Leaky Gut Can Make Alcoholism Worse

Leaky Gut Can Make Alcoholism Worse

December 14th, 2014 Alcohol Addiction, Helpful Articles

Researchers know that people highly affected by various forms of body inflammation may have higher chances of developing alcoholism (alcohol dependence), one of the two interrelated conditions known collectively as alcohol use disorder. In a study published in November 2014 in the journal Biological Psychiatry, a team of Belgian researchers assessed the alcoholism-related impact of bacteria that substantially increase body-wide inflammation levels when they pass from the gastrointestinal tract (i.e., the “gut”) and travel through the bloodstream. These researchers concluded that gut bacteria-related inflammation can significantly increase the level of alcohol cravings in people dealing with alcoholism.

Alcohol and the Gut

Alcohol can irritate the inner lining of a part of the gastrointestinal tract known as the bowel, which includes both the small intestine and the large intestine. In turn, this irritation can potentially damage the connections between the bowel’s individual cells and make it possible for bacteria and other materials to flow abnormally from the bowel to the bloodstream. Some health practitioners refer to the inflammation triggered by this chain of events as “leaky gut syndrome” and propose this syndrome as the underlying cause of a number of physical ailments, including asthma, migraine headaches and rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune disorders. However, there is very little scientifically verified evidence for the existence of leaky gut syndrome, and most researchers and health professionals don’t think such a condition actually occurs. Instead, most experts in the field believe that the inflammation associated with an unusually porous gut lining only has a localized effect and doesn’t cause body-wide problems.

The worst verified impact of localized gut inflammation is the onset of sores commonly known as ulcers. In addition to alcohol consumption, potential sources of a porous gut and gut-related inflammation include type 1 diabetes, intestinal infections, the use of medications that suppress the body’s immune system and the presence of various forms of inflammatory bowel disease.

Alcoholism and Alcohol Cravings

People with alcoholism have a physically established need to drink a certain amount of alcohol every day; as a rule, this amount of alcohol substantially exceeds the level of relatively safe intake that defines moderate drinking. When a physically dependent alcohol consumer is not actively drinking, he or she can develop strong urges, called cravings, which encourage a quick return to alcohol consumption. These cravings effectively help ensure that the brain gets its accustomed alcohol supply and avoids going into alcohol withdrawal. Current diagnostic guidelines in the U.S. treat the recurring presence of alcohol cravings as one of the 11 possible symptoms of alcohol use disorder (alcoholism and/or alcohol abuse).

Can a Leaky Gut Make Alcoholism Worse?

In the study published in Biological Psychiatry, researchers from the Louvain Drug Research Institute and two other Belgian institutions assessed the potential connection between a leaky gut and the intensification of alcohol cravings in people who enter detoxification as part of their treatment for alcoholism. Specifically, the researchers looked at the inflammation-related effects of bacteria that pass from the gut of a person affected by alcoholism and enter the bloodstream. A total of 77 adults took part in this project. Sixty-three of the participants were people currently affected by alcoholism who went through a course of alcohol detoxification. The remaining 14 participants acted as a comparison group and did not have any notable drinking problems.

Preliminary testing showed that before entering detoxification, the alcohol-dependent study participants had alcohol craving levels that were closely associated with the amount of inflammation produced in their bodies by bacteria that passed abnormally from bowel to bloodstream. When the researchers looked at the inflammation levels present in the participants after 18 days of alcohol detoxification, they concluded that alcohol cravings subsided when much of the abnormal inflammation associated with alcohol intake disappeared.

The study’s authors believe that their work provides evidence for the existence of a link between alcohol-related damage in the gastrointestinal tract and increased levels of the alcohol cravings that help maintain excessive drinking patterns in people affected by alcoholism. They also believe that they are some of the first researchers to recognize the possible validity of such a link between gut health, body-wide inflammation and alcoholism-related risk. Finally, the authors believe that efforts to improve the gastrointestinal health of people dependent on alcohol may substantially improve the treatment outcomes for clients/patients enrolled in alcohol programs.

Contact Elements Behavioral Health

Call 855-678-8337 for a confidential assessment or fill out the form below and we will call you.