Alcohol and Diarrhea

Drunk, angry bowels strike back!

girl sits in a toilet with an alcohol bottle from solvingtheibspuzzle.com
“In one end and out the other.” But you don’t have to party hard to have problems with alcohol and diarrhea.
© Bigstockphoto.com

Alcohol and diarrhea often go together, particularly if you are suffering from irritable bowel syndrome.  Alcohol irritates the digestive tract in general, and if you have sensitive bowels, well, let’s just say that instead of “driving the porcelain bus”, you may be riding it. :( Since many people don’t even know they have irritable bowel syndrome you may want to check the IBS symptoms page. You may find out you’ve been sick, and there is help. Now I’ve got no gripe with alcohol. I’m part Irish, and you know the reputation  ;), but I almost never drink alcohol of any kind because…

Alcohol and IBS don’t go well together.

If you’re already struggling with diarrhea, alcohol can make it worse. If you’re currently between bouts of IBS, alcohol can trigger an attack! For other foods that may trigger IBS, see Foods to Avoid with IBS. Alcohol irritates the lining of your bowels even if you don’t have IBS, but for those of us that do (%20 of the population by many estimates), that irritation can lead to belly pain, diarrhea or even constipation. That’s right, alcohol can cause constipation as well as diarrhea. For me, a few hours of warm fuzzy feeling isn’t worth two or more days of alcohol diarrhea and bowel pain (make that agony).

Woman relaxing with wine by the fire from solvingtheibspuzzle.com
A cozy evening at home with a glass of wine, a few hours before disaster strikes.
© Bigstockphoto.com

How does alcohol cause diarrhea?

Well as I’ve mentioned above, Alcohol itself irritates the lining of the bowel, but many ingredients in your favorite

booze may cause IBS symptoms. For instance if you have:

  • Wheat intolerance – Most beer is made from wheat or related grains.
  • Celiac – This is a genetic form of grain intolerance.
  • Yeast – Many people have a yeast intolerance or allergy.
  • Sulfites – A kind of preservative that many people have a food sensitivity to.
  • Serotonin problem – Okay this part is a guess, but since there is more serotonin in your bowels (%90), than in your brain (%10), and since alcohol is a nervous system depressant, I believe they’re related.  I know I feel pretty down for a day or two after drinking even small amounts.
  • Bowel spasms - The irritation from alcohol (or many other foods) can cause spasms that lead to diarrhea OR constipation. It also hurts like heck!

What about alcohol and constipation?

Yes, many people get constipated from drinking alcohol. Painful bowel spasms (cramps) can stop up your colon, causing hard dry stool. Alcohol can also cause dehydration (remember how you had to pee, like 50 times), which can cause constipation or make it worse.

Alcohol and bad choices:

Alcohol has an amazing way of making a pile of greasy french fries seem like a great idea! Come on, a few won’t hurt, right?  How about some Pizza for those people that really not should eat dairy and/or wheat? MMMMM, I could go for some Chinese food! Chicken fingers and grease and MSG, OH MY! Alcohol helps us choose things we shouldn’t be eating if we have food sensitivities or IBS food triggers. Of course it can help you make other bad decisions but those are none my business ;).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not lecturing against alcohol.

I miss having “a few beers” with friends, or some wine with dinner. It’s just not worth it for me. I know alcohol, diarrhea and abdominal pain will plague me for days.  That along with feeling down is more than enough to keep me away from the booze. I still miss it though.

Alcohol and diarrhea. What can you do?

Woman on the toilet with toilet paper from solvingtheibspuzzle.com
A few drinks the night before, and then nothing but sitting doing paperwork.
© Bigstockphoto.com

If you decide that you want to risk alcohol induced diarrhea or constipation, there are a few things you can try.  I’m NOT saying you should drink, but here they are: Find out if you have a food intolerance.  If you do, you may be able to find a form of alcohol that you can still drink. For instance if you are gluten intolerant or have problems with wheat, you might be able to drink wine.  If you’re sulfite intolerant, you could skip wine and try beer or even hard liquor. If it’s alcohol causing your diarrhea then these steps won’t help.  Also, you will still likely make the occassional “bad choice” for food etc. Frankly, I’d try giving it up. My life has been a lot better without it. And I’m Irish ;). Good luck and be safe! Shawn

Comments

  1. clair says

    Hi!
    Thanks so much for this… I used to suffer from ibs although its been better in recent times due to a better diet.
    However over the last 9 months or so I suffer really bad diarhea after drinking the night before… Even if its only one or two! I was worrying that maybe my liver was struggling, but now I realise it must be the ibs.
    So, panic over. I really want to cut out alcohol, and this will help…and I’m of Irish blood too, so well done you! I really hope I can cut it out too :)

    • says

      Thanks for sharing your story Clair. And thanks for appreciating my work, it means a lot to me. I hope the cutting out alcohol helps your IBS, even if it is tough on us Irish ;).

      • D says

        Irish and Dutch. Bad day today lol I laughed so hard a “driving porcelain god” good to know I’m not alone.. You are very kind and unconditional

      • Debbie says

        I know I have IBS and I know I’m an alcoholic. I was hoping the two were not realeted so i really need help!!

  2. Kirk says

    Shawn,

    I think you really hit on it with the Serotonin issue. I am not a doctor, but pardon the pun, my gut tells me that is dead on.

    I could literally feel going through that process when you described it on your page.

    Nice work. I have been looking for reasons to stop this stupid habit and messing with your serotonin is just NEVER fun.

    Thanks man!

    Kirk

    • Mark says

      I was searching the web trying to link bouts of depression followed by a horrible blast(s) of diarrhea – knee knocking, sweating, thank god you’re not in a mall kind. But interestingly, the bouts of diarrhea are nearly a cure, albeit temporary, for the bout of depression. It’s as though the depression starts as a toxin in the stomach and then spreads until the pressure valve finally releases (and the process starts all over again). I eat to fast, have horrible gas all the time and should stay away from ice cream but interesting I have not had a drop of alcohol in a year and would say the symptoms are very similar and, yes, maybe a little better. I have spent 30 years of adulthood trying to feel normal and can’t get there and can’t get a doctor to nail it. It just has to be food related. Do toxins build up or is that my imagination?

  3. Michelle says

    Shawn,

    Thanks for the post.
    I’m a 24 y/o female, diagnosed with IBS when I was 18 (Actually, was more of a diagnosis of elimination).
    I’ve been struggling the last few years to make sense of it all but I’m sick of suffering so I’m really going to buckle down and see just exactly causes my pain and other symptoms.

    I wanted to thank you for your posts and all your info – it will def. be useful for me the next few weeks!

    Thanks!
    ~Michelle

  4. peter says

    Interesting I am now 59yr old male and the last4-5 weeks I have had terrible diarreaoh within 3-4 hours of drinking even small amounts of alcohol l was diagnosed many years ago with IBS. ““`this never used to happen. Why do you think that it has started all of a sudden. What do you think I should do next?
    Thanks Peter.

    • says

      Well, I’m no doctor or anything, but if have you changed your diet in any way? Or switched to a different kind of alcohol? IBS bouts come and go. No one knows why (or they’re not telling), so it could just be a flare up. During the flare up you may be more sensitive to things like alcohol and coffee. Of course if you’re concerned I’d ask your doctor. I hope it helps. Shawn

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