Limited research suggests that moderate consumption of alcohol may lower the risk of gallstones in some people. However, other studies suggest that alcohol consumption may slow the gallbladder.

The gallbladder is a small organ that sits just under the liver. It stores bile, which helps with fat digestion.

Along with the liver and pancreas, the gallbladder is part of the biliary system, which produces, stashes away, and releases bile. The gallbladder’s bile storage power supports digestion. However, gallbladder health issues, such as gallstones, can block the release of bile.

Around 10–15% of people in the United States develop gallstones, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Heavy alcohol consumption can have various negative effects on liver health. But some research suggests that moderate alcohol consumption has the opposite effect on the gallbladder.

However, healthcare professionals generally recommend that people consume little to no alcohol.

This article looks at research on the gallbladder and alcohol, how reliable the research is, and other factors in gallbladder health.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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The gallbladder sits directly under the liver. It stores bile until it receives a signal to release bile into the small intestine to help break down and absorb fats from food.

Gallstones can develop in the gallbladder and may block the bile ducts that move the bile through the biliary tract. According to a 2019 review, limited research suggests that moderate alcohol consumption may help prevent gallstones.

However, heavy alcohol consumption can have negative effects on the liver. This includes the development of cirrhosis, a condition in which the liver gradually slows down and eventually stops working. People with cirrhosis may be more likely to experience gallstones.

Learn more about gallstones.

According to a small 2019 review of 24 studies, moderate alcohol consumption may have links to a lower risk of gallstones.

However, the authors mention that this trend depends on daily consumption of less than 28 grams (g) of alcohol on average. A standard “drink” in the United States — such as a 12-fluid-ounce (fl oz) can of regular beer or a 5-fl-oz glass of wine — provides about 14 g of alcohol. This means that a limit of 28 g is two drinks or less per day.

Alcohol’s exact effect on the gallbladder and its reasons for reducing gallstone risk remain unclear. A small older study ruled out the theory that the gallbladder empties bile more quickly, reducing the risk.

Alcohol might actually slow down gallbladder emptying, according to a small 2013 study. However, only 12 people participated in this study.

More research is necessary to determine the exact effects alcohol consumption can have on the gallbladder.

The possible gallbladder benefits of alcohol consumption depend on moderate intake. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this means:

  • one drink or less per day for females
  • two drinks or less per day for males

This equates to:

  • one 12-fl-oz can of regular beer (around 5% alcohol)
  • one 5-fl-oz glass of wine (around 12% alcohol)
  • one 1.5-fl-oz shot of distilled spirits (around 40% alcohol)

However, many healthcare professionals recommend consuming little to no alcohol, as alcohol intake can increase a person’s risk of some medical conditions.

Moderate alcohol consumption may have some positive effects on health. The gallbladder may not be the only organ that benefits from this. For example, a 2023 review of 24 studies found that low-to-moderate wine consumption had protective effects against cardiovascular disease, neurological disorders, and type 2 diabetes.

However, drinking too much alcohol too often can have serious negative effects on health. There are two types of excessive alcohol consumption, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA):

  • Binge drinking: This means drinking a large amount of alcohol in a short span of time. The NIAAA defines binge drinking as consuming more than 4 drinks for females or 5 drinks for males in 2 hours or less.
  • Heavy alcohol use: According to the NIAAA, heavy alcohol use means 4 drinks per night or 14 drinks per week for males and 3 drinks per night or 7 drinks per week for females.

Ongoing heavy drinking can increase a person’s risk of developing alcohol use disorder. According to the CDC, it can also increase the risk of several short- and long-term health problems.

Short-term risks of alcohol

Short-term risks of excessive alcohol consumption include:

  • drinking-related injuries such as falls, drowning, burns, and vehicle crashes
  • an increased chance of violent behavior
  • alcohol poisoning
  • sexual behaviors that may be harmful
  • a risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, or fetal alcohol spectrum disorders if drinking alcohol while pregnant

Long-term risks of alcohol

Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol over time increases the risk of the following:

  • liver disease
  • high blood pressure
  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • digestive issues
  • several cancers, including breast, throat, esophagus, liver, colon, and rectal cancer
  • a weakened immune system, which increases the chances of becoming ill
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • learning and memory issues
  • relationship- and job-related issues

The gallbladder can work less effectively for various reasons.


Cholelithiasis (gallstones) is a common gallbladder condition. Gallstones occur when bilirubin or cholesterol builds up in the bile, forming hard lumps. Bilirubin is a pigment in bile.

The stones often do not cause symptoms. However, they occasionally block the bile ducts, causing upper right abdominal pain, usually after eating.

Several factors can increase a person’s risk for gallstones, including:

  • aging
  • obesity
  • a high sugar, high carb diet
  • genetic factors
  • certain medications, including estrogens
  • high blood sugar
  • high blood pressure
  • rapid weight loss

Females may be more likely to develop gallstones than males.

Blockage of the bile ducts due to gallstones can lead to other gallbladder issues.


Cholecystitis is gallbladder inflammation that develops due to a blocked bile duct. This causes bile to back up in the gallbladder, leading to inflammation.

Gallstones often cause this. However, it can also occur without stones. For example, a more serious condition known as acalculous cholecystitis often occurs due to other health problems such as severe physical trauma, recent abdominal surgery, sepsis, burns, or a stroke.

If gallbladder pain continues for longer than 6 hours, a person should contact a healthcare professional. Vomiting, nausea, and fever may occur along with pain.


Choledocholithiasis occurs in up to 15% of people with gallstones. It occurs when a gallstone blocks the common bile duct, which links the gallbladder to the liver.

It can cause a buildup of bile in the liver and lead to symptoms such as:

  • on-and-off pain in the upper right belly
  • jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin)
  • clay-colored stools
  • tea-colored urine
  • fever and chills

Gallbladder polyps

Gallbladder polyps are generally benign (noncancerous). The exact causes of gallbladder polyps are unclear.

They can have a similar effect to gallstones in causing blockages. But sometimes they cause no symptoms at all.

If a person feels that they are consuming too much alcohol and this is affecting their daily life, support is available. People can find help and support in the following ways:

  • The Treatment Referral Routing Service from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): This is a confidential, free, always-open helpline for people experiencing alcohol use disorder and their families. The service can provide a referral to local services and support groups. People can call the service at 1-800-662-4357.
  • NIAAA’s Alcohol Treatment Navigator: This is an online tool for finding the nearest and most appropriate care for alcohol use disorder.
  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA): This is a nationwide network of support groups that can provide community support. People can search for a nearby group via the AA website.
  • Al-Anon: This support group provides a community for the loved ones of people with alcohol use disorder. The Al-Anon website provides a directory of local groups.
  • Contacting a healthcare professional: A healthcare professional can help provide referrals and further information on alcohol use disorder.

Limited research suggests a link between moderate alcohol consumption and a lower risk of gallstones. More research is necessary to find out more about this possible connection. However, excessive alcohol use can cause harm throughout the body.

Many healthcare professionals recommend consuming little to no alcohol because alcohol consumption can increase the risk of some health conditions.

People who may have concerns about alcohol use can contact a healthcare professional or find support from an organization such as AA, Al-Anon, or SAMHSA.