Alcohol has many different effects on the body, both short- and long-term. It can affect how the body breaks down nutrients, irritate the gut, and speed up the digestive system. All of these effects can lead to a bowel movement.
Some alcoholic drinks have more of an effect on the body than others. The more a person drinks, the more likely they are to experience such effects. Eating a meal before drinking alcohol and drinking in moderation can help protect the gut and allow more regular, healthier bowel movements.
In this article, we explain how alcohol may affect the bowels, how to prevent these effects, and how to promote regular bowel movements.
Alcohol may make the digestive system work more quickly than usual. As the contents of the stomach will pass through the small and large intestines faster, the body may be unable to absorb the normal amount of water back into the body. This lack of reabsorption can result in a loose, watery stool.
As the digestive system is working faster than normal, it can make the need to poop urgent. A person may experience diarrhea after drinking alcohol.
Alcohol can also cause constipation because it is a diuretic. A diuretic is anything that causes the body to make more urine than normal. This effect can lead to dehydration because a person is urinating more often but not taking in enough fluids.
If a person experiences dehydration, their large intestine will take as much water as possible from waste before it leaves the body. This reabsorption can cause a hard, dry stool that is difficult to pass.
Alcohol irritates the gut, causing inflammation in the lining of the intestines, which stops the gut from absorbing nutrients as well as usual. Anything that the body cannot absorb will pass through the gut and out of the body as waste.
Therefore, the body may produce more waste than normal after a person drinks alcohol, and this may cause them to have more frequent bowel movements.
These problems can be worse if a person has gut problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In some cases, a person may be intolerant to some or all types of alcohol. Gluten in beer or tannins in wine can irritate the stomach.
Every person’s digestive system is different. People who drink regularly or in large amounts can find that alcohol irritates their stomach lining over time. These individuals may experience more frequent gut problems.
One of the most effective ways to limit the effects of alcohol is to drink in moderation. Most people should be able to avoid alcohol affecting their bowel movements if they limit their intake.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend safe limits for alcohol intake. For females, this is up to one drink per day. For males, it is up to two drinks per day.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism consider one standard drink as:
- 12 ounces (oz) of 5% beer
- 8–9 oz of 7% malt liquor
- 5 oz of 12% red wine
- 1.5 oz of 40% spirits
People can keep track of which alcoholic drinks have the worst effect on their body and either replace these with an alternative or limit their consumption.
It may also be advisable to avoid mixing alcohol and drinks containing caffeine, such as energy drinks and coffee. Caffeine can irritate the stomach, speed up the digestive system, and possibly cause people to poop more often.
People should ensure that they stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids before drinking alcohol. Alternating each alcoholic drink with a soft drink and drinking water throughout the evening can help prevent dehydration and, in turn, help avoid constipation the next day.
To limit the effect of alcohol on the stomach and gut, it is advisable to eat beforehand rather than drinking alcohol on an empty stomach. Food can slow the absorption of alcohol and inhibit it coming into contact with the stomach lining.
The best foods to choose are plain, filling, and full of fiber. Foods to avoid include spicy, acidic, or fried foods, as these may irritate the stomach when people combine them with alcohol. Having enough food in the stomach can help limit some of the effects of alcohol on the body.
Some possible options include:
- potatoes or sweet potatoes
- legumes, such as pinto beans
It is important to drink enough fluids to keep the stool soft and easy to pass. People can also try to poop at the same time each day to establish a regular schedule for bowel movements. However, they should not strain to force a bowel movement.
If diarrhea lasts longer than 48 hours, it can cause dehydration and other potential health problems. A person may wish to seek medical advice and treatment. They might need an oral rehydration solution to replace lost salts and electrolytes.
It is important to see a doctor if there is dark blood in the stool or bright red blood that continues to appear over a couple of days. These signs could indicate a more serious medical problem.
A person may wish to seek advice from a doctor if alcohol is adversely affecting their life. Signs of a potential problem with alcohol include drinking more than intended, risk-taking behavior, and being unable to cut down on alcohol.
Alcohol can irritate the digestive system and change how the body absorbs fluids. It may change the regularity of a person’s bowel movements and could result in either diarrhea or constipation.
Drinking too much alcohol can damage the stomach and gut over time. Limiting alcohol intake, eating before drinking alcohol, and staying hydrated can prevent problems the day after drinking.