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Addiction and Substance Abuse

Alcohol induced abdominal pain?

11/02/2007

Question:

Hi, I went out drinking three weeks ago. Mostly "Smirnoff Ice" but also some rum mixes. Suspect I drank rather too quickly, but didn`t get terribly "drunk." The next day, I had something of a pain in my lower right abdomen. The next day after this (and ever since) it has been more of a dull ache than a pain, but has persisted for over three weeks. Also seems to move between my lower right abdomen and a little higher and middle/right. Kind of comes and goes. I`ve also been feeling lightheaded at times lately; usually, but not always, this seems to be associated with coffee or caffeine.... Additional information: I was rather anorexic app. twelve years ago. I also had my gallbladder out in 2000. Also have been lactose intolerant since about the same time. And tend to suffer from constipation, diarrhea, and gas.

Answer:

Sorry for my delay in responding to your excellent question. The abdomen is a VERY VERY busy part of the body with many things that can cause or mimic a pain symptom like the one you describe. I have a few thoughts:

1) Acute drinking binges like the one you describe often can cause some transient swelling of the liver. Since the liver is in a dense "capsule" or sheath, when it swells it hurts in a way that is much like you describe.

2) Binges can also produe a lot of irritation to the stomach lining - and cause this sort of pain.

3) The same can go for the swallowing tube with inflamation caused by the caustic effects of alcohol actually "burning" the lining.

4) The pancreas frequently is irritated by binge drinking as you describe. These would be the most likely culprits.

I am concerned about the description that you give of your drinking. Remember, for those people who do not have drinking problems, "safe" drinking involves two or fewer drinks per drinking occasion for women and three or fewer for men. The blood alcohol level goes to 30 mg% per drink for a woman and 20 mg% for a man after EACH drink. Given that legal intoxicaation is at 80 mg% ... it becomes pretty simple to do the math and realize that binge drinking like that you describe, puts people's blood alcohol level way above the safe range. This can lead to accidents, injuries, DUI, disinhibited behaviors and markedly increased risk of interpersonal violence. Regardless of whether a person "feels drunk", when the BAC exceeds 80mg% it is just plain dangerous to their health.

Hope this information is useful.

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Response by:

Ted   Parran, MD Ted Parran, MD
Associate Professor of General Medical Sciences
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University