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Updated on September 14, 2023
7 min read

How Alcohol Affects Your Stool

Alcohol can significantly affect your health, especially your digestive system.7 When a large amount of alcohol is present in the large intestine, it can result in an alcoholic stool.

This substance concentration causes the colon muscles to contract more frequently, making your stool liquid. In this article, we discuss different ways alcohol adversely affects your stool and how to prevent them.

5 Ways Alcohol Affects Your Poop

Consuming alcohol too much can change your bowel movements and stool. It can also damage your intestines and liver function, among other things.

Here are five ways alcohol affects your stool:

1. Irritates Your Insides

Alcohol can cause stomach pain in the small and large intestines, affecting the epithelial layer.2 This irritation can lead to improper nutrient absorption and irregular bowel movements.

Heavy drinking on an empty stomach has even more pronounced adverse effects.14 Without food in the stomach, various effects occur, including:

  • Faster alcohol absorption into the bloodstream and small intestine
  • Rapid increase of blood alcohol concentration (BAC)
  • Substantially more impaired body functions
  • Increased risk of a hangover

Alcohol metabolism in the liver can also produce acetaldehyde, a toxic byproduct contributing to gastrointestinal irritation and inflammation. Your body then expels what it can’t absorb, resulting in irregular bowel movements.

2. Alters Your Hormones

Your body naturally produces vasopressin. Vasopressin is a hormone that regulates water balance and blood pressure in your body.4 It does so by controlling water retention in your kidneys.

Alcohol is a diuretic and suppresses vasopressin secretion, increasing the amount you urinate and producing a watery stool. People with alcoholism have decreased vasopressin levels, even during alcohol withdrawal.6

3. Increases Gut Motility

Gut motility refers to the stretching and contracting of the gastrointestinal muscles. Peristalsis refers to the synchronized contraction of these muscles.9

Alcohol consumption increases gut motility, leading to faster contractions, making the waste in your colon come out faster. Therefore, alcohol can increase the frequency of your bowel movements and the amount of waste you produce.5

Alcohol consumption can also alter the composition of gut bacteria. These changes in the gut microbiome can lead to differences in the fermentation and breakdown of food, resulting in the production of foul-smelling compounds.12

Alcohol-Related Diarrhea

Alcohol-related diarrhea is common. This condition is especially true among acute binge drinkers and people with alcoholism.10

Diarrhea symptoms include the following:

  • Frequent bowel movements
  • Watery or loose stool
  • Urgency to defecate
  • Gas and bloating

Constant binge drinking can lead to chronic diarrhea due to altered gut microbiota and malabsorption issues.15

4. Harms Your Gut

Your stomach has an intestinal lining covering over 4,000 square feet of surface area. When it functions properly, it helps control what the bloodstream absorbs.8 An unhealthy lining can have cracks or holes.

Chronic alcohol consumption can make the mucous membrane of the intestines more permeable, potentially leading to leaky gut syndrome.8

Leaky Gut Syndrome

This condition allows undigested food, toxins, and bacteria to leak into the bloodstream, leading to changes (cracks and holes) in gut flora, which may be associated with various chronic diseases, including:8

  • Heart disease
  • Obesity
  • Type-2 diabetes

5. Affects Your Liver Function

Chronic alcohol use can cause liver diseases like liver cirrhosis. This condition means there is severe liver scarring.3

Eventually, liver cirrhosis can lead to end-stage liver disease.1 With liver disease, a transplant may be necessary. Without liver transplantation or treatment, liver disease can be fatal.

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How Alcohol Affects the Color of Your Stool

You may notice stool changes if you have alcohol-induced liver damage or liver disease. Your stool might be dark, black, or bloodied.

Bile production may become irregular if your liver doesn’t function properly. The liver releases bile salts in stool, making it pale or brown. If your liver doesn’t produce enough bile, you may have pale stools or clay-colored poop instead.

Specific alcoholic drinks are also more commonly associated with gastrointestinal bleeding, causing black stool. Red wine, for instance, contains tannins, which can irritate your gastrointestinal tract. 

Similarly, dark liquors like bourbon, whiskey, and dark rum contain higher amounts of congeners (byproducts of alcohol fermentation) that can cause gastrointestinal bleeding.13

Does Stopping Drinking Affect Your Bowels?

The most viable solution to preventing alcoholic stools is to avoid drinking alcohol altogether. Improved gastrointestinal health is just one of the health benefits of quitting alcohol.

However, stopping drinking can cause alcohol-related diarrhea and initial gastrointestinal upset. Experiencing alcohol-induced diarrhea is more common in heavy drinkers who experience severe withdrawal symptoms.15

When Does Gut Health Improve After Quitting Drinking?

How long it takes gut health to improve after quitting drinking alcohol can vary depending on the duration of alcohol use, individual health, and existing gastrointestinal conditions. 

Within days or weeks, after you stop drinking alcohol, you may experience improved digestive symptoms, like the absence of bloating, reduced stomach inflammation, and lesser pain. 

However, it can take months for the gut lining to regenerate. Similarly, re-establishing good bacteria can take just as long.

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Tips for Preventing Alcoholic Stools 

Here are some tips to prevent alcoholic stools:

  • Cut back on your alcohol intake
  • Eat food before and while you drink alcohol
  • Stay hydrated
  • Avoid drinks with artificial sweeteners, which can encourage more alcohol consumption because they mask harsh and bitter tastes
  • Take vitamin supplements like Pepto Bismol that support bile production
  • Maintain a healthy diet to promote a healthier biliary system
  • Seek addiction treatment if you suffer from alcohol use disorder (AUD)

Foods to Eat Before Drinking

Drinking on an empty stomach can speed up the absorption of alcohol into your bloodstream, so it is better to eat before you drink alcohol.

Easily digestible foods you should consume before drinking alcohol include: 

  • Complex carbohydrates, like whole grains, rice, pasta, and bread
  • Protein-rich foods like chicken, fish, and legumes
  • Healthy fats, like nuts and seeds
  • Fiber-rich foods, like fruits and vegetables
  • Hydrating foods like watermelon, cucumbers, and soups
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When are Alcohol-Induced Stools a Problem?

Typically, the alcoholic stool should pass within a day or two. They become a problem when persistent and accompanied by intense symptoms.

Seek immediate medical attention if you experience:

  • Extreme weakness
  • Severe dehydration
  • Debilitating abdominal pain.

People who have the following health issues are more prone to alcohol complications:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Celiac disease
  • Liver disease
  • Other gastrointestinal-related health conditions

Drinking large quantities of alcohol with a mental health condition can also exacerbate withdrawal symptoms and vice versa.16

If you suffer from an underlying condition like the ones listed above, it is not safe to consume alcohol. Your healthcare provider can help you manage the condition.

Are Alcoholic Stools a Sign of Addiction?

Alcoholic stools can be a sign of addiction, as they indicate extreme alcohol consumption and potential dependency. Frequent irritable bowel syndrome is a physical sign of alcoholism.

It’s a direct consequence of dehydration caused by drinking alcohol, fluid overload, and faster contractions inside the colon.

Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder

If you have an alcohol use disorder (AUD), seeking help is essential. Treating AUD can also keep your gut healthy.

AUD’s negative impact on gut health can be dire or even fatal when left untreated. For instance, it can cause acid reflux, leading to more severe conditions like esophageal cancer. It can also cause liver cancer or cirrhosis.

If you suffer from AUD or alcohol addiction, you are not alone. More than 14 million people (12 years old and above) have an AUD. Many do not seek support, but it’s critical to do so.11

Treatment options for AUD include:

Summary

An alcohol stool refers to the liquid consistency of your bowel movements after excessive alcohol consumption. The substance can adversely affect your gut by altering your hormones and affecting gut motility.

An alcoholic stool can be a sign of alcohol addiction. Not only do people with AUD experience diarrhea, but they become at risk of developing liver and heart disease.

Treatment for heavy drinking varies according to individual needs. Ultimately, your healthcare or mental health provider will determine the most appropriate action plan.

Updated on September 14, 2023
15 sources cited
Updated on September 14, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “Alcoholic Liver Disease.” Mount Sinai Health System, 2021.
  2. Bishehsari et al. “Alcohol and Gut-Derived Inflammation.” Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, 2017.
  3. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. “Cirrhosis.” Mayo Clinic, 2023.
  4. Cuzzo et al. “Physiology, Vasopressin.” StatPearls [Internet], 2020.
  5. Grad et al. “The Effect of Alcohol on Gastrointestinal Motility.” Reviews on Recent Clinical Trials, 2016.
  6. Harper et al. “Vasopressin and Alcohol: A Multifaceted Relationship.” Psychopharmacology (Berl), 2018.
  7. Sterner, E. “Alcohol Consumption and the Gastrointestinal Tract.” Israel Medical Association Journal, 2002.
  8. Campos, M. “Leaky Gut: What Is It, and What Does It Mean for You?” Harvard Health Publishing, 2021.
  9. Normal Movements of the Digestive Tract.” International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders, Inc., n.d.
  10. Chiba et al. “Alcohol-Related Diarrhea.” Addiction Biology, 2000.
  11. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2022.
  12. Chan et al. “Diagnosing gastrointestinal illnesses using fecal headspace volatile organic compounds.” World Journal of Gastroenterology, 2016.
  13. Shen et al. “The Mucosally-Adherent Rectal Microbiota Contains Features Unique to Alcohol-Related Cirrhosis.” Gut Microbes, 2021.
  14. Ramsbottom et al. “Drinking on an empty stomach: a scoping review of the evidence on how consuming food with alcohol affects short-term outcomes.” Journal of Public Health, 2022.
  15. Gibbs et al. “Dynamics of Stigma for Alcohol and Mental Health Treatment Among Army Soldiers.” Military Psychology, 2011.
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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
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