Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that has the power to depress something else — your bowel function.

While people metabolize alcohol differently, alcohol does have the potential to cause constipation. For others, alcohol has the complete opposite effect. What and how much you drink also plays into this answer.

Keep reading for more info on whether alcohol is more likely to give you the runs or keep you from going at all.

Alcohol affects the digestive tract in many ways, depending upon what types of alcohol, and how much of it, you’re drinking.

  • All alcohol types reduce the pressure of the lower esophageal sphincter while increasing esophageal movement. This means less pressure is required to keep stomach contents in the stomach. The results can be acid reflux.
  • Fermented drinks and non-distilled alcoholic beverages (think beer, lager, cider, and wine) increase acid secretion in the stomach by stimulating gastrin secretion.
  • Low doses of alcohol can increase gastric emptying.
  • High alcohol doses slow gastric emptying and bowel motility — which can be constipating.
  • Chronic alcohol exposure can lead to irritation of the stomach lining, which is known as gastritis. This can lead to stomach pain and diarrhea.

Alcohol can affect the body in several ways that can lead to constipation. These include:


Alcohol works to reduce the secretion of antidiuretic hormone (ADH). This hormone signals the body to hold on to water. When a person has less ADH, they pee more.

Dehydration from alcohol consumption can contribute to constipation because the body needs water for stool to absorb. Softer stool is bulkier and easier to pass. That’s why it’s important you keep drinking water or another hydrating beverage when you drink alcohol — so you can prevent dehydration.


Alcohol can affect peristalsis or intestinal movement in different ways. Drinks that have an alcohol content greater than 15 percent have an inhibitory effect on peristalsis. This means that alcohol slows down gastrointestinal motility, which can lead to constipation.

Conversely, beverages with lower alcohol contents can increase gastric emptying rates. Examples include wine and beer. Chronic alcohol consumption also causes increased peristalsis.

Gut bacteria

Drinking alcohol can cause an overgrowth of intestinal bacteria. This can lead to symptoms like bloating and constipation, according to an article in the journal Alcohol Research. Researchers also know that metabolizing alcohol in the GI tract can lead to inflammation, which causes a variety of symptoms.

However, wine may have a positive effect in killing bacteria in the stomach. This includes the Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria that can cause stomach ulcers.

Alcohol and IBD

Researchers are still working out potential connections between alcohol and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. These conditions cause intestinal inflammation that leads to pain and bouts of constipation and diarrhea, depending upon a person’s symptoms.

While doctors have connected a person’s diet and smoking to making IBD worse, there aren’t as many studies about alcohol and IBD.

According to an article in The Journal of the National Institute on Alcohol and Abuse and Alcoholism, a small study found daily consumption of red wine resulted in increases in compounds that could cause a IBD flare-up. However, other studies haven’t identified a link between alcohol and IBD symptoms.

In a word — yes. Drinking alcohol can irritate the intestinal lining, leading to pooping, often of a diarrhea-like nature. This effect may be worse if the alcohol beverages you drink are high in sugar or mixed with sugary juices or sodas. The sugar can be further stimulating to the bowels.

Your liver can only metabolize and process so much alcohol in an hour’s time. Therefore, if you drink to excess (usually more than four drinks in a two-hour time span) or drink heavily on a daily basis, alcohol can start to damage the intestinal lining.

This increases the likelihood a person will experience diarrhea (and possibly vomiting).

Alcohol has the potential to interfere with many medications, whether they’re prescription or over-the-counter. Because the liver metabolizes both alcohol and many medications (including laxatives), drinking alcohol and taking medications could impact how effective medicines may be.

Also, some laxative medications contain alcohol, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Adding more alcohol to the mix could also increase a person’s intoxication level.

Additionally, alcohol can negatively interact with medications doctors prescribe to relieve heartburn or reduce constipation. These include:

For this reason, it’s important to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about how the medications you’re taking may interact with alcohol.

Constipation doesn’t have to be inevitable when you drink. Try these tips next time.

  • Drink water. Aim for drinking a glass of water each time you drink an alcoholic beverage. You can also drink an electrolyte-containing beverage to replace lost electrolytes. However, avoid drinking those that have a lot of sugar.
  • Avoid caffeine. Steer away from drinks that are mixed with caffeine-containing beverages, as caffeine is a natural diuretic.
  • Be kind to your liver. Avoid drinking to excess (more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men). You can also consider herbs to detox like milk thistle, dandelion tea, or garlic. While these haven’t been fully scientifically proven to promote liver health, some people experience improvements with these herbs.
  • Keep moving. Exercise is a well-known gut stimulant and can reduce the effects of constipation.
  • Take a probiotic. Probiotics are supplements that can introduce healthy bacteria into the gut. For some people, they can encourage healthy digestion.

Ideally, these measures will help prevent the potentially constipating effects of alcohol.

People often find alcohol affects them in different ways. For some people, alcohol is constipating. For others, the exact opposite. It often depends upon how much you drink, what you drink, and your overall intestinal response.

Drinking in moderation and practicing healthy behaviors, such as staying hydrated, can improve your gastric well-being, and help prevent you from becoming constipated.