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Alcohol and Diarrhea

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Link Between Alcohol Consumption and Diarrhea

Diarrhea is a side effect of drinking alcohol. The risk of this occurring after drinking increases based on the type and amount of alcohol consumed. 

For most people, diarrhea after drinking is merely an unpleasant side effect. However, it can be dangerous if it leads to dehydration or is recurrent enough to damage the digestive system. 

Luckily, it’s possible to reduce your risk of diarrhea when drinking or to eliminate it by avoiding alcohol.

How Alcohol Affects Your Digestive System

Alcohol negatively impacts the digestive system as well as regular weight gain

For most people, even a small amount of alcohol can trigger:

  • Inflammation in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract
  • Increased production of stomach acid
  • Inability of the large intestine to properly absorb water needed for hydration
  • Faster digestion due to an increase in colon contractions
  • Bacterial imbalance due to alcohol killing off healthy bacteria in the gut

An excessive amount of alcohol changes the composition of the gut by killing healthy bacteria and allowing unhealthy bacteria to grow.

Regular heavy drinking is also associated with a higher risk of gastrointestinal cancer.

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How Does Alcohol Cause Diarrhea?

There are a few reasons why alcohol causes diarrhea: 

1. Alcohol gets absorbed easily by your body's tissues

Alcohol enters the bloodstream moments after you take a sip. You’ll be able to feel its effects within minutes.

Most alcohol absorption occurs during digestion, irritating the stomach and intestines.

The effects are worse if nothing is in your stomach when you drink alcohol. You’ll most likely get intoxicated much faster if you haven't eaten before drinking.

2. Alcohol is high in sugar

Sugar triggers the gut to produce water and electrolytes. This leads to loose bowel movements. 

Studies show that most people who consume 40 to 80 grams or more of sugar per day develop diarrhea.

3. Alcohol triggers inflammation 

This causes the stomach to produce more acid. Both can lead to diarrhea. It also speeds up the digestion process and damages the gut’s healthy bacteria. 

Even a healthy person who consumes a moderate amount of alcohol can experience diarrhea after drinking because of the way alcohol negatively impacts the digestive system.

4. Many types of alcohol contain gluten 

If a gluten-sensitive person consumes alcohol containing gluten, it will trigger a reaction that often includes diarrhea. 

Summary

Alcohol consumption may cause diarrhea in some people. This is because it irritates the gastrointestinal tract, causing inflammation. It also stimulates/inhibits different absorption mechanisms in the intestines.

Dangers of Diarrhea After Drinking

Usually, diarrhea after drinking is not a cause for concern. A few days of self-care resolves most cases.

If diarrhea persists, it can lead to serious problems, especially dehydration. Untreated dehydration can become a life-threatening condition. 

Symptoms of dehydration include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Extreme thirst
  • Infrequent, decreased, or no urine
  • Dark-colored or dark yellow urine
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Lack of energy
  • Fuzzy thinking

Diarrhea alone from alcohol ingestion will usually resolve itself. But if you don't drink enough water, it can lead to dehydration.

Summary

Too much alcohol consumption can lead to dehydration, inflammation of the GI tract, hyperacidity, colon spasms, and bacterial imbalance.

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Who Has an Increased Risk of Alcohol-Related Diarrhea?

Those more at risk of experiencing alcohol-related diarrhea include:

Poor lifestyle choices

Your habits play a role in the side effects you’ll experience when drinking alcohol. 

Binge drinking, drinking on an empty stomach, and an unhealthy diet all put you at risk of developing diarrhea. 

Gastrointestinal or bladder diseases

If you have a pre-existing gastrointestinal or bladder health issue, you are more likely to develop diarrhea after drinking.

This is especially true for those with sensitive digestive systems, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), celiac disease, or Crohn’s disease.

Celiac disease

Celiac disease is a chronic digestive disorder caused by an immune reaction to gliadin. Gliadin is a gluten protein in wheat, rye, barley, and some oats. 

Oats are often contaminated with gluten if they are processed in the same facilities as gluten-containing grains like wheat, rye, and barley.

Someone with celiac disease who consumes alcohol or other triggering foods experiences bloating, inflammation, and destruction of the lining of the small intestine. 

This makes their bodies less capable of absorbing nutrients and minerals. One of the symptoms of celiac disease is diarrhea.

Crohn’s disease

Crohn’s disease is also a chronic condition that causes inflammation of the digestive tract. 

It may affect all parts of the digestive system from the mouth to the anus but commonly affects the small intestine. 

In addition to diarrhea after drinking alcohol, someone with Crohn’s can experience pain and have a higher risk of developing ulcers.

Irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder. Most people do not experience severe complications, but IBS causes discomfort and is an inconvenience. 

It’s possible to manage the symptoms of this condition, and avoiding alcohol is one of the main defenses against it. 

Summary

People with poor lifestyle choices, gastrointestinal disorders, bladder disease, and those diagnosed with Celiac disease, Crohn's disease, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are more at risk of having alcohol-related diarrhea.

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Prevention and Treatment for Alcohol-Induced Diarrhea

The best way to prevent alcohol-related diarrhea is to not consume alcohol.

But if you prefer not to abstain completely, you can reduce your risk by drinking slowly and only consuming moderate amounts. 

It’s also important to never drink on an empty stomach. Food in your stomach slows the absorption of alcohol and provides a barrier, so alcohol is not as irritating to your digestive tract.

Here are some other tips to prevent and treat alcohol-related diarrhea:

Soluble fiber supplements

One way to help prevent alcohol-related diarrhea is a fiber supplement. A soluble fiber supplement absorbs water in the bowels and helps your stool firm up before passing.

Choosing more easily digestible types of alcohol is also effective, especially for people with IBS. 

Choose lower-FODMAP liquors

If you have IBS and want to drink, choose lower-FODMAP liquors. FODMAPS are poorly digested carbs typically found in rum and dark wines.

To reduce your risk of diarrhea triggered by FODMAPS, opt for white wine, champagne, gin, or vodka, and mix with fresh citrus fruit or club soda. 

Replenish salt supply

Offset the effects of alcohol and diarrhea by replenishing your body’s salt supply

If you wake up after a night of drinking with a hangover and an unsettled stomach, consider drinking high-sodium drinks such as Gatorade, V8, or Pedialyte to rebalance your system.

Over-the-counter antidiarrheal medications

If necessary, you can also use over-the-counter antidiarrheal medications. These include Pepto-Bismol (bismuth subsalicylate) and Imodium (loperamide). 

Follow the instructions on the box carefully and do not take more than the recommended dosage.

Probiotics

You may also want to consider adding probiotics to your diet. You can buy them over-the-counter and take them orally. They are also found naturally in many foods and drinks, including yogurt, kimchi, kombucha, and other fermented products. 

If you are considering taking them in supplement form, speak with your doctor to figure out what your dosage should be.

Eat easily digestible foods

If you have diarrhea, you should eat simple foods that are easy to digest, such as:

  • Rice
  • Bananas
  • Bread/toast
  • Saltines
  • Eggs
  • Chicken

Drink as many clear fluids to replace the water you lost. These include water, broth, tea, and juice.

What to avoid

When you experience alcohol-induced diarrhea, there are a few things you should avoid. Don’t eat or drink anything that could upset your stomach until your digestion returns to normal.

Be aware that your diarrhea can still return. However, if you avoid the following foods and drinks, diarrhea should clear up in a few days.

You should avoid foods and drinks that contain:

  • Alcohol
  • High-FODMAP mixers such as tonic water, colas, and fruit juices containing high fructose corn syrup further aggravate the situation. 
  • Caffeine, which can make diarrhea worse
  • Spices or lots of seasoning
  • A lot of fat like butter, cheese, and beef
  • Dairy, including milk and cream (plain yogurt can be an exception, depending on how your body reacts to it)

Summary

If drinking alcohol gives you diarrhea, stop drinking or drink in moderation. Avoid foods and drinks containing caffeine, lots of spices or seasoning, fat, and dairy. Instead, eat easy-to-digest foods like bananas, eggs, rice, bread, and chicken.

Do Certain Alcohols Cause Diarrhea More than Others

Certain types of alcohol do have an increased risk of causing diarrhea. The more concentrated the drink, the more likely it is to cause loose stool.

Here are a few examples:

  • Whiskey
  • Tequila
  • Vodka

The composition of the drink can also be a factor. Drinks like beers and sugary cocktails can cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea

When to See a Doctor

Most cases of diarrhea will resolve themselves in a few days, especially if you use the home treatments listed above. 

If you have symptoms of dehydration and any of the following, see a doctor:

  • Black or bloody stool
  • Diarrhea for over two days with no signs of recovery
  • Intense rectal or abdominal pain
  • A fever of 102˚F or higher (39˚C)

If you consistently experience diarrhea after drinking, you should reconsider your drinking habits. 

If you’re struggling with alcohol abuse, it's always a good idea to contact an addiction counselor to get help.

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Updated on October 11, 2022
10 sources cited
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  3. Haber, P., et al. “Alcohol use disorder and the gut.” Addiction (Abingdon, England), 2021.
  4. Diarrhea after Drinking Alcohol: Causes, Risk Factors, and Prevention.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 2017.
  5. Shiotani, A., et al. “Impact of Diarrhea after Drinking on Colorectal Tumor Risk: A Case Control Study.” Asian Pacific journal of cancer prevention: APJCP, 2019.
  6. Grad, S., et al. “The Effect of Alcohol on Gastrointestinal Motility.” Reviews on recent clinical trials, 2016.
  7. Palmer, Emily et al. “Alcohol Hangover: Underlying Biochemical, Inflammatory and Neurochemical Mechanisms.” Alcohol and alcoholism (Oxford, Oxfordshire), 2019.
  8. Acute Alcohol Intoxication.” Mount Holyoke College, 2020.
  9. Engen, P., et al. “The Gastrointestinal Microbiome: Alcohol Effects on the Composition of Intestinal Microbiota.” Alcohol research: current reviews, 2015.
  10. Bishehsari , F., et. al. "Alcohol and gut-derived inflammation." Alcohol Research: Current Reviews,  2017.

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