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IBS and Alcohol: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments?


Author: Thomas Roth

Last Updated: 8/26/2022

Ten to fifteen percent of adults have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) in the United States. The typical American consumes one to two drinks daily and alcohol is known to irritate people with IBS. When someone with IBS drinks alcohol the symptoms become worse and several risk factors for complications of IBS increase.

Alcohol is also a common coping mechanism for stress, anxiety, depression, financial struggles, relationship issues, and so much more. For these reasons, alcohol becomes dangerous because it’s not meant to treat mental health problems. 

For more information on IBS and alcohol, continue reading below.

What is IBS?

IBS is a common and uncomfortable bowel and gastrointestinal disorder. People with IBS suffer from cramps, abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting.

While the cause of IBS is not fully understood, it’s diagnosable due to someone’s symptoms. People with frequent gastrointestinal problems need to consult with a medical health professional to get the necessary treatment.

How Does Alcohol Affect IBS?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome has many triggers that create discomfort. Different foods and ingredients are often hard to narrow down and vary depending on the person.

That said, mental health stress is a known trigger of IBS symptoms. This is an example of how alcohol and IBS can be related. Many individuals who have uneasiness in their life lean on alcohol for relief.

Drinking alcohol regularly creates gut health issues and makes the struggles that come with irritable bowel syndrome worse.

Alcohol affects the intestines of the body, thus leading to inflammation and more IBS symptoms.

What are the symptoms of IBS?

Some common traits of Irritable bowel syndrome include large amounts of indigestion, diarrhea, constipation, and cramping. People who have IBS tend to initially keep a food diary, writing down everything they consume to try and narrow down a reason as to why they are experiencing these symptoms.

We list the common symptoms of IBS below.

  • Pain I’m the abdominal region 
  • Changes in bowel movements
  • Cramping and discomfort 
  • Mental health issues like anxiety and depression 
  • Bloating
  • Gas 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Urges to use the bathroom
  • Constipation 
  • Loss of appetite

People with IBS will experience one or all of these symptoms. Ultimately, it depends on the individual.

How Common is IBS for Alcoholics?

A lot of people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome suffer from stress. A common reason for alcohol abuse is anxiety and stress, which is a reason why IBS is common for alcoholics. There are many types of alcoholics and functioning alcoholics suffer the most from IBS.

Large amounts of people who abuse alcohol have Irritable Bowel Syndrome and symptoms worsen after bouts of binge drinking. According to several researchers, IBS symptoms in alcoholics become worse after drinking large quantities of alcohol. It’s often attributed to the acidity of alcohol and how it interacts with gastrointestinal symptoms.

What are the Treatments for IBS?

When first diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, many doctors ask the patient to keep a food log. This is when mindfulness of what is going into the body comes into place and everything gets written down. Some individuals will notice that a certain food or drink affects their stomach.

Along with a food diary, doctors prescribe probiotics. Probiotics are a daily supplement that improves gut health by introducing healthy gut bacteria. If IBS becomes bad and the change of diet and probiotics are not helping, a gastroenterologist will most likely then prescribe medication.

Prescription medications aid in calming the stomach, which makes stomach problems less severe. If all of these treatments are exhausted, the syndrome is due to a mental health disorder. In these cases, doctors prescribe anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants to help with symptoms of IBS.

What is the Relation Between IBS and Alcohol?

IBS is an intestinal syndrome that comes with the struggle of daily diarrhea, constipation, and/or uncomfortable abdominal pains. Mental health stress is also a trigger that causes IBS symptoms. 

When someone abuses alcohol for long periods it becomes an alcohol abuse disorder (AUD). Frequent binge drinking is also a type of alcoholism.

So, what is alcoholism? Ultimately, it’s alcohol addiction. People who suffer from alcoholism also have uncontrollable urges to drink and struggle with alcohol withdrawal.

Irritable bowel syndrome and alcoholism result from individuals with mental health issues. Some of these issues are due to daily anxieties, depression, or present/past trauma. 

IBS and alcohol are both harsh on an individual’s stomach. They both have lasting effects if not treated properly. If left untreated, alcoholism leads to numerous diseases. Furthermore, if IBS is not managed, it will end in damage to the digestive tract.

Irritable bowel syndrome and alcohol differ because IBS does not cause fatal diseases and alcohol does.

What Alcohols are Low FODMAP?

FODMAP is an acronym for fermentable disaccharides, polyols, and monosaccharides. These chemicals create gastrointestinal distress that causes several problems in the digestive system. 

Below we list the alcohols that are low FODMAP.

  • Beer
  • Whiskey
  • Red wine 
  • White wine 
  • Vodka 
  • Gin 

The reason these alcoholic drinks are low in FODMAP is that they’re easier on the stomach. Digesting these alcoholic beverages tends to come with less cramping and pain.

What Alcohols are High FODMAP?

The research states that alcohols with sweet flavors are often high in FODMAP. Sweet flavors create gastrointestinal distress because of the bacteria within them.

Below we list the alcohols that are high in FODMAP.

  • Sweet wine (some white wines)
  • Hard ciders 
  • Rum 
  • Sherry 
  • Port 
  • Dark beers 

These alcoholic beverages are not digested well by the stomach, especially for those who have Irritable Bowel Syndrome. When consuming these alcohols one may find that it makes their usual symptoms worse, such as more pain or diarrhea.

Can I drink alcohol if I have IBS?

Yes, you can drink alcohol if you have IBS. Selecting alcohols with low FODMAP ratings ensures that IBS symptoms will remain minor. When drinking alcohol with IBS avoid fizzy beverages and sweet wines. Also, avoid binge drinking because it raises the acidity of stomach acid and creates inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract.

What are Tips for Alcohol Consumption if You Have IBS?

Several tips for alcohol consumption if you have IBS exist. While IBS is a chronic and uncomfortable condition, choosing the right alcoholic beverages prevents IBS flare-ups. That said, the most important tip we have is to focus on quantity.

In moderation, alcohol consumption doesn’t cause IBS symptoms to worsen. The data proves that IBS symptoms often worsen when large quantities of alcohol are consumed.

We’ll take you through the best tips for alcohol consumption if you have IBS below.

  • Avoid high FODMAP alcoholic beverages
  • Don’t drink more than two alcoholic beverages per hour 
  • Avoid beverages with a high alcohol content (ABV)
  • Don’t eat too much when drinking alcohol 
  • Avoid eating acidic foods like pizza with alcohol

Following these tips will help you prevent IBS symptoms from getting worse when you drink alcohol. Plus, it’s still possible to enjoy alcohol in moderation with chronic IBS.

Does Beer Cause IBS?

No, beer does not cause IBS. While beer irritates symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, it does not cause IBS to develop. A lot of people who have IBS struggle with certain food sensitivities, and beer will make this worse.

If you’re worried about what beers you can and can’t drink with IBS, we recommend choosing between the 10 best non-alcoholic beers to avoid alcohol consumption.

Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome Fatal?

No, Irritable bowel syndrome is not fatal but it feels uncomfortable and creates symptoms like nausea and diarrhea.

Some individuals who have IBS have flare-ups monthly and others have them

daily. That said, frequent diarrhea often leads to dehydration. Dehydration is fatal and leads to many adverse effects.