Many people experience diarrhea after drinking alcohol. Diarrhea can be uncomfortable and may be accompanied by other symptoms. Furthermore, some types of alcohol can be more likely to cause diarrhea than others.
Fortunately, there are some simple steps to take to help reduce the likelihood of diarrhea after drinking alcohol.
Why does alcohol cause diarrhea?
Diarrhea can be a side effect of even moderate alcohol intake.
Alcohol is easily absorbed into many tissues in the body. As soon as alcohol enters the body, it starts making its way into the bloodstream. Some of this absorption happens in the stomach.
If there is food in the stomach at the time, the absorption rate will slow. This is why people feel the effects of alcohol more quickly on an empty stomach.
Once it leaves the stomach, alcohol starts getting absorbed by the small intestine. Much of the alcohol is absorbed here, but the remainder goes into the large intestine and exits with the stool and urine.
Alcohol can cause serious changes in the normal functions of the digestive system at every step of the way. These changes include:
- Inflammation: The gastrointestinal tract becomes inflamed when it comes into contact with alcohol. Alcohol can also lead to more acid production in the stomach, which can increase the irritation and inflammation. This irritation can often lead to diarrhea.
- Water absorption: Water is usually absorbed from the foods and liquids reaching the intestines. The large intestine pulls liquids out of the stool before passing it out of the body. When alcohol is present, the large intestine does not function as well. This can result in liquid stools and dehydration.
- Faster digestion: Alcohol agitates the intestines and causes them to react by speeding up digestion. The muscles in the colon contract more frequently, pushing stool out faster than usual. This quickening can lead to diarrhea, as the intestines do not have time to digest the passing food properly.
- Bacterial imbalance: There are a variety of bacteria in the intestines that work to keep the body in balance by attacking harmful pathogens. Alcohol may temporarily kill off some bacteria species or allow others to grow rapidly, which can cause the intestines to malfunction.
Additional risk factors
There are certain risk factors for having diarrhea after drinking alcohol. Lifestyle choices may affect diarrhea the day after drinking, and other conditions may make symptoms worse.
Personal habits play an important role in the side effects caused by drinking.
Someone who drinks nearly every day may be more likely to experience chronic diarrhea from alcohol. People who binge drink or have lots of alcoholic drinks in a row may also be more inclined to experience diarrhea.
Eating heavy foods while drinking may also increase the risk of diarrhea. The body has trouble digesting food when alcohol is working its way through the intestinal tissues, and alcohol may reduce the digestive enzymes necessary to break down heavy food.
Other gastrointestinal conditions
People who are gluten-intolerant may respond poorly to the grains in beer and certain liquors. Anyone with a more sensitive digestive tract, in general, may also be more sensitive to the effects of alcohol.
Do certain alcohols cause diarrhea more than others?
Different alcoholic beverages may cause more symptoms than others. It is important to note that alcoholic drinks may affect every individual differently.
Beer is an alcoholic drink that is often associated with diarrhea.
Beer is usually one of the biggest culprits for diarrhea. Beer has more carbohydrates compared to other forms of alcohol. The body can have trouble breaking down these extra carbs while drinking alcohol.
Wine may also cause diarrhea more often in certain people. If a person experiences diarrhea more when they drink wine, they may have an allergy to tannins. Tannins are compounds found in the skin of grapes, and a reaction to them may cause symptoms of headaches, nausea, and diarrhea.
Excessive sugar from mixed drinks can also make diarrhea worse for some people. Excess sugar causes the body to push out the contents of the intestines quicker.
Preventing diarrhea caused by alcohol starts with being mindful of drinking habits. Slowing down the intake of alcoholic drinks can help ease stress on the digestive tract.
Replacing drinks that cause gastrointestinal symptoms with a different type of alcohol may help in the long-term.
Eating before drinking alcohol can slow the absorption rate of the alcohol into the body and reduce the risk of diarrhea.
It may help to avoid drinking alcoholic beverages that are mixed with caffeine as well, as caffeine can increase movement in the intestine and the speed of digestion.
Diarrhea after drinking alcoholic beverages is usually not long-lasting. Symptoms typically go away quickly when the person starts eating regularly, hydrating, and avoiding alcohol.
Eating rice and other easily-digested foods can help ease diarrhea symptoms after drinking alcohol.
Eating bland, easily-digested foods such as rice, toast, or plain crackers may help fill the stomach without causing additional symptoms.
It may help to avoid dairy products and foods high in fat or fiber immediately after diarrhea, as these can put further stress on the digestive system when it is trying to recover.
Fluids are especially important after drinking alcohol, as the body has lost a lot of water through both urine and diarrhea. Drinking water, herbal teas, and broths can help prevent dehydration.
In cases of persistent diarrhea, over-the-counter medications can help the body soak up water and fill out the stool. Probiotics may also help regain the bacterial balance in the gut.
When to see a doctor
Persistent diarrhea may be a sign of a separate condition that may require a doctor's visit. Also, excessive diarrhea can lead to dehydration.
A doctor should be notified if the following symptoms occur:
- persistent diarrhea lasting more than 2 days
- dry mouth and continuous thirst
- low or no urine, even with extra fluid intake
- infrequent urine that is often very dark in color
- weakness and fatigue
- dizziness or lightheadedness
- intense cramps and pain
- bloody stool
- black stool that is not caused by an antidiarrheal medication
Dehydration can be life-threatening, so anyone experiencing the above symptoms should contact a doctor.
In most cases of diarrhea caused by drinking, the symptoms will go away once the person returns to a normal diet and stops drinking alcohol.