IBS and Alcohol: What You Need to Know

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder that affects between 25 and 45 million people in the United States. It significantly impacts daily life with symptoms like bloating, pain, and gas. Alcohol can complicate matters further by affecting intestinal motility, absorption, and permeability.


As a result, many people with IBS avoid alcohol altogether, perceiving it as a trigger for their symptoms. However, whether or not to enjoy an occasional drink remains a complicated question. This article will explore the relationship between alcohol and IBS, providing insights into the potential effects of alcohol on IBS, the safest types of alcohol to consume, and practical tips for managing symptoms if you choose to drink. By the end, you’ll have the information needed to make an informed decision about including alcohol in your diet.

Which Alcohol Is Safest for IBS

What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder that affects the stomach and intestines, leading to a variety of uncomfortable symptoms. It’s characterized by a combination of symptoms that can significantly impact a person’s quality of life. These symptoms often include abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, or cramping.

While the exact cause of IBS is not known, experts think these problems may play a role in causing IBS and contributing to the development and exacerbation of its symptoms:


  • Stressful or difficult early life events: Experiences such as physical or sexual abuse during childhood can increase the risk of developing IBS later in life.
  • Certain mental disorders: Conditions like depression, anxiety, and somatic symptom disorder are often linked to IBS, possibly due to the close connection between the brain and the gut.
  • Bacterial infections: Infections in the digestive tract, such as gastroenteritis, can trigger the onset of IBS symptoms in some people.
  • Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO): An increase in the number or a change in the type of bacteria in the small intestine can lead to symptoms associated with IBS.
  • Food intolerances or sensitivities: Certain foods can cause digestive symptoms in people with IBS, including bloating, gas, and abdominal pain. Common triggers include dairy, gluten, and high-FODMAP foods.

Alcohol and IBS

Research on the relationship between alcohol and IBS is limited, and studies conducted so far have shown mixed results. A 2013 study in the American Journal of Gastroenterology examined the drinking habits and next-day symptoms in 166 women aged 18 to 48 who were diagnosed with IBS.


No significant differences were found in the amount of alcohol consumed when comparing the women with IBS to a group of 48 women without IBS. However, the experience of next-day digestive symptoms was notably different between the two groups.


According to the research, women with IBS were far more likely to experience symptoms after a night of binge drinking compared to those who engaged in moderate or light drinking. This is because alcohol can affect intestinal permeability and inhibit colonic absorption of water, leading to diarrhea.

Can Alcohol Cause IBS?

While alcohol itself does not directly cause IBS, it can trigger symptoms in people who already have the condition. If you have IBS, it’s important to be aware of how alcohol affects your body and to drink in moderation.

Drinking Alcohol with IBS

Can I Drink Alcohol If I Have IBS?

When deciding whether to drink alcohol with IBS, consider the national guidelines on alcohol consumption. The U.S. dietary guidelines recommend drinking in moderation: no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. This is the maximum amount for any single day, not an average over several days.


You should avoid alcohol if you are:


    • Below the age of 21 (in the U.S.)
    • Pregnant
    • Taking certain medications
    • Have a history of alcohol abuse


If you’re unsure how alcohol affects your irritable bowel, try eliminating it completely to see if symptoms improve. Once your symptoms are stable, you can reintroduce alcohol slowly and monitor your body’s response.

Why Alcohol Can Worsen IBS Symptoms

Alcohol can worsen IBS symptoms for several reasons. It irritates the digestive tract, leading to inflammation and increased gut permeability. This irritation can trigger IBS symptoms like cramping, bloating, and diarrhea. Additionally, alcohol can disrupt the balance of gut bacteria, further aggravating symptoms. Understanding these effects can help you make informed decisions about alcohol consumption if you have IBS.

Which Alcohol Is Safest for IBS?

For those with IBS who want to enjoy a drink, there are options that might be more suitable. Monash University conducted a study to identify which alcoholic drinks are less likely to trigger symptoms, helping you make better choices.

Low-risk alcoholic drinks to try:

    • Beer (opt for gluten-free beer, since gluten can be triggering)
    • Red, white, or sparkling wine (choose low-sugar options)
    • Whiskey
    • Vodka
    • Gin

High-risk alcoholic drinks to avoid:

    • Cider
    • Rum
    • Sherry
    • Port
    • Sweet dessert wine

Remember, the type of alcohol isn’t the only factor to consider; quantity matters too. Start with 5 ounces per sitting and avoid consuming too many drinks in a short period.

Mixers Can Also Trigger IBS

When enjoying a drink, it’s important to remember that mixers can also trigger IBS symptoms. Choosing the right mixer can make a significant difference in how your body responds.


Mixers to avoid:


    • Sugary sodas
    • Fruit juices high in sugar
    • Tonic water
    • High-fructose corn syrup sweeteners

Better mixer options:


    • Sparkling water
    • Club soda
    • Fresh lime or lemon juice
    • Herbal teas


By selecting low-sugar and gentle mixers, you can help minimize IBS symptoms and enjoy your drinks more comfortably.

Tips for Alcohol Consumption If You Have IBS

If you decide to drink alcohol, pay attention to your consumption to help you determine whether the type and amount of alcohol affect your IBS, and if so, how. Here are some tips to keep in mind:


If you notice an increase in your IBS symptoms when you drink, consider abstaining from alcohol. Sometimes, avoiding alcohol altogether is the best way to manage your symptoms.


Be sure to drink water when you’re drinking alcohol. Staying hydrated might help dilute the alcohol, making it less irritating to your digestive system.


Eat when you drink. Having food in your stomach can help protect it from irritation. However, choose your food wisely and avoid foods that trigger your IBS symptoms.


Maintain a slow intake to give your digestive system time to process the alcohol. Drinking slowly can help minimize the impact on your gut.


Consider limiting consumption to the recommended one or two drinks per day, with two alcohol-free days each week. Moderation is key to preventing flare-ups.


Managing IBS can be challenging, especially when it comes to making decisions about alcohol consumption. Understanding how alcohol affects IBS is crucial for making informed choices. While some alcoholic drinks are less likely to trigger symptoms, it’s important to remember that everyone’s body reacts differently.

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