Experiencing abdominal pain after drinking excessive amounts of alcohol is not unusual, but in some cases it might only take a small amount of alcohol to elicit the same reaction. Mild pain is not always a cause for concern, as many people have sensitive stomachs that can be irritated by the increased stomach acid brought about by drinking alcohol, but more severe pain might be the sign of an underlying disorder. Consult a doctor if you consistently experience abdominal pain after drinking alcohol.
Drinking alcohol, even in small amounts, irritates your stomach lining as it increases the amount of acid in your stomach. In some people, this can elicit abdominal pain, vomiting or diarrhea. Although it would seem likely that drinks that have higher alcohol content, such as whiskey, would irritate your stomach lining more, the opposite is actually true. Drinks that have lower alcohol content, such as beer and wine, increase the levels of stomach acid, whereas whiskey, cognac and other drinks high in alcohol content don't cause any increase in stomach secretion.
An intolerance to alcohol is due to an alteration of the digestive enzyme aldehyde dehydrongenase, which is responsible for breaking down alcohol. The enzyme is altered so that it cannot properly break down alcohol, which can result in problematic symptoms when even a little bit of alcohol is consumed. Common symptoms can include abdominal cramping, flushing in the face, nausea and an increased heartbeat. Alcohol intolerance is most common among the Asian population. An intolerance to other ingredients commonly found in alcoholic drinks, such as histamines and sulfites, can cause similar symptoms.
An actual allergy to alcohol is rare, but many ingredients used to make alcoholic drinks are common allergens, including yeast, hops, rye, barley, wheat, grapes and egg or seafood proteins. Common symptoms of an allergy are abdominal pain, severe rashes, difficulty breathing or nasal congestion. A severe allergic reaction can cause collapse and possibly even death. As symptoms can vary greatly from person to person, abdominal pain may be the only thing you experience after drinking alcohol if you suffer from an allergy to a particular ingredient. Alcohol also increases the permeability of the gut, letting more food particles into the body, according to Allergy UK. Therefore, it's possible you might experience a reaction to a particular allergen only when you encounter it in alcohol.
Long-term alcohol consumption can lead or contribute to several gastrointestinal disorders, such as gastritis, acid reflux and peptic ulcers, which may result in abdominal pain that is exacerbated by further alcohol consumption. Damage to the liver, a common result of long-term alcohol abuse, can have abdominal pain as a symptom as well. If you have a digestive disorder, such as irritable bowel syndrome, even drinking a small amount of alcohol can cause abdominal pain.
Is This an Emergency?
- Drinkaware: Is Alcohol Harming Your Stomach?
- Alcohol Health and Research World: Alcohol’s Role in Gastrointestinal Tract Disorders
- Columbia University Go Ask Alice!: Suddenly, Drinking Alcohol Makes Me Sick!
- Allergy UK: Alcohol Intolerance
- University of Notre Dame Office of Alcohol and Drug Education: Alcohol Allergies -- Do They Exist?
- Auckland Allergy Clinic: Alcohol Intolerance (Adverse Effect to Alcoholic beverages)