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alcohol and IBS

Alcohol and IBS: Is There a Connection?

IBS affects between 25 and 45 million people in the U.S., and around 85% of Americans drink alcohol in their lifetimes. So, is there a link between alcohol and IBS? Heavy alcohol consumption and gastrointestinal symptoms can be very similar.

Both conditions may cause:

  • Cramping
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea

Drinking alcoholic beverages while eating can cause an upset stomach and other gastrointestinal symptoms because the acid in your stomach is diluted. This can irritate your stomach lining. The effect of alcohol can raise the risk of IBS by severity or frequency. Alcoholism and IBS are also common in people with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. These are known as co-occurring disorders.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome Prevalence and Statistics

  • IBS is less common in men than in women, according to one study published in Clinical Epidemiology. It’s twice as common in those with a family history of the condition.
  • The International Journal of Epidemiology found that the intake of alcohol is linked to a two-fold increase in risk for IBS. The researchers also looked at how certain types of alcohol affected the risk of developing IBS.
  • Researchers from Ireland and Canada examined how often people with IBS had symptoms after drinking alcohol. They compared their findings to people without IBS. The results showed that patients with IBS reported symptoms much more often after consuming alcohol than those without the condition did. This was true even if they consumed only a tiny amount of alcohol on one occasion. People who suffered from mild diarrhea were particularly sensitive to drinking any alcoholic beverage.
  • The same study also showed that excessive alcohol could worsen IBS symptoms and trigger new ones. Heavy drinking is one of the most common triggers for IBS flare-ups.
  • The amount of alcohol you consume plays a role in the connection between alcohol and IBS symptoms. For example, drinking too much alcohol can cause dehydration and malnutrition, making IBS worse.
  • Some research suggests that alcohol may worsen symptoms of pain or discomfort in the digestive tract.

Factors linked to the development of IBS include:

  • Stress
  • Co-occurring disorders
  • Bacterial infection
  • Celiac disease – This is caused by damage to the lining of the small intestine, which makes it challenging to digest and absorb particular foods. Celiac disease has been shown as a potential cause of IBS.
  • Serotonin – People with exceptionally high amounts of serotonin in their systems may experience food passing through their intestines more slowly and sensitively.
  • Antibiotics – Excessive use of antibiotics can kill the good bacteria in the digestive tract that generally aid in digesting.
  • Food allergies

Despite a set of criteria for a specific diagnosis, there doesn’t seem to be formal agreement on the primary symptoms of IBS.

The most common IBS symptoms include:

  • The sensation that one’s bowels are not empty after passing stools
  • Changes in bowel habits
  • Excreting mucus from the rectum
  • Swelling or bloating of the abdomen
  • Abdominal pain and cramping, which often reduce after passing a stool

IBS symptoms also tend to vary between men and women. For example, women experience more constipation, and men experience more diarrhea.

Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a type of alcohol addiction where you cannot control your pattern of alcohol consumption.

As with any substance use disorder, there are degrees of severity. These include:

  • Mild
  • Moderate
  • Severe

Alcohol intake can become a problem and get out of control. Your physical and mental health are impacted when this happens.

The symptoms of alcoholism can differ from person to person. You’re usually diagnosed with alcohol use disorder when alcohol use causes considerable impairment or suffering in your life. You will also match diagnostic criteria for several behavioral characteristics.

Because alcoholism is progressive, the number of symptoms, its severity, and its impact may increase over time.

Early signs of alcoholism can include:

  • Frequent intoxication
  • Thinking about alcohol regularly
  • Drinking in dangerous situations, such as when driving
  • Planning activities around how many drinks per day you can consume
  • An established pattern of heavy drinking
  • Blackout drinking
  • Becoming consistently angry or violent while consuming alcohol

Progressive alcoholism symptoms can include:

  • Experiencing mood swings and personality changes
  • Denying the existence of a drinking problem
  • Experiencing symptoms of alcohol withdrawal
  • Drinking first thing after waking
  • Consuming more alcohol than planned

The following are possible long-term repercussions of binge drinking:

  • Damage to reproductive health
  • Stroke
  • Damaged digestive system and severe digestive symptoms
  • Liver illness
  • Heart issues
  • Vision loss
  • Diabetes-related issues
  • Loss of memory
  • Greater likelihood of developing cancer
  • Losing bone density
  • Death
  • Hearing loss

How Does Alcohol Affect IBS?

People with IBS often experience significant symptoms after consuming alcohol. Those who avoid alcohol find their symptoms will improve over time.

Alcoholism can increase stress levels. This can trigger IBS symptoms. Sometimes drinking leads to poor eating habits. This will cause IBS symptoms to be more frequent and intense. Additionally, alcohol use disorder is associated with a higher risk of developing other gastrointestinal disorders, such as:

  • Gastritis
  • Esophagitis
  • Pancreatitis

Alcohol and IBS also lead to a higher risk of developing other chronic health issues. These may include conditions like obesity and cardiovascular disease.

According to research, alcohol may aggravate an IBS diagnosis that already exists or, after a period of drinking, may cause IBS symptoms. It is unclear whether alcohol can induce IBS in someone not previously diagnosed with the condition.

Reach Out for Help with Alcohol

Some people suffering from severe IBS symptoms try to use alcohol to cope with the condition and pain. In most cases, alcohol use is making their symptoms worse. But they may already be addicted to alcohol, so they can’t bring themselves to stop drinking.

Alcoholism is a disease, and it can be fatal if left untreated. Fortunately, many alcohol rehab treatments and drug addiction treatment centers, like Vogue Recovery Center, provide options to help you stop drinking and begin your journey toward recovery.

IBS does not have a defined treatment. Some people relieve symptoms by restricting certain foods and abstaining from alcohol. The effects of alcohol use on IBS symptoms will continue if you don’t stop drinking.

Components of alcohol addiction treatment programs for people who also struggle with IBS may include:

Alcohol abuse can lead to severe consequences and even death by overdose or organ failure. Medical detoxification should always take place under medical supervision. This is especially true for alcohol detox because alcohol withdrawal symptoms like delirium tremens and dehydration can be dangerous and deadly. Detoxing in a treatment center ensures safety while withdrawing from alcohol or drugs. During alcohol detox, a treatment team can make sure you’re medically safe and provide medications that can ease withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

Following detox, structured addiction treatment is necessary to prevent relapse. A counselor is a trained professional who will help you recognize the underlying issues that contribute to your addiction. They’ll help you understand how those issues affect your choices about using drugs or alcohol and other behaviors in your life (such as eating habits). Individual and group counseling sessions will focus on helping you identify the triggers in your life and how you can choose healthier ways of coping without relying on substances for escape or comfort.

At Vogue Recovery Center we are here to help you and your loved ones. We believe there should be no shame or indignity in seeking recovery from addiction. We go to great lengths to ensure you or your loved one has a respectful, effective, and transformational addiction treatment experience. Reach out for help today. A better future awaits.



Medically Reviewed by Kelsey Jones, MS, LPC