Alcohol's role in gastrointestinal tract disorders

Alcohol Health Res World. 1997;21(1):76-83.


When alcohol is consumed, the alcoholic beverages first pass through the various segments of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Accordingly, alcohol may interfere with the structure as well as the function of GI-tract segments. For example, alcohol can impair the function of the muscles separating the esophagus from the stomach, thereby favoring the occurrence of heartburn. Alcohol-induced damage to the mucosal lining of the esophagus also increases the risk of esophageal cancer. In the stomach, alcohol interferes with gastric acid secretion and with the activity of the muscles surrounding the stomach. Similarly, alcohol may impair the muscle movement in the small and large intestines, contributing to the diarrhea frequently observed in alcoholics. Moreover, alcohol inhibits the absorption of nutrients in the small intestine and increases the transport of toxins across the intestinal walls, effects that may contribute to the development of alcohol-related damage to the liver and other organs.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects
  • Alcohol Drinking / metabolism
  • Alcohol Drinking / physiopathology*
  • Alcoholism / complications*
  • Alcoholism / metabolism
  • Alcoholism / physiopathology
  • Ethanol / adverse effects
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / chemically induced
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / etiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / metabolism
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / drug effects
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / metabolism
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / physiopathology*
  • Humans


  • Ethanol