How Alcohol Affects the Digestive System, Con’t.

How Alcohol Affects the Digestive System

In This Article

For the first part of this series, please read How Alcohol Affects the Digestive System.

The Small Intestine

The small intestine uses enzymes and bile to extract nutrients from food, and turn partially digested food to energy. It delivers the needed nutrients to the blood stream and then the liver. Alcohol abuse can irritate the lining of the small intestine, and impair it’s ability to garner vitamin and nutrients. Symptoms are identical to those of gastritis, as alcohol consumption inflames the stomach as well. Nutrient absorption problems can lead to malnutrition and further damage; alcoholism may also contribute to ulcers and cancer of the small intestine. Another result may be leaky gut syndrome, in which toxins are able to leak from the intestine into other parts of the body.

The Liver and Gall Bladder

The negative effects of alcohol on the liver are fairly well-known. The liver creates bile, breaks down fats, extracts and stores some nutrients, and removes toxins from the body. A large percentage of alcoholics will develop liver disease, and be highly susceptible to hepatitis and cirrhosis. The metabolism of alcohol is largely to blame, including the creation of damaging by-products and resulting inflammation.

The gall bladder is a small organ that holds the bile produced by the liver. Excessive alcohol consumption can inflame the gall bladder, causing it become swollen and sore. There is usually pain in the upper right area of the abdomen. In severe cases, surgery may be needed or the organ will rupture. On the flip side, alcohol is thought to reduce the presence of gall stones, which are actually the greater threat to chronic gall bladder disease.

The Colon

The colon, or large intestine, functions to reabsorb fluids such as water from undigestable materials. It also processes and stores waste products, and prepares it for elimination. Alcohol may cause colon irritation, and contribute to or aggravate irritable bowel syndrome, in which the colon becomes sensitive to certain foods. It may also cause diarrhea or constipation. There also appears to be some evidence that heavily-consumed alcoholic beverages such as beer may contribute to colon cancer, but many studies have shown this to be inconclusive.

The Rectum and Anus

The rectum is simply the storage area for feces or contents to be expelled from body through the anus. Alcohol consumption causes dehydration, and thus may contribute to hemorrhoids, or inflamed veins in both the rectum and anus. While hemorrhoids are usually treatable, they are uncomfortable and may be itchy, painful, and cause bleeding. As with many organs, it is thought that excessive alcohol use may contribute to rectal cancer.

This list is by no means exhaustive, as the totality of damaging effects through heavy alcohol use is complex in etiology. Also, this list does not consider the effects on the nervous and respiratory systems.

Finally, alcohol affects the digestive system via decreased appetite. Over time, chronic alcoholics often get less enjoyment from food, and find themselves in substantial pain when they do eat appropriately. It is not uncommon, for example, for alcoholics to substitute food with alcohol, and drinking on an empty stomach can exacerbate all the negative effects of heavy alcohol use.

If you suspect that you or someone you know is an alcoholic, please seek help immediately.

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