Can Alcohol Cause Heartburn?
Drinking alcohol is a popular activity in many social settings. Whether you’re attending a happy hour at work, going out with friends on the weekend or making an appearance at an annual family party, alcohol is likely available at all of these events. However, if you’ve ever experienced heartburn or acid reflux after a night out, alcohol may be what’s causing it.
Can drinking alcohol cause your heartburn? Learn more about the connection between alcohol and heartburn and what you can do to manage it.
What Is Heartburn?
Heartburn is a burning feeling in your chest that can last anywhere from a couple minutes to a few hours.1 It may also leave a hot, sour taste in the back of your throat.1 While occasional heartburn is fairly common, heartburn that is more regular and severe may be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.1 Consult with your healthcare provider if you find that you are experiencing heartburn more regularly.1
What Causes Heartburn?
The foods and drinks we consume go down the esophagus, or the long tube that connects our mouths and stomachs.1 Our stomachs are designed to hold a strong acid that is used to digest food, but this same acid can harm the esophagus.1 When the esophageal sphincter, or the valve that separates the stomach from your esophagus doesn’t properly close, these acids come back up the esophagus.1 This is called acid reflux, and it causes a burning sensation that is known as heartburn.1 While some medical conditions can cause acid reflux and make you feel heartburn, it can also be caused by diet and lifestyle factors.1
How Is Alcohol Connected to Heartburn?
Certain foods and drinks can trigger heartburn, including alcohol.1 Drinking alcohol can relax the lower esophageal sphincter, which causes the acid in your stomach to come back up into your esophagus.2 Acid reflux can become more chronic in people who frequently drink too much.2 Repeated acid reflux can eventually lead to more serious conditions like esophageal cancer and may even require surgery.2
Alcohol is linked to other behaviors that trigger heartburn. For instance, drinking may also cause heartburn by contributing to overeating. Eating large portions of food can cause heartburn, and some studies show that alcohol consumption may actually stimulate food intake and amplify your perception of appetite.1,3 Social drinking is often paired with the consumption of fried, fatty foods and smoking cigarettes, both of which can also trigger heartburn.1 Some people may end up drinking too much or too often as a way to manage stress, and high stress level can lead to heartburn as well.1,4
Do All Types of Alcohol Cause Heartburn?
If you are looking to minimize the risk of getting heartburn while drinking, you may want to stick to liquors that are less likely to cause heartburn. Spirits with a higher ethanol content (or proof) like whiskey, gin and cognac are not known to stimulate the secretion of stomach acid, making them a better choice over beverages with lower ethanol content.5 However, what you choose to mix your alcohol with will influence your likelihood of getting heartburn. Many popular cocktails are flavored with citrus juices or garnished with slices of citric fruits, which can cause heartburn.1 Carbonated and caffeinated beverages can also trigger heartburn, making it difficult to consume hard seltzers or alcoholic beverages that contain coffee.1 You may need to stay away from beverages that are made with tomato juice, as tomato-based products can cause heartburn as well.1
How to Avoid Heartburn When Drinking
Heartburn doesn’t have to make an appearance every time you have a drink at an outing. Use these tips to help reduce the chances of getting heartburn after drinking:1,2,6
- Stay hydrated. Drinking water can help with digestion and prevent dehydration.
- Drink in moderation. Drinking too much can make acid reflux worse. Keep the drinks to a minimum to avoid the risk of acid reflux.
- Be mindful of how you eat and when you eat. Try not to overeat or eat too quickly after drinking and avoid foods that cause heartburn. It may also be helpful to not eat before going to sleep, as this can help prevent getting heartburn at night.
- Ditch the cigarettes. Smoking can also make your heartburn worse. Avoid taking smoke breaks at the bar to reduce your risk of heartburn.
- Avoid wearing tight clothing. If your belt or clothes are too tight, they may also cause heartburn. Try to avoid wearing tight clothing to your next happy hour or outing with alcohol.
- Take antacids. Antacids can be taken while drinking alcohol. Look for over-the-counter products like TUMS Chewy Bites to quickly relieve heartburn symptoms and acid indigestion. Use as directed.
- Heartburn. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9617-heartburn-overview Accessed 9/14/2022.
- 6 Ways Alcohol Can Damage Your Gut. UNC Health. https://healthtalk.unchealthcare.org/6-ways-alcohol-can-damage-your-gut/ Accessed 9/14/2022.
- Alcohol Consumption and Obesity: An Update. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4338356/ Accessed 9/14/2022.
- Stress. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11874-stress Accessed 9/14/2022.
- Alcohol and gastric acid secretion in humans. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1374273/ Accessed 9/14/2022.
- Antacids. NHS. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/antacids/ Accessed 9/14/2022.