If you’ve ever experienced a sore throat or acid reflux after drinking alcohol, then you’re not the only one. Although one or two drinks a week aren’t likely to destroy your throat, moderate, heavy, and chronic drinking are all associated with esophagus-related issues. Our drug rehab in Naperville, IL, is sharing the long-term effects of alcohol on the esophagus and common risk factors.
Believe it or not, stomach acid plays a big role in how alcohol affects the throat. Also known as gastric acid, stomach acid is a watery, colorless fluid that’s produced by the lining of your stomach. It helps break down food to make digestion easier and helps your body absorb nutrients as food moves through your digestive tract. Alcohol can lead to conditions associated with gastric acids, such as acid reflux, which can irritate the lining of the throat.
The reason stomach acid is so irritating to the throat is its pH level, which is measured on a scale called a pH scale. A solution's pH level determines how acidic or alkaline it is. This scale ranges from 0 to 14, with the least acidic fluids at 14. In the middle of the scale at 7.0 are neutral fluids, like pure water. The pH level of stomach acid is between 1 and 2 on the pH scale, making it extremely acidic. Stomach acid’s pH level can be attributed to ingredients like hydrochloric acid (HCI), potassium chloride (KCl), and sodium chloride (NaCl).
Also referred to as ethanol, alcohol is associated with a variety of health problems. However, those who are dependent or addicted to alcohol often struggle to quit drinking, even if they do experience certain health repercussions. Alcohol acts as a central nervous system depressant when consumed in large amounts. It produces sedative, pleasurable, and relaxing side effects otherwise referred to as a “buzz.” Over time, chronic ethanol abuse can cause permanent damage to the liver, kidneys, pancreas, and even the throat. Below are some long-term effects of alcohol on the esophagus.
Esophagitis refers to inflammation that damages the tube running from the throat to the stomach (esophagus). Common symptoms of esophagitis include painful and difficult swallowing, as well as chest pain when eating. Although some common causes of esophagitis include backed-up stomach acid and infection, its causes and the condition itself can be aggravated by alcohol.
Acid reflux and alcohol, especially heavy drinking, are tightly linked. Acid reflux is a type of digestive disease in which the stomach acid or bile irritates the food pipe lining or the esophagus. This isn’t to be confused with your windpipe (trachea), which is your airway. When this acid comes up, it can burn and irritate the lining of the esophagus, making it difficult to swallow. Individuals with naturally occurring acid reflux or other related diseases are more likely to experience throat problems from drinking alcohol.
Acid reflux and alcohol are linked, so are alcohol and GERD. Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, occurs when stomach acid frequently flows back into the esophagus. One study on alcoholism and esophagus problems found that alcohol consumption in early adulthood can lead to the development of reflux esophagitis.1 Alcohol causes esophagitis by relaxing the lower esophageal sphincter, which is a muscle between the esophagus and the stomach that acts as a valve to prevent food and acid from coming back up. This backwash of acid that comes back up can damage the lining of the esophagus. That’s why your throat is sometimes irritated or in pain after vomiting. Alcohol itself can also damage the esophagus, especially spirits. Those who suffer from alcoholism and do not receive alcohol addiction treatment are more likely to experience these issues and other problems in their liver, kidneys, and heart.
Heavy drinking can also cause nausea and vomiting. If you’ve ever had stomach flu or virus and went through a long night of vomiting, then you may be familiar with the irritation and discomfort this can cause in the throat. Alcohol makes you nauseous and causes you to vomit because it irritates the stomach lining. This causes a build-up of acid, which can make you nauseous. As a result, frequent periods of heavy drinking and vomiting can severely damage the lining of your esophagus.
Symptoms of esophageal cancer include trouble swallowing, excessive weight loss, chest pain, worsening indigestion or heartburn, and coughing. Heavy drinking is associated with cancer in the esophagus. The body breaks alcohol down into acetaldehyde, which is a chemical that destroys DNA. Drinking can also irritate the lining of your stomach, causing it to struggle to absorb important nutrients and vitamins, and esophageal cancer may occur as a result.
If you struggle with alcoholism, you are at a higher risk of experiencing alcohol-induced esophagitis and other related problems. Drinking alcohol can also worsen symptoms in people who have these conditions. Moreover, the long-term effects of alcohol aren’t limited to the throat. Liver, kidney, and pancreatic failure and cancer are also associated with alcoholism or heavy drinking.