Alcohol And IBS – How Alcoholism Affects IBS Symptoms

Both alcohol abuse and IBS are two diseases that can cause symptoms of diarrhea, bloating, and gastronomical upset. When combined, the symptoms of these conditions can become acute and debilitating. Understanding the relationship between alcohol abuse and IBS can improve treatment and management for both of these disorders.

How Alcoholism Affects IBS Symptoms

IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) is a chronic disorder of the gastrointestinal system where a person experiences abdominal pain, bloating, or frequent episodes of diarrhea or constipation. This disorder affects the large intestine, and while it can cause pain and discomfort, it does not do any long-term harm to the gastrointestinal system.

When those who suffer from IBS mix alcohol into their diet, the results can be extremely uncomfortable. Alcohol disrupts bowel movement and irritates the gastrointestinal tract. Mixing an already fragile system with alcohol amplifies symptoms, which can lead to increased cramping, bloating, or diarrhea after drinking alcohol.

What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?

Irritable bowel syndrome can be a lifelong condition with varying degrees of symptoms that interfere with a person’s work, travel, and social activities. Someone with IBS has to be very careful about the foods and drinks they consume. Food choices can trigger IBS symptoms and create gastrointestinal distress and sometimes debilitation.

To help those with IBS avoid flare-ups, there have been several guidelines on what foods or drinks should not be consumed. The most commonly known guideline is called “FODMAP,” which stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols. FODMAPs are short-chain carbohydrates and sugars that are poorly absorbed by the body.

Consuming FODMAP foods or beverages can cause abdominal pain and bloat, and those with IBS should avoid them.

Examples of FODMAP foods that should be avoided include:

  • certain vegetables like onions, garlic, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, celery
  • stone fruits (fruits that have pits like peaches and apricots)
  • lentils, beans, and nuts
  • bread, cereals, pasta, and pizza
  • dairy products that contain lactose
  • natural and artificial sweeteners
  • alcohol beverages, sports drinks, and carbonated beverages

While the list of FODMAP foods can be extensive, the goal is to cut out as many foods on the FODMAP list as possible.

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Causes Of IBS

While symptoms of IBS can be controlled through diet, the root cause of IBS remains unclear. There are, however, numerous factors that may be associated with its development.

The potential causes of IBS are:

  • sensitivity to specific types of foods
  • food allergies
  • stress levels
  • existing bacterial infection
  • genetic and environmental factors
  • altered immune functions
  • bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine
  • Celiac disease
  • overuse of antibiotics

Stress, emotional state, social factors, food, and drink all interact in a complicated way to increase the symptoms of IBS. IBS symptoms can be diagnosed on their own. However, IBS coupled with the prolonged use of alcohol complicates the diagnosis. IBS and alcohol abuse share similar signs and symptoms and are often co-occurring.

Alcohol And The Digestive System

People who regularly struggle with IBS symptoms work hard every day to identify and avoid foods that upset their bodies. Luckily, there is no guesswork when it comes to consuming alcohol. Alcohol is always a trigger for gastrointestinal upset, and pairing alcohol and IBS together can have some painful outcomes.

By definition, alcohol is a toxin. Alcohol acts as an irritant in the gastrointestinal tract. When food is digested, nutrients are chemically broken down through the digestive tract. They eventually pass through the intestines and are excreted from the body through stool and urine.

When alcohol is introduced into the process, it speeds up the digestive system and does not allow water to absorb as it usually would. This causes diarrhea after drinking alcohol. Conversely, alcohol constipation occurs when the body is extremely dehydrated after consuming vast amounts of alcohol. To replenish its water and electrolyte stores, the body seeks out any liquid – including liquid from the bowels.

Depending on a person’s level of sensitivity, just one alcoholic beverage can be enough to trigger an IBS flare-up and cause alcohol-related diarrhea. For those who suffer from IBS, wine can be less severe than drinking beer with IBS. Regardless of the alcohol that is consumed, there is a link between alcohol abuse and diarrhea.

What Is Alcoholism?

Commonly referred to as alcohol use disorder (AUD), alcoholism is a form of alcohol abuse that involves a person’s inability to manage his or her drinking habits. Alcoholic drinking can spiral out of control and turn into problematic and uncontrollable drinking, which physically and emotionally affects the person. Like any other substance use disorder, AUD is considered a disease, and there are varying levels of abuse which range from mild, moderate, or severe.

This dysfunctional use of alcohol is a complicated relationship between genes, environment, and a strong association with other health problems. Prolonged use of alcohol can have long-term effects on the body.

Long-term effects of excessive drinking may include:

  • memory loss
  • hearing damage
  • vision damage
  • digestion system damage
  • liver disease
  • high blood pressure
  • heart problems
  • reproductive health damage
  • stroke
  • diabetes complications
  • increased risk for cancer
  • bone density loss or damage
  • death

Treatment For IBS And Alcoholism

Many people self-medicate with alcohol, and the more a person drinks, the higher the chance of developing a tolerance and dependence on alcohol. Adding a drinking problem to the symptoms of IBS creates more frequent flare-ups and symptoms.

Diarrhea, constipation, and stomach pain occur more frequently and severely in heavy drinkers. These conditions are tightly wound. If they are not addressed individually, they can cause long-term damage to the body.

While there is no formal cure for IBS, the treatment often consists of symptom management such as limiting specific foods and avoiding alcohol. Without working through treatment options to stop alcohol abuse, IBS symptoms related to alcohol intake will continue to cause damage and pain.

Treatment options can include:

  • inpatient treatment
  • outpatient treatment
  • cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • family support and therapy
  • fitness and nutrition education and awareness

After following the proper treatment program, a person is encouraged to become involved in a continued aftercare program that includes therapy, support groups, and other forms of treatment and education as needed.

Our Addiction Campuses’ treatment specialists can speak with you about your problem and help you find healthy ways to overcome it.

National Institutes of Health - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9741950

National Institutes of Health - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4697992/

National Institutes of Health - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4505618/

The Mayo Clinic - https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcohol-use-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20369243

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