Alcohol = burny burny heartburn. Why? How can I fix it?
February 4, 2013 4:58 PM   Subscribe

I understand you are not my gastroenterologist. I'll settle for input from a personally knowledgeable fellow MeFi'er. Has anyone suddenly become unable to drink alcohol, maybe after a GI illness? Does this condition go away?

So a few weeks ago I became unable to drink alcohol. I've never been a big drinker, but I like a glass of wine with dinner or out with friends. But in the past few weeks, alcohol in any drink burns me terribly. Wine; sweet stuff; weak stuff; strong stuff -- it all feels like fire when it hits my stomach.

I read something about alcohol loosening the pyloric sphincter so that stomach juices extrude and burn the esophagus. That's what this feels like, but it's instantaneous -- not like after a few minutes, once the booze had been working for a while, but as soon as it hits my stomach.

Timeline wise, I don't know if this is a red herring, but I think the dividing event came when I got a GI bug (just regular travelers' diarrhea) in Mexico over the Christmas break. I think I was doing fine with the drinks at the resort before I got sick. A few days later, on NYE, I remember I was unable to drink the bourbon I'd been served; and I haven't been able to drink any alcohol since. Not even like creamy weak girly drinks.

Spicy/acidic/greasy foods are fine, no problem. Alcohol is the only burny thing.

My question: has anyone out there experienced this? Specifically, has anyone experienced this and gotten over it? What can I do about it? As I said, I'm not a big drinker, but I'm dismayed at the prospect of never enjoying a cocktail with friends or a glass of wine with dinner ever again.
posted by fingersandtoes to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If its stomach acid causing the pain you could try an OTC gas relief med (follow the package directions). I take zantac 30 min before eating gas causing foods if I expect trouble. Maybe worth trying?
posted by saradarlin at 6:21 PM on February 4, 2013

I can't speak to the effects of alcohol specifically, but I do know that I was completely unable to eat cheese comfortably for abut two months after returning from Africa (and after having an intestinal thing as well). My diet had not contained cheese for 2.5 months either. I ate a lot of yogurt, took acidophilus, and intermittently ate cheese in small doses, and I think eventually the "good" bacteria repopulated my intestines or something, because the problem resolved...

The burning thing sounds kind of scary though, maybe ask a doctor?
posted by iadacanavon at 6:34 PM on February 4, 2013

Alcohol also triggers heartburn for me. Hard liquor is the worst. Followed by red wine. White wine and beer are generally OK in small amounts. This developed as part of a very severe bout of heartburn about 7 years ago. I was taking a lot of prilosec back then to ease the burn. Over time (can't remember how long) the severity of the heartburn decreased and today it isn't much of an issue for me as long as I eat sensibly and avoid the alcohol. I never went back to "normal" in that my gut is just not as invincible as it was in my younger years. So this might be your new normal.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 7:27 PM on February 4, 2013

Pure anecdote and no helpful advice, but I had a round of travelers' diarrhea about two months back and yes, alcohol currently produces way, way more acid reflux than I'm used to. If I have more than 1-2 drinks, I pay for it the following day with upset stomach, etc. that wasn't a problem to nearly the same degree before. In general, my GI system seems to be more easily disturbed post-illness, but I think it is also gradually improving.
posted by zizania at 12:07 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I started getting awful heartburn about 2-3 years ago to the pointt I was having trouble swallowing food. I eventually figured ouy alcohol was exacerbating it. After maybe a year of taking PPIs it almost completely went away. I no longer take them and I rarely get a twinge of
heartburn. I did have an endoscopy to check out the 'can't swallow' thing but nothing was wrong.

It is something to see your doctor about, it isn't necessarily something you'll have forever.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 3:59 AM on February 5, 2013

I once had a bout of GI problems probably sparked by food poisoning, and my system was whacked for months -- I dont' recall problems with alcohol, but soups at my local deli (that I used to eat several times per week) would give me terrible heartburn that lasted for hours and I had to stop eating them. I think it was maybe over a year before I had some with no problem.

Bad bugs can chase out everything that keeps your belly in balance; meds to chase out bad bugs can also kill off your friendlies. Either way, it can take quite a while to get things back to normal. Eat yogurt and other probiotics as much as you can, and maybe by summer you'll have your stomach back.

Bummer, eh? Just ask me about pregnancy sometime.... eesh, biology.
posted by acm at 7:00 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

One thing to suggest - don't take PPIs and then drink. Take a couple month break from drinking and then see if you can drink without the PPIs.
posted by zia at 1:42 AM on February 6, 2013

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