Alcohol can come with various side effects, including mood swings, dehydration, and hangovers, especially when you overindulge. However, there is another possible effect of drinking that some people may not expect: diarrhea. Alcohol results in diarrhea because it is a diuretic. This means that taking any amount of alcohol increases water excretion from the body, which is why we urinate that much when drinking. Even though taking one or two drinks might not affect your digestive system, heavy drinking can affect the intestines. Diarrhea after taking alcohol can be an unpleasant side effect for many people, but if it occurs frequently or causes dehydration, it can damage the digestive system.
How Alcohol Causes Diarrhea
Alcohol is absorbed quickly by the tissues in the body, and it can get into the bloodstream within minutes, causing specific effects. Most of the absorption happens during the digestion of alcohol, which can cause inflammation of the intestines and the stomach. The results can be worsened if there is no food in your stomach at the time of alcohol consumption. This is the reason why it is easier to become drunk if you have not eaten. Alcohol also has a high sugar content, so it can set off the gut to produce electrolytes and water, resulting in loose bowel movements or diarrhea.
Alcohol causes inflammation and makes the stomach generate more acid, both of which can result in diarrhea. It also hastens digestion and impairs the healthy bacteria in the gut. You can still get diarrhea even if you drink moderately, regardless of how healthy you are. This is because of the negative effects of alcohol on the digestive system.
Lastly, most types of alcohol have gluten. So if someone sensitive to gluten takes gluten-based alcohol, it could produce a reaction, which usually involves diarrhea.
Alcohol can also worsen your symptoms if you are already suffering from a gastrointestinal tract disorder like IBS.
How Different Types of Alcohol Cause Diarrhea
The type of alcohol consumed can also affect the likelihood of experiencing diarrhea. Generally, the higher the concentration of the alcohol, the higher the chances of getting diarrhea.
Drinks with a lower concentration of alcohol such as wine and beer can increase activity in the gastrointestinal tract, increasing the chances of stomach problems such as diarrhea. Low-alcohol drinks also cause an increase in gastric acid production, and this can aggravate the stomach. Other people might also be allergic to some ingredients in wine, which can raise the chances of intestinal problems.
Drinks with a higher concentration of alcohol such as whiskey, vodka, and other liquors can reduce activity in the gastrointestinal tract without affecting gastric acid production. This makes them a better option over beer and wine. On the other hand, the alcohol content can still affect digestion, and you can also get diarrhea from drinking too much whiskey or vodka. Other than that, combining sugary beverages with liquors can also cause diarrhea.
The composition of the drinks can also contribute to the occurrence of diarrhea. Drinks with increased carbohydrates like beer or sugary cocktails will go directly to the large intestine without being broken down completely. The bacteria in the intestines will start transforming the carbohydrates into energy, leading to diarrhea, bloating, and gas.
How Long Does Alcohol-Related Diarrhea Last?
Your digestive tract may take several days to get back to normal after drinking heavily, but if you experience prolonged diarrhea, make sure you go to a doctor. If you experience diarrhea for longer than usual, it can lead to health problems such as weight loss, dehydration, and malnutrition.
Heavy drinkers might get diarrhea for longer and more frequently, which could indicate continuous impairment of the GI tract due to excessive alcohol use. Any damage to your liver can also affect your gut health, and liver cirrhosis also causes diarrhea.
Prevention and Treatment
The ideal way to avoid alcohol-related diarrhea is not to drink. However, if this is not your preference, you can decrease the likelihood of getting diarrhea by only drinking moderately and slowly. You should also avoid taking alcohol on an empty stomach. Having food in the stomach reduces alcohol absorption and adds a barrier to keep alcohol from irritating the GI tract.
Fiber supplements can also help you prevent alcohol-related diarrhea since the alcohol prevents normal water reabsorption in the colon, causing diarrhea for a day or so. Soluble fiber supplements allow water absorption in the bowels, so the stool is firm before it passes.
Another effective way of preventing diarrhea is to opt for more easily digestible alcohol, especially if you suffer from IBS. The same people should also avoid high-carb mixers such as fruit juices, colas, and tonic water. Go for vodka, gin, champagne, or white wine and mix with club soda or fresh citrus fruit juice.
You can balance the effects of diarrhea and alcohol on the body by restoring the salt supply in the body. Dehydration causes diarrhea, which leads to dehydration again, and it throws your body into a vicious cycle. If you have a hangover and diarrhea after a night of drinking, try taking high-sodium drinks like Pedialyte, V8, or Gatorade to help restore the balance in your body. Drinking plenty of clear liquids such as juice, tea, broth, and water will also help you restore the lost fluids in your body.
Avoid drinks or foods containing caffeine, lots of spices, fats, and dairy if you have alcohol-related diarrhea, as they can make it worse. Add natural or supplementary probiotics to your diet as well. Talk to your doctor to find out the proper dosage of probiotics to take.
If you need to, you can use over-the-counter medications to help with diarrhea and make sure to take the recommended dosage for effective results.
If you continuously get diarrhea after taking alcohol, you may want to rethink your drinking habits. However, if you suffer from alcohol addiction, reach out to a counselor to get the help you need.