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Diarrhea After Drinking Alcohol: Causes and Treatments

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Author: Thomas Roth

Last Updated: 3/11/2022

Drinking alcohol can cause diarrhea. There are a variety of reasons for why drinking may result in diarrhea, and some treatments, as well as mitigations, that may be employed to counter or protect from diarrhea after drinking alcohol.

What Causes Alcohol to Cause Diarrhea?

Alcohol can cause diarrhea for multiple reasons, as is the case with most imbalances and diseases with the body. However, medical professionals have pinpointed the most prevalent reasons alcohol causes diarrhea.

1. Inflammation

Part of the body’s natural response to bacterial or viral infection, as well as physical injury, inflammation is the way the body organizes healing. When a person consumes alcohol, it causes inflammation to the organs it passes through during the digestion process. In the case of diarrhea, alcohol inflames the stomach, intestines, colon, and sometimes even the rectum. This inflammation places undue pressure upon the organs, and can result in diarrhea.

2. Faster digestion

When alcohol is consumed, it speeds up the body’s normal rate of digestion. This occurs for multiple reasons, the most important of which being the fact that the body processes alcohol faster than other substances. This is why, when a person does not eat enough, the effects of alcohol may strike them far quicker. The body digests alcohol faster than other substances, and without food to act as a buffer, the alcohol will enter the bloodstream extremely rapidly. This can cause diarrhea, as the body does not have time to incorporate other foods and only excretes alcohol based liquid.

3. Water Absorption

When the digestive system is sped up, the colon and lower intestine do not have the normal amount of time to absorb water. Stool containing alcohol is squeezed through the lower intestine and colon faster than usual, and this rushes out water that would otherwise be absorbed through the lining of both organs. This faster digestion is why, when drinking alcohol, a person may experience diarrhea.

4. Bacterial Imbalance

A potentially more serious complication caused by drinking alcohol is a bacterial imbalance. Drinking alcohol can kill off the healthy bacteria which lives in all of our digestive tracts. When this happens, the bad bacteria inherent in the fermented alcohol can result in a bacterial imbalance which can also lead to abnormal stools like diarrhea. Only after abstaining from drinking can the good bacteria regrow, the process of which can be sped up by ingesting fermented foods that contain healthy, positive bacteria.

Do Certain Alcohols Cause Diarrhea More Than Others?

Drinking any kind of alcohol can cause diarrhea. However, certain alcohols are known to cause diarrhea more than others. Beer is a well known culprit for causing diarrhea because of the high carbohydrate count it possesses. Beer has more carbohydrates than other forms of alcohol, and for that reason, the digestive system has to exert more energy, and has a much harder time, breaking down the extra carbohydrates. This pushes the beer through the digestive system so quickly that all the excess water is not absorbed and results in the excretion of abnormally watery stool.

Wine is also well known to cause diarrhea. While not solely down to the carbohydrate count, as it has a lower percentage of carbohydrates than beer, wine possesses tannins. For some people, tannins are incredibly difficult to digest and cause severe inflammation to the organs of the digestive system. An adverse reaction to tannins causes diarrhea, but also headaches and nausea.

Sugary drinks can cause diarrhea as well. Especially when it comes to alcoholic drinks that are mixed with sugary beverages such as soda, the excessive amount of sugar has a similar effect to alcohol. The sugar speeds up the digestion to an unhealthy level, causing stool to be pushed out without the proper absorption of water, leading to diarrhea.

How Much Alcohol Causes Diarrhea?

The amount of alcohol required to cause diarrhea differs from one individual to the next based on their gut health and the amount of food, water, and other non-alcoholic beverages present in the digestive system when alcohol is added. Generally, the more alcohol, the more pressure placed upon the stomach, intestines, and colon. Thus, the more alcohol ingested, the more potential for diarrhea.

Drinking on an empty stomach is the most general reason for why a person might experience diarrhea. As the consumption of alcohol by the lower intestine is already more sped up than normal, without other foods to slow the alcohol digestion, allowing for water absorption, there is far more risk for watery stool.

The more one drinks, the more chance there is for diarrhea. However, drinking incredibly large amounts of alcohol can cause constipation as digestion is delayed after a complete overload on the system stopping the normal course of excretion. Stopping waste removal can be even more destructive than just speeding it up with irresponsible alcohol consumption.

Is Diarrhea a Symptom of Alcohol Hangover?

Diarrhea is absolutely a symptom of an alcohol hangover. Water is not absorbed by the colon properly when too much alcohol is consumed. Due to the fact that diarrhea is directly caused by the digestive system’s inability to completely process alcohol, the sped up digestion, resulting in incomplete water absorption, causes diarrhea. When a person engages in unhealthy and irresponsible drinking habits, it takes a toll on the body, causing fatigue, headache, nausea, and, of course, diarrhea.

Who Is At A Higher Risk of Diarrhea Caused by Alcohol?

Certain individuals are at a higher risk of suffering from diarrhea caused by drinking alcohol. Particularly, these individuals usually have outstanding factors, like digestive issues, which leave their digestive systems already compromised, even before the damaging effects of alcohol are added to the mix. Especially, people with bowel diseases are the most vulnerable to contending with alcohol related diarrhea. For people at a higher risk of diarrhea caused by alcohol, it may be best to avoid drinking alcohol entirely.

1. Celiac disease

People who suffer from celiac disease experience a digestive disorder which is caused by an immune system response to gluten that is abnormal. Eating foods with gluten, or drinking beverages that contain gluten, such as beer, destroy the villi in the small intestine and trouble the digestive system’s ability to absorb nutrients. People with celiac disease who drink alcohol with gluten in it are at severe risk of diarrhea, as well as a host of other complications, but it is not just alcohol containing gluten that may be a problem. As people suffering from celiac disease already have compromised digestive systems, alcohol in any form can be extremely damaging, causing diarrhea as well as many other digestive system related complications such as nausea and inflammation.

2. People with Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s Disease is a type of Inflammatory Bowel Disease causing severe inflammation to the digestive tract. While there are many reasons for why a person might develop Crohn’s Disease, diarrhea is one of the major symptoms of the disease. The diarrhea occurs even without the addition of alcohol, which explains why alcohol consumption, especially irresponsible drinking or drinking over consecutive days, can inflame the already injured digestive system to the point of perpetual diarrhea, or even worse symptoms.

3. Irritable Bowel Syndrome

People with Irritable Bowel Syndrome usually have an issue with their colon. While that problem can vary from being a minor inconvenience to a chronic issue, depending on the person, Irritable Bowel Syndrome causes a whole host of intestinal symptoms directly related to a similar inflammation caused by excessive drinking. IBS can result in severe cramping, diarrhea, and constipation. Similar to the symptoms of an alcohol induced hangover, if someone with Irritable Bowel Syndrome engages in drinking alcohol, it is very possible they might compound their pre-existing problem by placing the injured digestive system under even more pressure in attempting to process alcohol.

4. People with Gastrointestinal or Bladder Diseases

If someone is suffering from gastrointestinal or bladder diseases, then drinking alcohol should be abstained from entirely. Drinking alcohol can already cause diarrhea for an individual with a perfectly functioning stomach, intestines, and colon. The inflammatory reaction caused by drinking alcohol is usually far worse in people who are already suffering from a disease of the GI tract or the bladder. As all alcohol is processed through both of these bodily systems, abstaining from drinking is the best solution, as these people are at an incredibly high risk of severe diarrhea as well as many other digestive system related health concerns.

What Are the Methods to Prevent Against Diarrhea Caused by Drinking Alcohol?

The best method to avoid experiencing diarrhea caused by drinking alcohol is abstaining from drinking entirely. Whenever alcohol is added to the system, some small inflammation is possible, and, depending upon the gut health of the individual, and the amount of food and non-alcoholic beverage present in the system, diarrhea is always a risk. That being said, one of the best methods to prevent diarrhea if a person is going to drink alcohol is to ensure a conservative amount of drinks per hour. As the body processes roughly one drink an hour, then sticking to that frequency is a safe way to give the body the time it needs to process the alcohol.

Additionally, eating foods that help to soak up the alcohol and slow its passage through the digestive system can give the body enough time to absorb the right amount of water and avoid diarrhea. However, some foods, such as those which are greasy or sugary, can speed up the natural course of digestion. When combined with alcohol, these certain foods may also result in an adverse reaction, like diarrhea, as the body is overwhelmed by accelerated digestion and a lack of proper water absorption.

Most crucially, apart from limited alcohol intake, having a balanced diet, and mixing healthy food with the alcohol, is a great way to give the digestive system the help it needs in processing the otherwise inflammatory alcoholic drinks.

How to Stop Diarrhea after Drinking Alcohol?

If drinking alcohol does cause diarrhea, there are some treatments which may calm the digestive system and help to regulate bowel movements. The first and foremost treatment for diarrhea caused by drinking alcohol is ceasing to drink alcohol. By stopping continued consumption of alcohol, pressure is released on the stomach, intestines, and colon, allowing for those organs to return to normal digestion.

After a person refrains from drinking during the time in which they are suffering from diarrhea, easily digestible foods are key in helping to return the digestive system to normal. These range from eggs, bread, saltine crackers, bananas, and other simple, non-complex foods. Clear fluids are especially helpful as well, particularly those with limited amounts of sugar and whole ingredients. Staying hydrated is also key, as diarrhea is an unnatural expulsion of water, it is essential to restore hydration levels and help the colon and intestines regain their natural water levels.

Avoiding caffeine, and sugary foods, as well as foods that have dairy and high-fat, are also good tips in helping to stop diarrhea and return the digestive system to a natural, high-functioning level. There are also some over the counter medications which can help to calm bouts of diarrhea. These include Imodium A-D and Pepto-Bismol.

How Long Does Diarrhea Last After Drinking Alcohol?

Without employing the treatments above, and if alcohol consumption is continued, diarrhea can be chronic. The body requires time away from the inflammatory effects of alcohol to return the digestive system to normalcy, and that’s without taking into consideration complicating factors such as autoimmune or digestive system diseases.

With treatment, diarrhea may only last one day after drinking alcohol. However, diarrhea can last multiple days. During the time in which a person is suffering from diarrhea, it is crucial to stay hydrated by drinking water and consuming as many other healthy fluids as possible.

Should You See Your Doctor For Diarrhea Caused by Alcohol?

Diarrhea caused by alcohol can be very uncomfortable, but it is not always extremely severe. Seeing one’s doctor should take place if home remedies are attempted and no relief is experienced, or if there is continued blood in the stool. As a healthy digestive system does regulate itself once all the alcohol is processed and no more alcohol is added, continued diarrhea over a period of several days may be an indication that a more serious illness or disease is the cause of the diarrhea, rather than only drinking alcohol.