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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.
Alcohol negatively impacts the digestive system as well as regular weight gain.
For most people, even a small amount of alcohol can trigger:
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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There are a few reasons why alcohol causes diarrhea:
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.
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.
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.
If a gluten-sensitive person consumes alcohol containing gluten, it will trigger a reaction that often includes diarrhea.
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.
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:
Diarrhea alone from alcohol ingestion will usually resolve itself. But if you don't drink enough water, it can lead to dehydration.
Too much alcohol consumption can lead to dehydration, inflammation of the GI tract, hyperacidity, colon spasms, and bacterial imbalance.
Those more at risk of experiencing alcohol-related diarrhea include:
Your habits play a role in the side effects you’ll experience when drinking alcohol.
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 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 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 (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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you have diarrhea, you should eat simple foods that are easy to digest, such as:
Drink as many clear fluids to replace the water you lost. These include water, broth, tea, and juice.
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:
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.
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:
The composition of the drink can also be a factor. Drinks like beers and sugary cocktails can cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea
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:
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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