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What is the Connection Between Alcohol and Upset Stomach?

By J.S. Metzker Erdemir
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Alcohol and upset stomach go hand in hand for many people, especially the morning after a night of heavy drinking. Other symptoms of a hangover from drinking may include vomiting, headache, dizziness, anxiety, and tremors. Alcohol can cause an upset stomach because of a by-product called acetaldehyde, which is produced as the body digests the ethanol in the alcohol. Stomach upset may also be the result of dehydration caused by drinking.

Acetaldehyde is a poisonous substance in alcohol. It is what causes the affects of drinking because it depresses the central nervous system, leading to impairments such as giddiness, loss of inhibition, loss of balance, and slurred speech. This substance is also what causes vomiting if too much alcohol is consumed, as the body needs to rid itself of the toxin forcibly. Acetaldehyde affects the brain, liver, and stomach. One reason alcohol and upset stomach are related is that the toxin irritates the lining of the stomach, causing pain, contractions, and heartburn.

If a person drinks alcohol and gets an upset stomach, dehydration may also be the cause. Dehydration is more likely if a person drinks too quickly, or does not drink water or other non-alcoholic beverages along with the alcohol. Hard alcohol is more likely to cause an upset stomach because ample water is needed for the body to process it.

Because alcohol has no nutritional value, it is not broken down and delivered to cells and tissues in the same way food is. Instead, the alcohol is diluted by the water in the blood and delivered directly into the bloodstream. If more alcohol is consumed than the bloodstream can dilute, the body begins to draw water from the organs and brain. This leads to dehydration, which can cause a headache or queasiness.

To avoid getting an upset stomach from alcohol, it is best to drink slowly or alternate alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Depending on body weight and muscle density, it usually takes men about 45 minutes to process a shot of spirits, beer, or a 4-ounce (118.4 ml) glass of wine. Women usually need an hour to clear the alcohol from their systems because their bodies generally contain more fat than muscle, and muscle contains more water. Drinking lots of water is usually an effective way to deal with a hangover accompanied by upset stomach. Eating light snacks may also calm the abdominal contractions.

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Discussion Comments

By burcidi — On Nov 22, 2012

What are some ways to get rid of acetaldehyde from our system after drinking to avoid upset stomach?

By SarahGen — On Nov 21, 2012

@backdraft-- That's because our body builds tolerance to alcohol as we continue to have it. It gets used to it and doesn't react to it the same way over time.

That's why almost everyone gets sick from drinking during college years, but you rarely see thirty and forty year olds with alcohol sickness symptoms.

By turquoise — On Nov 20, 2012

I do think that there is a connection between alcohol and upset stomach but I also think that it has to do with several different factors.

On some days, I have no stomach issues whatsoever after drinking. On others, I get terribly ill with nausea, vomiting and stomach acidity.

I've noticed that I usually get upset stomach when I drink on an empty stomach and when I drink hard liquor. I don't have problems when I eat well before drinking and have drinks with low alcohol content.

So there is a connection but it doesn't mean that someone will get an upset stomach every time they drink alcohol.

By backdraft — On Oct 25, 2012

In college I used to get an upset stomach from drinking all the time.

But as I moved through my 20s the problem got smaller and smaller. I was probably drinking less than in college, but not all that much less.

Now I never have nausea, or really any kind of hangover. I always expected it to get worse as I aged, but the opposite seems to be true.

By clippers — On Oct 24, 2012

This has always been a big problem for me. It is not so much that I get drunk, I seem to go straight to being nauseous after having just 3 or 4 drinks. It's weird, but I have been able to alleviate the symptoms a little by making sure that I eat something while I am drinking. Having an empty stomach seems to make it worse.

By Perdido — On Oct 24, 2012

@JackWhack – Because the majority of people who have frequent hangovers regularly drink heavily, and they have already done damage to their livers and stomach linings, taking aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen would only make the damage worse. Aspirin and ibuprofen can make your stomach bleed, particularly if it has already been worked upon by lots of alcohol. Acetaminophen can damage the liver, especially the already weakened liver of an alcoholic.

Now, if you have only had one or two drinking binges in your lifetime, it might not hurt you as much to take one of these drugs to prevent hangovers. Your best bet would probably be acetaminophen, though, because the others could make your upset stomach worse.

By JackWhack — On Oct 23, 2012

I have heard that if you suspect you will have a hangover in the morning, you can take ibuprofen or aspirin before you go to sleep to lessen the severity of the hangover. Is this true? If it is, then why doesn't everyone do it?

By Kristee — On Oct 23, 2012

They say that drinking on an empty stomach can intensify the effect of alcohol, but I have found that I get sick if I drink after eating a meal. I feel like there is a rock in my stomach, and I wind up hanging my head over the toilet in anticipation of the vomiting that never comes.

I experience dizziness and an upset stomach after drinking on a full stomach. I don't know if the same thing would happen to me if I drank on an empty stomach or not, because I've never tried. I think that I am just way too sensitive to alcohol, because it only takes one mixed drink to get me extremely tipsy.

By Oceana — On Oct 22, 2012

Many people drink alcohol because of stress, and an upset stomach is the result. When someone is under a lot of stress and they go to the bar for shots after work, they are not thinking about consuming water or food along with it. They just want some mental relief.

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