Withdrawal and How to Deal With It

The 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that at least 29.5 million Americans aged 12 years or older had suffered from alcohol use disorder (AUD) in the previous year. Unfortunately, fewer than 10% of these people seek treatment. Most of those who quit relapse within a few days. Symptoms such as stomach pain make it challenging for those who quit to stay clean. 

Unless you detox from alcohol gradually with medication, withdrawal symptoms are normal. Nausea, stomach pain, and diarrhea are some of the common withdrawal symptoms. Coping with stomach pain can be challenging. The symptoms can be uncomfortable and are common to people who have been dependent on alcohol for a long time. Stomach pain may range from mild discomfort to severe pain depending on the level of dependence. Nausea and stomach pain typically start six to 24 hours after your last drink. 

Learn more about stomach pain and alcohol withdrawal stomach pain and how to deal with it. 

What Causes Stomach Pain After Stopping Alcohol Intake?

Stomach pain, diarrhea, and vomiting are common hurdles after quitting alcohol. These symptoms result from gastrointestinal issues and gastritis. Gastrointestinal distress is accompanied by nausea, stomach pain, and cramps. In severe cases, you may experience vomiting accompanied by fever and jaundice. Gastritis results in damage to the stomach lining by enzymes that would otherwise digest alcohol. The damaged lining is exposed to acid and enzymes that can worsen the damage. 

Stomach pain appears as the first symptom of alcohol withdrawal, usually after a few hours after quitting. The pain is accompanied by other symptoms such as headaches, irritability, and mood swings. If other symptoms are severe, you may overlook stomach pain. 

Acute and Chronic Gastritis After Quitting Alcohol 

Gastritis can be acute or chronic. Acute gastritis starts immediately after quitting and is characterized by inflammation of the stomach lining. It is accompanied by gas and bloating, ulcers, stomach irritation, vomiting, nausea, and hemorrhaging. 

On the other hand, chronic gastritis develops over time after quitting alcohol. It causes long-term stomach lining inflammation. If not treated, the condition can lead to severe stomach pain and the stomach losing its protective layer against acid and enzymes. In such a case, the acid and enzymes in the stomach can harm it, causing more health complications. This form of gastritis is accompanied by symptoms such as loss of appetite, anemia, stomach irritation, chronic pain, and fatigue. 

Causes of Alcohol Gastritis

The stomach lining produces enzymes and acids to aid in the digestion of food. To protect the lining from corrosion by the acids and digestion by the enzyme, a membrane and mucus layer cover the surface of the stomach. When the membrane is irritated, it inflames causing gastritis. Alcohol withdrawal irritates the membrane, thus leading to gastritis. The stomach lining will produce enzymes and acids and with no alcohol to digest, these substances will irritate the stomach lining. The longer a person stays dependent on alcohol, the more severe the irritation and damage to the stomach lining. 

Gastritis can be treated if detected early. Like all other withdrawal symptoms, the development of gastritis should be monitored by a medical professional. Complications from gastritis are rare but can develop if the condition is left untreated. The damage of the stomach lining by enzymes and acids can lead to ulcers and bleeding, a condition known as erosive gastritis. 

Erosive gastritis is accompanied by symptoms such as weakness, dizziness, shortness of breath, blood in the stool and vomit, and black stool. In severe cases, gastritis may be accompanied by other alcohol withdrawal symptoms such as high blood pressure, fever, excessive mood swings, and mental health issues. In such a case, you will need to seek medical treatment programs, as the condition can be life-threatening if not addressed. 

Alcohol Withdrawal and Diarrhea

Besides gastritis, diarrhea during alcohol withdrawal can lead to stomach pain. The cause of diarrhea during alcohol withdrawal is not clear. However, the condition might result from dehydration and loss of electrolytes. According to research, alcohol can cause damage to the gastrointestinal tract leading to increased mucosal permeability, and this can cause diarrhea. 

A damaged gastrointestinal tract leads to reduced absorption of minerals and vitamins, which leads to diarrhea. This symptom can be addressed with improved nutrition and vitamin supplements. Unless the stomach pain is caused by gastritis, diarrhea typically improves within a few hours after admission to a hospital. 

Dealing With Stomach Pain During Alcohol Withdrawal

The severity of stomach pain during alcohol withdrawal varies from one person to the next. This depends on how long you have been drinking, how much you drink, any health conditions you have, and how abruptly you stopped drinking. People who have been drinking heavily over many years are more likely to experience severe stomach pain when they quit cold turkey. 

Diet and Hydration

Managing stomach pain during detox can be challenging. However, with the guidance of a professional, the pain may be manageable. The first step is to avoid foods and drinks likely to irritate the stomach lining. Instead, take foods that will replenish the mineral ions and vitamins lost due to any damage to the stomach lining. These nutrients will help the lining to heal. 

Eat small meals frequently, and drink enough fluids. Take fluids with electrolytes to replenish what was lost when the stomach lining was damaged. 

It’s not wise to go through alcohol detox alone. You need a personalized rehabilitation program that involves the right diet, water, electrolytes, and activities to help you cope with the challenges of withdrawal. You also need to be in an environment that helps you resist cravings. 

Over-the-Counter Medication

While taking the right diet, you may need to take medication to ease the pain. For instance, you can take over-the-counter antacids such as Prilosec, Nexium, and Zantac, which help heal inflammation.

You may need to seek the help of a doctor if the pain is severe or you experience symptoms such as jaundice, vomiting, and fever. 

Other Symptoms that Accompany Stomach Pain

Mild cases of stomach pain might be overlooked when other symptoms are severe. Overlooking stomach pain will only lead to increased irritation and inflammation. This may eventually lead to chronic gastritis. Stomach pain can be exacerbated by other symptoms, such as:

Sweating

Alcohol triggers the release of dopamine, which makes a person feel good. When you quit alcohol, the body responds by releasing stress hormones such as cortisol. The hormone causes the body to be hyperactive and sensitive, and this results in you sweating more. Sweating can also be accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea and vomiting. You will need therapy to deal with increased levels of stress. 

Nausea and Vomiting

Nausea and vomiting are closely linked to stomach pain. The two symptoms take place in the initial stages of alcohol withdrawal, and they can be severe in serious cases of AUD. Fortunately, they only last for a few hours. You may need to treat the causes of stomach pain to deal with nausea and vomiting. You also need to get your blood sugar level checked, as hypoglycemia can cause the same symptoms. Have your blood pressure checked as well. Drink a lot of water to replace what is lost during vomiting. 

Anxiety

When you stop taking alcohol, your body becomes more sensitive, which can increase anxiety levels. In severe cases, you may have difficulty concentrating on tasks and sleeping. The anxiety can make you feel irritable and frustrated, too. Just as when dealing with stress, you may need a therapist to walk you through the healing process. 

Body Aches and Pains

When you quit alcohol, you experience vitamin deficiency due to reduced vitamin absorption, low blood sugar, and metabolic disorders. These conditions lead to a lack of energy, restless legs, tightness in the muscles, and muscle pain. Before you take any medication for these symptoms, you need to have a doctor check whether the symptoms are a result of alcohol withdrawal or something else.

Insomnia

Alcohol causes an imbalance of your natural chemicals, including the sleep hormone. When you stop drinking, you will experience stress and anxiety, which can cause restlessness and trouble sleeping. Insomnia can, in turn, cause headaches, vomiting, and nausea. Therapy and a personalized treatment plan can help you deal with the cause of insomnia. 

Low Energy Level

You will experience physical and mental exhaustion when you quit alcohol. You will also feel fatigued with sore muscles and headaches. These symptoms make it challenging for your body to function normally and may contribute to insomnia. When you feel tired all the time, you have trouble concentrating on tasks. Therapy can help you deal with the physical and mental exhaustion that comes with quitting alcohol. 

Reduced Cognitive Functioning

Alcohol disrupts the hormones that regulate emotions. When you quit alcohol, you experience a temporal brain fog. The brain fog causes reduced concentration, memory loss, and an inability to think clearly. Like the other symptoms mentioned above, you will need a drug counselor or therapist for support during the challenging detox period. 

Alcohol Cravings

You will experience cravings immediately after quitting alcohol. With the help of a therapist, you can learn how to fight your cravings and your triggers. A therapist will seek to understand your cycle of addiction and give you the necessary skills to avoid relapses.

Treatment Options for Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms and Stomach Pain

Several treatment options are available to deal with alcohol withdrawal symptoms. One treatment option may not be enough to deal with all the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. For this reason, therapists recommend several options. For instance, to deal with stomach pain, a combination of the right diet, therapy, and medications can work. 

A professional can guide you to choose from a 12-step treatment program, cognitive behavioral therapy, in-patient treatment centers, and local programs such as alcoholics anonymous (AA). 

Talk to Professionals

Some research indicates that 40% to 60% of people with a substance use disorder will relapse within a year. However, this does not mean failure. In fact, experts consider relapses part of the recovery process.

Call Our Alcohol Awareness Hotline for Help Whenever You Need It

Attempting alcohol detox on your own means risking complications from withdrawal symptoms. At Alcohol Awareness, we can provide free resources to help you get through the challenging times. You can talk to someone whenever you need guidance or support. Only 10% of alcoholics seek treatment; we can help you be among the few who recover. Reach out to a caring person who is ready to listen to you at (855) 955-0771.

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