We all know that a night out drinking with friends can have undesirable consequences like a terrible hangover or next-day “hangxiety“. But there is another side effect that is perhaps less talked about: diarrhea after drinking alcohol.
Here’s why it happens and what you can do about it.
- What causes diarrhea after drinking alcohol?
- How Alcohol Disrupts the Normal Functioning of the Digestive System
- High Risk Factors for Diarrhea after Drinking
- How to Stop Diarrhea after Drinking
- Long-Term Solutions for Managing Alcohol-Related Diarrhea
What causes diarrhea after drinking alcohol?
Alcohol has a wide-ranging impact on your digestive system. When you drink, alcohol goes to your stomach where it is absorbed along with the nutrients from the food you’ve eaten. From there, alcohol passes through the cells in the stomach wall into the bloodstream.
If you have food in your stomach, it will slow the absorption of alcohol into your bloodstream. The opposite is also true. Alcohol is more quickly absorbed into the bloodstream on an empty stomach. That’s why you get drunker faster when you haven’t eaten.
Whatever alcohol is not absorbed leaves the body in the form of urine and excrement.
Normally, your large intestine pulls water from your stool before it exits the body. However, alcohol speeds up the digestive process and impedes your large intestine’s ability to function properly. The end result is watery stools and dehydration.
When you have a bowel movement, your colon muscles work in a coordinated effort to squeeze out your poo. Alcohol increases the rate of these squeezes. This impacts the colon’s ability to absorb excess water, which also contributes to diarrhea from drinking.
Additional Factors of Alcohol-Related Diarrhea:
Binge drinking and heavy alcohol consumption have been linked to inflammation and damage of the GI tract. This leads to a number of problems such as:
- Altering the gut microbiome and killing helpful bacteria
- Increasing the permeability of the intestinal lining (sometimes referred to as leaky gut)
- Disruption of intestinal immune support
These factors contribute to alcohol-induced diarrhea and may contribute to persistent diarrhea over time.
How Alcohol Disrupts the Normal Functioning of the Digestive System
The digestive system is complex and impacted by a combination of any number of factors. To understand the connection between diarrhea and drinking, it’s also important to examine the many different ways that alcohol disrupts the normal functioning of our digestive systems.
Stomach and Alcohol Absorption:
As previously mentioned, when you drink alcohol, it goes directly to the stomach where it begins to be absorbed into the bloodstream. If the stomach is empty, absorption is faster, leading to intoxication more quickly. Food in the stomach can slow this process. So whether you’ve eaten can impact the effect alcohol has on your digestion.
Increased Stomach Acid Production:
Alcohol stimulates the stomach to produce more acid than usual, which can cause gastritis or inflammation of the stomach lining and potentially lead to ulcers or other stomach issues.
Impacts on the Small Intestine:
Alcohol can damage the cells lining the small intestine, making it harder for the body to absorb vitamins, nutrients, and water. This is why heavy drinkers are so prone to vitamin deficiencies.
Alteration of Gut Flora:
Alcohol can disrupt the balance of beneficial and harmful bacteria in the gut (the gut microbiota), which plays a key role in overall health and digestion.
Changes in Large Intestine Function:
Normally, the large intestine absorbs remaining water from stool, but alcohol can speed up its transit through the colon, reducing the amount of water that can be absorbed. This can result in loose, watery stools, or diarrhea.
Because of the diuretic effect of alcohol, your body can lose fluids more quickly, leading to dehydration, which can also contribute to diarrhea.
Chronic, heavy drinking can lead to various liver diseases including fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis. The liver is crucial for digestion and detoxification processes in the body.
Alcohol can stimulate the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can lead to pancreatitis, a serious inflammation and swelling of blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion.
Please note that the severity of these impacts can depend on how much you drink and how often. Regular heavy drinking is more likely to cause these problems than occasional moderate drinking.
High Risk Factors for Diarrhea after Drinking
People who suffer from pre-existing gastrointestinal disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, or celiac disease can be more prone to loose stools from alcohol.
Because people with these conditions already suffer from sensitive digestive systems, they are more susceptible to the gut-disrupting impact of alcohol.
Does the Type of Alcohol Matter?
Yes! When it comes to our digestive systems, different alcohols have different effects. Alcoholic beverages with lower alcohol content like a glass of wine and beer are more likely to increase the rate of digestion acid levels in the stomach.
When it comes to beer, there is a bit of controversy around its true impact on the healthy bacteria in the gut. There is some evidence to suggest that dark beers may be less harmful to the gut due to the presence of polyphenols, but that is only in a moderate amount.
Hard liquors with higher alcohol contents have minimal impact on the digestion process. However, many mixers that are either sugary or full of artificial sweeteners have a laxative effect which doesn’t do us any favors either.
However, excessive drinking of any alcohol type is going to be damaging to your gut health and cause digestive issues in the long run. Some just may have more immediate side effects than others.
You don’t have to figure this out on your own.
How to Stop Diarrhea after Drinking
First, if you begin to experience persistent diarrhea during a night of drinking, stop drinking and drink lots of water. It’s time to call it a night.
Additionally, you’ll want to abstain from drinking alcohol until your digestive health returns to normal. Drink extra water and stick to foods that are easily digestible.
Conversely, you want to avoid eating or drinking food that is harder to digest such as:
- Fatty foods
- Greasy food
- High-fiber food
- Dairy foods
- Spicy foods
Give your digestive system a rest. Stick to bland foods and water. The last thing you want to do is make your diarrhea worse. Additionally, there are some over-the-counter treatments you can use to manage the effects of alcohol on your gut.
Long-Term Solutions for Managing Alcohol-Related Diarrhea
The most impactful (and obvious) solution for this problem is to change your drinking habits. Stick to moderate drinking or consider quitting alcohol for a while until your gut health returns to normal.
If you’re a heavy drinker, consider getting help for your drinking and speak to your doctor. You want to be sure that you aren’t suffering from more serious, chronic gastrointestinal diseases. And, truth be told, you may find you need support systems to help you quit or decrease your drinking.
If you routinely experience diarrhea after drinking alcohol, you want to take it seriously. So much of our overall health is connected to our digestive system. That’s why it’s important to intervene early when your body shows signs of digestive problems.
With the right treatment plan, knowledge, and support, you can get back on track and feel good again.