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Can alcohol cause mouth ulcers?

Written by Brandon Okey. Mina Draskovic, B.Psy., reviewed this content for accuracy.

Mouth ulcers can be a real pain. While definitive evidence is still emerging, alcohol consumption may contribute to their development.

A 2016 study published in the Journal of Oral Biology and Craniofacial Research shows that alcohol can irritate the lining of the mouth, leading to the development of these pesky sores. 

Alcohol can create an acidic environment in the mouth that inflames the soft tissues of the cheeks, gums, and tongue. Heavy drinking is generally bad for your oral health, increasing the risk of tooth decay, gum disease, and oral cancer

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If you’re worried about your alcohol consumption habits, it’s time to speak to the experts. Ardu’s alcohol treatment center is here to lend a hand. 

What are mouth ulcers?

Mouth ulcers are open, painful sores that develop on the mucous membranes inside the mouth. They typically appear as red lesions or open sores on the tongue, inner cheeks, gums, lips, or roof of the mouth.

Mouth ulcers are characterized by pain or burning sensations and the associated difficulty with eating and drinking. You may also experience swelling, redness, or the appearance of an open wound.

Ulcers develop when there is a break or erosion of the mucous membranes inside the mouth. They begin as a small red bump that rapidly erodes into an open sore which takes 7–14 days to heal. In most cases, mouth ulcers are harmless and resolve on their own without complications. More persistent ones can point to more serious conditions such as autoimmune disorders, oral cancer, or infections. 

Some of the common causes of mouth ulcers are:

  • Minor injuries from rough foods
  • Toothbrush abrasions
  • Stress
  • Hormonal changes
  • Nutritional deficiencies (iron, B vitamins, zinc)
  • Food allergies
  • Heavy alcohol consumption

Turns out that the same stuff that can pickle your liver can also irritate the soft tissues of your mouth. Alcohol’s acidic nature and its tendency to deplete the body’s moisture and nutrients create the perfect storm for painful ulcers to bloom on your cheeks, gums, tongue, and other surfaces.

What are the symptoms of alcohol-related mouth ulcers?

Alcohol-fueled mouth ulcers can cause some serious pain and disruptions. The combination of pain and impact on daily functions (eating, drinking, talking, etc.) make alcohol-related mouth ulcers something you want to avoid.

Symptoms of alcohol-related mouth ulcers include:

  • The burning or throbbing sensations and pain can be severe, making drinking, eating, brushing teeth or even talking unbearable during a flare-up.
  • Difficulty eating and swallowing hard, crunchy, or acidic foods.
  • Bleeding, as alcohol-induced inflammation causes further ulcer irritation. 
  • Damage to taste buds.
  • Halitosis (bad breath).
  • Facial swelling.
  • Slow healing as alcohol impedes the body’s ability to heal, drawing out recovery.

It can be incredibly difficult to overcome addiction alone. If alcohol has taken a toll on your health, we are here for you. Ardu’s rehab center can provide the support you need to start feeling like yourself again.

Why do you get mouth ulcers after drinking alcohol?

Frequent and heavy alcohol consumption irritates delicate tissues and interferes with your body’s important protective mechanisms. Indian researchers discovered that alcohol “inevitably affects the oral cavity, oral mucosa and teeth,” while those dependent on alcohol “may have increased risk factor for dental caries, probing pocket depth and mucosal lesions.”

While more research is still needed, available evidence suggests that alcohol likely contributes to the development of pesky canker sores.

Here are some of the mechanisms by which alcohol may promote mouth ulcers:

  1. Direct irritation of the mouth tissue. Alcohol is acidic with a pH ranging from 3.3 to 5. This acidity creates an inflammatory environment in the mouth that wears away at the protective mucous membranes of the cheeks, gums, and tongue. Over time, this leaves areas raw and vulnerable to painful ulcer formation.
  2. Alcohol’s dehydrating effects suppress saliva production. Salivary flow is important as it serves to protect and moisten oral tissues. Priyanka, et. al. suggest that “chronic excess intake of acidic beverages like alcohol can directly lead to drop of pH” and that “chronic alcohol abuse may have influence on decreased salivary flow.” Without adequate salivary flow buffering acid and keeping your mouth resilient, the tissue can crack, split, and transform into aphthous ulcers.
  3. Alcohol is highly inflammatory. Acetaldehyde, the first byproduct of alcohol metabolism, triggers widespread inflammation by increasing cytokine and prostaglandin production (pro-inflammatory molecules). This prevents effective tissue healing while also exacerbating ulcerative lesions.
  4. Heavy drinking depletes you of nutrients. Those addicted to alcohol often suffer from deficiencies in vitamins such as folate, B12 (thiamine), and zinc. These are important because they maintain the integrity and regeneration capacity of the mucosal lining. Lacking these can leave the lining weakened and prone to ulcerous wounds.
  5. Alcohol disrupts immune function. The ethanol in alcohol has a cytotoxic effect on macrophages and lymphocytes which fight infection and facilitate wound healing. Chronic and excessive alcohol consumption can weaken the immune system, making individuals more vulnerable to infections and diseases. Compromising these immune processes may set the stage for more frequent, persistent ulcers to develop.

The relationship between alcohol and mouth ulcers has not been thoroughly investigated. Based on what we know about the harmful effects of drinking, it is reasonable to say that alcohol likely contributes to mouth ulcer development in many different ways. 

Additionally, the stress of alcohol withdrawal can wreak further havoc on the mouth by triggering painful canker sores.

Does alcohol withdrawal cause mouth ulcers?

Alcohol withdrawal can cause unpleasant physical and psychological symptoms. The abrupt drop in blood alcohol levels throws your nervous system into overdrive, causing anxiety, tremors, and seizures. If left untreated, your withdrawal symptoms can turn into full-fledged alcohol withdrawal syndrome, and in turn, accelerate the development of mouth ulcers.

Here’s why:

  • Severe fluctuations in the body weaken the immune system, causing widespread inflammation. As a result, people going through withdrawal often develop painful canker sores or mouth ulcers. 
  • The stress hormone cortisol spikes during withdrawal, slowing the healing of oral tissues.
  • Heavy drinking exacerbates nutritional deficiencies, depriving tissue of the vitamins and minerals needed to maintain integrity during withdrawal.
  • Dehydration and dry mouth brought on by withdrawal leave tissues vulnerable to ulcer-causing bacteria and trauma.
  • The mouth’s mucous membrane lining may be damaged during vomiting and acid reflux episodes during withdrawal.

If you’re drinking too much and notice that your health is suffering, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Booze isn’t only bad for your oral health. While happy hour cocktails or a chilled beer after work may seem harmless, alcohol is harmful to your liver, kidneys, heart, cognition, mental health, skin health, and virtually your entire body. 

Contact Ardu Recovery Center and make a step in the right direction today.

Can alcohol help mouth ulcers?

Many people are tempted to have a drink while dealing with the discomfort of mouth ulcers, thinking it’ll help soothe their pain. The truth is, it won’t. Alcoholic drinks such as beer or whiskey will only throw fuel on the fire and exacerbate the ulcers in your mouth.

Remember that alcohol is acidic and inflammatory. It may cause inflammation and irritation while numbing your nerves, which only increases the risk of accidentally biting, hurting, or burning the sores with hard or hot food. Alcohol’s ability to dehydrate oral tissues and disrupt the mouth’s pH balance can contribute to the formation of painful ulcerative lesions instead of helping them. 

So, no, alcohol can definitely not help mouth ulcers in any way (except by helping them get worse). From alcohol detox through all six stages of recovery, Ardu’s supportive staff provides compassionate care and encouragement. 

Reach out today to discuss your recovery options.

What is the worst type of alcohol for mouth sores?

Any type of alcohol can irritate painful mouth ulcers or canker sores and delay healing. Highly acidic drinks that dry out the mouth completely are especially troublesome when it comes to aggravating oral lesions. 

Sparkling wines, carbonated beers, and mixed drinks with sodas contain acids and bubbles that directly irritate sensitive wounds in the mouth. Due to their high alcohol content, spirits such as whiskies, rums, and vodkas dehydrate oral tissues and suppress the flow of protective saliva. Red wines also strip away moisture. 

Put simply, if you are battling open sores, no type of alcohol is healing. 

If you think alcohol is only dehydrating your mouth, you’re dead wrong. Did you know ethanol dehydrates your skin? Alcohol disrupts the skin barrier function, inhibiting the production of natural moisturizing factors that keep skin hydrated, supple, and glowing. Over time, this leads to issues such as redness, flaking, wrinkling, dullness, and even dermatitis.

Beat the adverse effects of heavy drinking and quit while you’re ahead.

What is the fastest way to cure a mouth ulcer at home?

Mouth ulcers can be extremely painful and disruptive to daily life. Several home remedies using common kitchen ingredients can provide relief and expedite healing. 

  1. Salt water rinse. Swishing a saltwater solution helps reduce inflammation and ease pain. Simply stir 1/2 teaspoon of salt into a cup of warm water. Swish the solution around the affected area for 30 seconds 2-3 times a day to speed up the healing process. The salt acts as an antiseptic to remove bacteria.
  2. Baking soda paste. Make a thick paste with 1 tsp baking soda and small amounts of water. Using a cotton swab, gently dab paste onto the canker sore 3-4 times a day. Allow the paste to dissolve slowly and coat the area with soothing alkaline properties. Rinse once fully dissolved.
  3. Honey. With its antibacterial properties, raw honey can disinfect canker sores and form a protective coating. Drink a teaspoon diluted in warm water, or carefully dab it onto the sore using a cotton tip. Reapply 3-4 times daily. Manuka honey works best.
  4. Orajel. For numbing relief, apply an OTC anesthetic oral gel containing benzocaine directly on the ulcer as needed before eating/drinking. This can provide instant, short-term relief and speed up the healing process.

While these at-home remedies can help provide symptom relief for existing mouth ulcers, the best approach is prevention. Quitting alcohol is often easier said than done. If you’re drinking too much and notice that your health is suffering, don’t hesitate to seek professional help.

Ardu can help you quit alcohol

Anyone struggling with alcohol abuse or addiction is welcome in our alcohol addiction treatment program. We help people overcome their addictions and restore their well-being. Our dedicated team of professionals is here to guide and support you in your recovery journey, provide education on relapse prevention, and help lay the foundation for long-term sobriety.

Our Utah rehab center specializes in:

  • Medically supervised detox to safely eliminate alcohol’s effects on your body.
  • Behavioral therapies to understand the triggers behind your drinking and build healthy coping skills.
  • Residential treatment to provide 24/7 structured care with counseling and health services as you work to end alcohol dependence. 
  • Nutritional therapy to correct vitamin and mineral deficiencies that harm your body and oral health. Working with our dieticians helps you establish balanced eating habits to facilitate healing.
  • Family therapy to help you and your loved ones get to the bottom of your addiction.
  • Aftercare resources and support groups to maintain sobriety long-term.

To enroll in an Ardu alcohol rehab program, contact us online or via phone (801-810-1234). We will find a recovery path that works for you during the detox process and beyond. For more information, visit our admissions process page.

Brandon Okey

Brandon Okey is the co-founder of Ardu Recovery Center and is dedicated to empowering people on their journey to sobriety.

Alcohol and mouth ulcers FAQ

What are the first signs of liver damage from alcohol?

The early signs of liver damage from alcohol include:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain or swelling
  • Weight loss
  • Jaundice (yellow skin and eyes)
  • Dark urine
  • Pale stool
  • Spider angiomas (red spots) on the skin
  • Easy bleeding or excessive bruising due to a deficiency in blood-clotting proteins made by the liver

As drinking continues, severe inflammation and fatty deposits prevent the liver from functioning normally, leading to permanent scarring and cell death known as cirrhosis. According to research, this condition affects up to 10-35% of those who abuse alcohol chronically and can necessitate dangerous transplants if drinking is not curtailed in time. 

Your liver may be able to recover once the drinking stops.

What mouth infection is caused by alcohol?

The most common mouth infection caused by alcohol is oral candidiasis or oral thrush. This fungal infection with overgrowth of Candida albicans fungus often occurs in people with alcoholism due to nutrient deficiency and suppression of immune defenses needed to control fungal overgrowth.

Heavy alcohol consumption can also weaken the immune system, making it harder to fight off infections such as periodontitis, or gum disease, which is one of the most frequent long-term effects of alcohol on the mouth.

Chronic consumption of alcohol can disrupt the homeostatic balance within the oral cavity, impacting everything from teeth and gums to the development of bacteria. Research points out that this eventually leads to alcohol-related diseases such as gum disease, tooth decay, and digestive tract cancers.

How do you treat an alcoholic ulcer?

First and foremost, the treatment for alcohol-related ulcers requires stopping all alcohol consumption to allow healing. The patient needs to make up for the poor nutrition with vitamin supplements, manage severe pain and inflammation with OTC topicals, and prevent infection with antimicrobial rinses. Medical experts also recommend addressing the underlying issues of alcohol dependence such as acid reflux, immune disorders, or substance abuse with prescription medications or rehab programs.

What does alcohol intolerance feel like?

Alcohol intolerance causes adverse symptoms like facial flushing, hives, headache, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, asthma flare-ups, rapid heart rate, and low blood pressure when drinking even small amounts. These responses indicate an inherited inability to properly metabolize byproducts of alcohol breakdown.

Why do alcoholics get oral thrush?

Alcoholics often get oral thrush because excessive drinking allows overgrowth of the yeast Candida by causing vitamin and mineral deficiencies that weaken immunity, as well as dehydration and irritation that damages the mucous membrane lining protecting the mouth. Prolonged antibiotic use and medical conditions like diabetes or HIV that weaken immunity also contribute.

Why does my mouth feel cut up after drinking alcohol?

The mouth may feel sore, cut up, or irritated after drinking alcohol due to the acidic, inflammatory, and dehydrating properties inherent to alcoholic beverages that damage the protective mucous membranes in the mouth. With this thin barrier perforated and weakened, normally benign irritants now have direct access to submucosal nerve endings resulting in pain. 

Mouth ulcers, gum inflammation, oral dryness, and secondary infection from oral flora overgrowth further contribute to this post-drink discomfort. Plus, heavy alcohol consumption is linked to a deficiency of key B vitamins which are essential for daily oral tissue regeneration, repair, and healing.

Can alcohol cause cheilitis?

Alcohol can contribute to the development of cheilitis or inflammation of the lips by causing nutritional deficiencies, tissue dehydration, and direct damage to lip tissue. This leads to unpleasant symptoms like dryness, cracking, scaling, burning, and redness that may come in recurrent episodes. Additionally, because alcohol acts as a vasodilator early on after drinking, this creates further inflammation and irritation of already inflamed lips trying to heal. 

Can a dentist tell if you drink alcohol?

An observant dentist can detect signs of excess alcohol consumption in patients by taking a thorough oral hygiene history and closely examining the teeth and gums. Enamel erosion, gum inflammation, cavities, mouth ulcers, poor healing, and telltale staining and smells provide clues. Dentists may even notice manifestations like tooth grinding, abnormal wear, and gum recession that indicate functional impairment possibly linked to heavy drinking. 

Patients may also display difficulties with anesthesia, low pain tolerance, or be inconsistent with follow-up visits and home care. With so many oral red flags, the signs are there if dental providers know what to look for.

Are there different types of mouth ulcers?

Mouth ulcers vary greatly in size, number, cause, severity, and healing duration across different categories. 

There are several types of mouth ulcers, including:

  1. Minor or common mouth ulcers, also called aphthous ulcers or minor canker sores. These are small, oval sores with a white or yellow center and a red border that appear inside the mouth. They are among the most common types of mouth ulcer.
  2. Major mouth ulcers are more severe and larger versions of minor mouth ulcers, often with an irregular shape. They take longer to heal, over several weeks.
  3. Herpetiform mouth ulcers are clusters of dozens of smaller ulcers that can merge and are very painful. May be triggered by food allergies or spicy foods.
  4. Traumatic ulcers are caused by direct injury, irritation, or trauma to the oral tissues from things like toothbrush abrasion, dental procedures, or accidental cheek or tongue biting.
  5. Denture-related ulcers stem from poor-fitting dentures that rub and irritate the gums and cheeks.
  6. Cancerous mouth ulcers are ulcer-like lesions that don’t heal, bleed easily, or keep coming back may signify oral cancer and require urgent evaluation.


Chaudhuri, S., Dey, S., & Bajpai, R. C. (2016). Prevalence of oral ulcers and its association with addictions in rural population of western Uttar Pradesh and eastern Rajasthan. Journal of Oral Biology and Craniofacial Research, 6(3), 179-186. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jobcr.2016.04.003

Priyanka, K., Sudhir, K. M., Sekhara Reddy, V. C., Kumar, R. K., & Srinivasulu, G. (2017). Impact of Alcohol Dependency on Oral Health – A Cross-sectional Comparative Study. Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research: JCDR, 11(6), ZC43. https://doi.org/10.7860/JCDR/2017/26380.10058

Young, S. (n.d.). How Your Drinking Habits Impact Your Teeth: Scott Young, DDS: Cosmetic, General, and Neuromuscular Dentistry. https://www.scottyoungdds.com/blog/how-your-drinking-habits-impact-your-teeth

Roerecke, M., Vafaei, A., Hasan, O. S., Chrystoja, B. R., Cruz, M., Lee, R., Neuman, M. G., & Rehm, J. (2019). Alcohol consumption and risk of liver cirrhosis: A systematic review and meta-analysis. The American Journal of Gastroenterology, 114(10), 1574. https://doi.org/10.14309/ajg.0000000000000340

Riedel F, Goessler U, Hörmann K. Alcohol-related diseases of the mouth and throat. Best Pract Res Clin Gastroenterol. 2003 Aug;17(4):543-55. doi: 10.1016/s1521-6918(03)00019-2. PMID: 12828954.

Further reading

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Is alcohol neurotoxic?

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