Some people may find that they suffer from stomach pain after drinking. So is it necessary to restrict alcohol to manage symptoms?
This article will discuss why you experience stomach pain after drinking, how alcohol affects your gut microbiome and tips on how to enjoy a drink with IBS.
Why is there stomach pain after drinking?
Alcohol has a range of effects on your digestive system. It can be a gut irritant directly affecting your gut (1).
Some evidence suggests that alcohol can make your stomach produce more acid (2). This can result in inflammation of the stomach lining, causing a burning pain in your stomach (3). This is known as gastritis (4).
In some cases, symptoms of gastritis will go away on their own. However, if left untreated, it can lead to potentially severe consequences (5).
Regular alcohol consumption can increase your risk of stomach ulcers and polyps (small growths). This can cause pain, stomach bleeding and discomfort. Continued inflammation in the stomach lining also increases the risk of oesophagal and stomach cancer (6, 7).
Drinking alcohol is also linked to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It is a condition that affects the muscle between the stomach and oesophagus. Stomach acid can flow back into the oesophagus, causing irritation, heartburn and gnawing pain in the stomach (8).
Can I drink alcohol if I have IBS?
One study found when people with IBS drank > 4 drinks (described as binge drinking in the study), increased IBS symptoms such as:
- Stomach pain
Moderate to light drinking was not associated with these symptoms. This suggested that binge drinking likely triggers IBS symptoms (9).
In another study, people with IBS who drank > 7 drinks per week reported increased stomach pain (10).
It has been suggested that alcohol can decrease the absorption of carbohydrates in the gut, i.e. FODMAPs (11). This can result in IBS symptoms such as stomach pain.
Increased alcohol intake has been shown to lead to imbalances in the gut microbiota and increase the risk of small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) (12). This is when you have an abnormally high level of bacteria in your small bowel. This can lead to IBS symptoms.
You can read more about small intestinal bacterial overgrowth here.
Low FODMAP alcoholic drinks
Some alcoholic drinks can contain FODMAPs, which may trigger symptoms. Low FODMAP alcoholic drinks options include (13).
- Beer (gluten and the fizziness can be a problem for some)
- Red/white wine (fructose can be a problem for some)
Always make sure that the mixers are low in FODMAPs as well. Click here to read more about alcohol on the low FODMAP diet.
The general UK guidelines recommends (14):
- To have several drink free days per week
- Don’t drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week
- Don’t binge drink (more than 6 units in a session for a female or 8 for a male)
On top of that the British Dietetic Association (BDA) advises people with IBS to (15):
- Have no more than 2 drinks per day
- Have at least 2 alcohol free days per week
Tips for drinking when you have IBS
It is essential to pay attention to the type and amount of alcohol to determine if it affects your IBS.
Here are some tips (16):
- Be mindful if drinking increases the severity or frequency of your IBS symptoms. Stop drinking if you notice an increase in IBS symptoms.
- Make sure you drink enough water when you are drinking alcohol.
- Drink slowly to give your digestive system time to process the alcohol.
- Eat before you drink. Food can help protect your stomach from irritation.
It is important to work with a registered dietitian. Drinking alcohol often happens in a social setting with food. It can be helpful to consider the type of food you are having and your stress levels to identify whether alcohol could be causing your symptoms.
How to stop stomach pain after drinking alcohol?
You should stop drinking alcohol to avoid further stomach pain. Continuing to drink can make stomach pains worse. Rehydrating your body with water is essential.
Medications such as antacids can help neutralise stomach acid to relieve an upset stomach (17). However, always consult your doctor before taking any medications.
When to see your doctor?
You should see your doctor when you experience long-lasting pain or problems with your digestive system. Seek immediate medical attention if you are vomiting blood or have black tarry stools.
Drinking alcohol can lead to a wide range of symptoms, like stomach pain and discomfort. It can even increase your risk of developing gastritis, stomach ulcers, GERD and cancer.
Binge drinking often leads to worse IBS symptoms. So, moderation is key when it comes to alcohol. Be mindful of the type and amount of alcohol you drink and whether it triggers your IBS symptoms.
If you find that alcohol triggers your IBS symptoms, you can opt for low FODMAP alcohol options to help to reduce these symptoms. However, alcohol should still be consumed in moderation.
Written by Leeona Lam MSc, ANutr and reviewed by Serena Bansal Registered Dietitian BSc Hons, and Kirsten Jackson Consultant Dietitian BSc Hons, RD, PG Cert
Serena is UK HCPC Registered Dietitian. She graduated from Coventry University in 2021 with an upper second class in Dietetics and Human Nutrition.
Serena has previously worked as an Acute Dietitian supporting inpatients with both oral nutrition support and enteral tube feeding. She is now currently working as a Specialist Weight Management Dietitian. Alongside this, Serena has worked for The Food Treatment Clinic since 2022 and has created our low FODMAP, histamine intolerance and SIBO ebooks.
Serena has a keen interest in IBS and gut health, most specifically the low FODMAP diet. She is dedicated to helping those with gut conditions to improve their overall quality of life.