Alcohol plays a major role in our culture. A bottle of beer or a glass of wine is the first thing we reach out for, whether we socialize or look for ways to ease the stress. However, alcohol is known to be a major gastrointestinal irritant. For a person with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), a chronic digestive disorder, whether or not to consume some drink, is a tricky one.

Many with IBS tend to shun alcohol completely as they perceive this to be a trigger for IBS. But others don’t agree with the same.

So, what is it?

Alcohol and Digestion

Alcohol affects the human digestive system in various ways. Alcohol use, both excessive and moderate, tend to cause significant and mostly irreversible damage to organs in the digestive system and the digestive tract lining.

Regular alcohol use weakens the esophageal sphincter causing the person to have bouts of acid reflux. Consumption of alcohol stimulate excess acid secretion in the stomach, which slows down stomach emptying, causing irritation and nauseous feelings, and sometimes vomiting.

Alcohol also affects the small intestine. It inhibits nutrient absorption, especially of carbohydrates causes problems with diarrhea, gas as these tend to interact with bacteria present in the large intestine.

Health Risks

Alcohol consumption has detrimental effects on a person’s health. The quantity does not matter. Even moderate drinking can lead to health complications like cancer, liver cirrhosis, etc.

Binge and excessive drinking results in a lot of safety and health risks. Besides increasing the chances of alcoholic poisoning, excessive alcohol also increases other health issues like:
  • Alcohol dependence
  • Congenital disabilities
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Liver cirrhosis
  • Stroke
  • Miscarriage
  • Certain types of cancers
Excessive alcohol use could also lead to injuries through falls, accidents, and violence. It can also lead to indulging in risky sexual behaviors.

Excessive alcohol consumption is also associated with various mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, as well as a negative effect on work-life and family.

Alcohol and IBS

Surprisingly, there has not been much research on the relationship between alcohol and IBS. Studies conducted to date have delivered mixed results. Generally, there does not seem to be a link between IBS and alcohol.

A recent study presented in the American Journal of Gastroenterology compared next-day symptoms of drinking and drinking habits in 166 women with IBS, aged between 18 and 48.

Researchers could not find any significant differences when compared to 48 women who did not have IBS. However, there was a difference in the next-day digestive symptoms between both the groups.

Not surprisingly, a link between next-day symptoms and drinking was more in the women with diarrhea-predominant IBS compared to those who had mixed-type IBS or constipation-predominant IBS.

Alcohol and FODMAP

FODMAP (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) is poorly-absorbed carbohydrates associated with digestive symptoms in people with IBS. Gastrointestinal symptoms linked to FODMAP include:
  • Bloating
  • Stomach pain
  • Constipation
  • Gas
  • Diarrhea
Researchers from Monash University have suggested that a low-FODMAP diet can relieve symptoms in people with IBS. The low-FODMAP drink choices include:
  • White or red wine
  • Beer
  • Gin
  • Whiskey
  • Vodka
High-FODMAP drinks that should be avoided include:
  • Rum
  • Cider
  • Port
  • Sherry
  • Sweet dessert wine
A low-FODMAP diet can also be used for choosing mixers. For example, cranberry juice (without corn syrup) and tomatoes are low-FODMAP choices. Another low-FODMAP beverage for mixing cocktails is Seltzer.

Drinking Tips When Having IBS

If you have IBS, yet want to have alcohol, pay attention to the amount consumed. Some tips to remember while having alcohol include:
  • Drink water while consuming alcohol
  • If an increase in IBS is noticed with slight consumption, avoid alcohol
  • Eat while drinking. Food can help your stomach from getting irritated. Of course, one has to choose the food wisely with a focus on avoiding food that can trigger IBS
  • Drink slowly and give the digestive system enough time to process the alcohol
  • Limit the consumption to one drink a day