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Mouth and Esophagus

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Mouth and Esophagus

By: S. Rennie, LPN

The first things alcohol comes in contact with when consumed are the oral cavity, pharynx, and esophagus. Because the alcohol is in an undiluted state, mucosal lesions are quite common. The amount of alcohol to do this varies from person to person and depends on other factors such as is the stomach full or empty. That said, it is known that the risk for tissue damage goes up when over 4 drink (2 ounces alcohol) are consumed.1

Inflammation of the tongue (i.e. glossitis), the mouth (i.e., stomatitis) may occur either from alcohol consumption damaging the salivary glands or poor nutrition that oftentimes goes along with heavy alcohol misuse. Other effects on the mouth can be seen in an increased incidence of tooth decay, gum disease, and tooth loss (Kranzler et al. 1990).1,2

Heavy alcohol consumption - more than 21 standard drinks in one week - is the second largest risk factor for oral cancer. Alcohol dehydrates the cell walls, and, for smokers, increases the absorption of tobacco carcinogens through the mouth tissues. Deficiencies in nutrients associated with heavy alcohol consumption can lower the ability to utilize antioxidants to prevent cancerous formations.3

The esophagus, which leads to the stomach, can be damaged by even one acute alcohol consumption episode. Gastroesophageal reflux can occur due to the weakening of the lower esophageal sphincter. This, in turn, can lower the ability of the esophagus to clear the refluxed gastric acid, thus causing heartburn. "Nutcracker esophagus", an esophageal motility that has symptoms similar to coronary heart, disease can also occur in some alcohol-dependent persons.1 (Motility: Biology. moving or capable of moving spontaneously: motile cells; motile spores.)4

Other esophageal maladies, which may occur, are: Barrett's esophagus, which occurs in 10% to 20% of those suffering with symptomatic gastroesophageal reflux disease (Wienbeck and Berges 1985). This condition is characterized by changes in the cell layer lining of the esophagus, which causes abnormal acid production. Barrett's esophagus can put patients at an increased risk of cancer of the esophagus because the altered cells can become cancerous.1,2

Mallory-Weiss syndrome is massive bleeding caused by tears in the mucosa at base of the esophagus leading to the stomach. For 20% to 50% of patients, this comes from increased gastric pressure from repeated retching and vomiting after heavy alcohol consumption (Bode and Bode, 1992).


  1. Bode, Christiane, Ph.D. and Bode, J. Christian, M.D., Alcohol's Role in Gastrointestinal Disorders. Alcohol Health & Research World. Vol. 21, No. 1, 1997. 77-78

  2. Alcohol and the Digestive System/Gastrointestinal Tract.

  3. Alcohol and tobacco. The Oral Cancer Foundation.

  4. American Psychological Association (APA): motility. (n.d.). Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved March 26, 2008, from website:

    BODE, J.C., AND BODE, C. Alcohol malnutrition and the gastrointestinal tract. In: Watson, R.R., and Watzl,
    B., eds. Nutrition and Alcohol. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1992. pp. 403-428.

    KRANZLER, H.R.; BABOR, T.F.; GOLDSTEIN, L.; AND GOLD, J. Dental pathology and alcohol-related indicators
    in an outpatient clinic sample. Community Dentistry & Oral Epidemiology 18(4):204-207, 1990.

    WIENBECK, M., AND BERGES, W. Esophageal and gastric lesions in the alcoholic. In: Seitz, H.K., and Kommerell,
    B., eds. Alcohol-Related Diseases in Gastroenterology. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1985. pp. 361-375.

This page was last modified on : 10/28/2013

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