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?
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.
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.
Access should not be a barrier to help.
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.
- Probiotics – Taking probiotics can help correct the bacterial imbalance caused by alcohol and other lifestyle choices. The best probiotics come from fermented food sources like yogurt, kimchi, or kefir. You can also take probiotics in pill form. Aim for a brand that contains at least 1 billion colony forming units.
- Anti-diarrheael medication – For persistent diarrhea, you may need to take a medication like Pepto Bismol to help calm your digestive system and prevent futher dehyrdation.
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.