3 Ways Alcohol Affects Your Bowel Movements and What to Do About It

When you drink alcohol, the ethanol it contains is converted to acetaldehyde by the enzymes in your liver. Acetaldehyde is then further broken down into acetic acid (this is where vinegar comes from) and finally into CO2 and water. However, this breakdown process isn’t as quick or effective for everyone. In fact, for some people who have a deficiency of a particular enzyme or intolerance to sugars, drinking alcohol can have unpleasant side effects including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and headaches. Many factors influence your response to alcohol; gender, age, genetics and even the type of alcohol consumed will all play a role in how quickly your body processes that alcohol. Here are 3 ways alcohol affects your bowel movements and what you can do about it:

Alcohol and Bowel Movements

While drinking alcohol, your body’s natural movement of food through the digestive tract slows down. As a result, nutrients from food aren’t absorbed as quickly, and gas build-up may occur as bacteria in your gut ferments the undigested food. When alcohol travels through your digestive tract, it interrupts muscle contractions that are responsible for moving food along your intestinal tract and out of your body. As a result, you may experience bloating, cramping or constipation. If you’re going out for a night of heavy drinking, it’s best to eat a light or fiber-rich meal so that your food travels through your digestive tract slowly. This way, any alcohol you consume will be broken down and absorbed before it reaches your large intestine and can slow down your bowel movements.


Alcohol is a diuretic, which means that it causes your body to lose large quantities of water through urination. This can cause you to become dehydrated very quickly. Signs of dehydration include headache, dizziness, fatigue, dry mouth, and an increase in heart rate. If you consume alcohol and don’t drink enough water, you may experience these symptoms. Excessive dehydration can be very serious and even lead to organ failure or death. To prevent dehydration, make sure you drink lots of water along with your alcohol. Water will help flush the alcohol out of your body and replace any water you’ve lost.

Imbalance of Nutrients

Alcohol can negatively affect your body’s absorption of nutrients from food. When you drink alcohol, you alter the pH level of your stomach, which can affect how well your body breaks down food and absorbs nutrients from it. If your body is too acidic and unable to break down carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, you may experience digestive issues like bloating, cramps, and diarrhea. Alcohol also contains no nutrients, so you need to eat food rich in vitamins and minerals to replace what the alcohol has taken away from your body. Eating a balanced and healthy diet will help your body process the alcohol and avoid these side effects.

Irritation of the Bowel Tract

Alcohol can irritate the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, which can lead to inflammation or bleeding. This, in turn, can cause diarrhea or constipation. When you have a few drinks, the lining of your intestinal tract swells, which can slow down the movement of food through your bowels. If you’re experiencing mild symptoms of irritation or a mild case of diarrhea, eating a high-fiber diet can help slow down the bowel movements and alleviate symptoms. If you experience severe pain, cramping, abdominal pain, or blood in your stool, you should see a doctor rule out a more serious condition.

Bottom line

The best way to avoid the negative side effects of alcohol is to drink in moderation. If you must drink, make sure to eat a fiber-rich meal beforehand to slow the absorption of the alcohol, and drink lots of water afterward to avoid dehydration. If you still experience side effects from alcohol, try eating more fiber-rich foods (particularly those high in insoluble fiber, like fruit and vegetables) and drinking more water.

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