Alcohol is a known trigger of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is a relatively common condition that impacts the colon. The causes of IBS are unclear, but certain foods or drinks can trigger episodes of IBS, including alcohol.

If you have IBS, your symptoms may include abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation. Unfortunately, IBS is chronic, but it’s also manageable. Most people manage their IBS symptoms with a combination of a well-managed diet, exercise and stress management, although medication-based interventions may be part of their treatment as well.

For most people, the symptoms of IBS tend to come and go but tend to be triggered by food or stress. Sometimes there will be particularly bad flare-up symptoms, and then symptoms will get better, or go away altogether, for some time.

Alcohol and IBS

Alcohol and IBS are not a good combination. Alcohol is an irritant to the gastrointestinal (GI) system, meaning it can worsen IBS symptoms. Alcohol is a toxin that disrupts the bowels and intestinal system which is why it can be problematic for people with IBS.

Another thing to consider with alcohol and IBS is the fact that alcohol may temporarily relieve stress, but it can make people more stressed over time. Stress and nervous system problems can lead to IBS flare-ups.

Alcohol Sensitivity and IBS

Regarding specific types of alcohol and IBS, beer seems to be the worst culprit, probably because of the combination of the alcohol and the carbonation of the beer. Many people with IBS will notice that after drinking even a small amount of alcohol, they start to feel symptoms such as cramping and diarrhea.

Each person’s level of sensitivity with alcohol may vary, however. For example, some people with IBS using alcohol may experience symptoms after one drink. For others, it can take larger amounts of alcohol before they begin to feel symptoms. Many people with IBS report that their symptoms get significantly better when they stop drinking.

Alcohol Use, Nutrition, and IBS

There are also some other ways in which alcohol and IBS may have a relationship to one another. One way relates to nutrition. Having a healthy, balanced diet is important to keep IBS symptoms at bay, but people who drink excessively are often lacking in key nutrients and can even become malnourished.

When someone with a drinking problem does eat, they may not choose healthy foods. Eating unhealthy foods can make the symptoms of IBS worse. If you have IBS, you should keep records of what you’re doing and what you eat or drink when a flare-up occurs, because this can help you to identify what you should eliminate.

Key Points: Alcohol and IBS

Given that alcohol can trigger and worsen IBS symptoms, people sometimes wonder if alcohol can cause IBS symptoms. This issue has not been well researched, but the small amount of research that does exist does not indicate that alcohol can lead to an increased risk of developing IBS.

Important points to remember about alcohol and IBS include:

  • Symptoms of IBS may come and go, but alcohol use can worsen IBS symptoms
  • Alcohol irritates the gastrointestinal system and worsens IBS
  • Beer seems to trigger IBS symptoms more frequently than other forms of alcohol
  • A person’s alcohol sensitivity can influence their IBS symptoms
  • A healthy diet can help mitigate IBS symptoms

If you use alcohol even though it worsens your IBS symptoms, consider seeking professional assistance to stop using alcohol. One sign of alcohol dependence or addiction is continuing to drink even when there are negative consequences. If you or a loved one need help to overcome alcohol addiction or dependence, a treatment center like The Recovery Village® can help. Call us today to learn more about treatment.

Bolen, Barbara. “Should you be drinking alcohol if you have IBS?” Verywellhealth.com. Jan. 3, 2019. Accessed March 22, 2019.

D’Auria, Daniel. “How does alcohol affect irritable bowel syndrome?” Virtua.com. Dec 3, 2018. Accessed March 22, 2019.