Consuming alcohol can lead some people to develop digestive issues, including constipation.

Alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant that causes several effects on the body. What a person drinks and how often they drink can affect how their body will respond to the alcohol. Not everyone will experience the same symptoms or side effects.

For some, chronic drinking may contribute to constipation.

This article explores the connection between alcohol and constipation, other effects it may have on the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, and tips to prevent constipation when drinking.

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Constipation can be a symptom of an underlying issue or condition. People with constipation may experience one or more of the following:

  • difficulty emptying their bowels
  • fewer than three bowel movements per week
  • feeling as though not all stool passed
  • dry, hard, or lumpy stools

While drinking alcohol is generally not listed as a cause of constipation, it can alter how the GI tract and other organs function, which may lead to constipation.

Learn more about constipation.

Leads to dehydration

Drinking alcohol can cause dehydration.

Alcohol interferes with the release of vasopressin or the antidiuretic hormone (ADH). This hormone tells the kidneys to retain or hold on to fluids. Without it, the kidneys release more fluid than necessary, which can lead to dehydration.

Dehydration or lack of fluids can cause constipation to occur. Without enough fluid, stools can become hard and lumpy, which makes them more difficult to pass.

Learn more about dehydration.

Affects gut bacteria

Some evidence suggests that consuming alcohol can cause an overgrowth of bacteria in the intestines.

According to a 2017 article, the overgrowth of bacteria from drinking can lead to constipation, bloating, and other symptoms.

Affects intestinal movement

Alcohol can cause different effects on intestinal movement, or peristalsis.

According to a 2016 review, in general, drinks with a higher alcohol content of 15% or greater per volume slow the motility of the intestines. Drinks with a lower alcohol content, such as wine or beer, can cause the motility to increase, which could lead to diarrhea.

The speed and amount of alcohol may also affect motility. Quickly drinking a large quantity may inhibit the rate of emptying, but consuming larger amounts over the course of time may cause the bowels to empty faster.

IBD and alcohol

Some evidence suggests that alcohol can interfere with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). In a 2021 article, researchers noted that people report worsening symptoms of IBD when drinking alcohol. Alcohol may also interfere with the absorption of medications used to treat IBD, which could lead to further issues.

However, drinking red wine may have a beneficial effect on inflammation, which could lead to improved IBD symptoms.

Currently, it is unclear if alcohol can lead to the development of IBD. Also, evidence is not sufficient for researchers to provide a general recommendation about alcohol use. However, data is trending toward it having a negative effect on IBD symptoms.

Learn more about IBD.

Drinking alcohol can cause or increase the risk of several GI-related issues. Some potential effects long-term alcohol use can have on the digestive tract include:

  • Gastritis: Long-term drinking may irritate the stomach lining (gastritis), leading to issues such as ulcers, bleeding, and erosion.
  • Ulcers: Drinking may cause the development of ulcers in the stomach.
  • Cancer risk: Alcohol consumption can increase the risk of developing certain cancers, such as:

If constipation or other issues develop due to alcohol consumption, a person may not experience any symptoms. When they do occur, they may include:

  • flatulence
  • nausea
  • abdominal pain or discomfort
  • vomiting
  • weight loss
  • feeling overly full during or after a meal
  • loss of appetite

Read more about the short and long-term effects of alcohol.

Preventing constipation when drinking will likely require a person to make changes throughout their daily lives. Some tips to prevent dehydration include:

  • eating more fiber throughout the day
  • drinking plenty of water, which may also help with preventing a hangover
  • exercising regularly
  • trying to have a bowel movement every day at the same time

Learn about natural remedies for constipation.

Drinking a lot of alcohol too quickly can lead to alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning occurs when excessive amounts of alcohol in the bloodstream cause vital functions, such as breathing and the heart, to shut down.

A person should seek emergency help immediately if a person they are with shows the following signs:

  • vomiting
  • confusion
  • seizures
  • difficulty remaining conscious
  • clammy skin
  • extremely low body temperature
  • slowed breathing or heart rate
  • dulled responses

A person can consider speaking with a counselor, doctor, or support group if they feel they need alcohol, consume several drinks each day, or find alcohol is affecting their ability to function.

Support groups, specialists, and other therapies may be able to help a person stop drinking or at least reduce the amount they consume.

Learn about alcohol use disorder and available treatments.

Alcohol consumption can lead to constipation due to dehydration and slowing of intestinal emptying. It may also cause an overgrowth of bacteria or cause worsening IBD symptoms, which may include constipation.

Drinks with a higher alcohol content may increase the risk of constipation. However, long-term drinking may cause a person to develop diarrhea or faster bowel emptying.

People concerned about constipation can consider eating more fiber, drinking plenty of water, and exercising regularly. These steps may help prevent constipation from becoming an issue when drinking alcohol.