Alcohol and Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Drinking Limits and Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Excessive alcohol intake can lead to many problems. Even if alcohol is only abused for a short period of a person’s life, it can still do damage to their internal organs. It is a widely held view ill effects can be avoided by staying in the [recommended levels of alcohol intake](http://alcoholrehab.com/alcohol-rehab/social-drinking-defined/). While this may be true for some people, it is not true for everyone. Those individuals who have irritable bowel syndrome can find that their symptoms become worse even after just one alcoholic drink. For such individuals, there may be no safe level of drinking.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome Explained
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a functional disorder of the intestine. The condition does not cause actual damage to the bowels, but they symptoms can be unpleasant and may interfere with the individual’s ability to enjoy life as normal. Those with the condition may have to deal with pain and discomfort in the abdominal area. They might also suffer from frequent episodes of diarrhea or constipation. It is believed that about 20 percent of people in the United States will have to deal with the symptoms of IBS at some point in their life.

Causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
There is [uncertainty as to the exact cause of IBS](http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/ibs/), but it may be due to one or more of the following factors:

* Having a colon that is particularly sensitive to specific foods
* High and persistent stress levels
* Bacterial infections
* A mild form of [celiac disease](http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001280/), in which the lining of the small intestine has been damaged, rendering the body is unable to absorb certain foods
* An alteration to normal bowel function, leading to strong spasms or temporary suspension of bowel function; over-activity in the gut can cause the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome
* Abnormally high levels of serotonin in the gastrointestinal tract, which may interfere with the normal movement of the bowel and increase the sensitivity of pain receptors
* An aftereffect of completing a course of antibiotics, as the medication may have killed some harmless bacteria in the intestines that are required for normal bowel function

Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Alcohol
Alcohol and IBS are not a good combination. Alcohol can greatly increase the severity of the symptoms. Even one alcoholic drink can be enough to trigger an attack of IBS, as alcohol is a toxic substance that acts as an irritant on the bowel. Some alcoholic drinks seem to be more likely to cause problems than others. It is reported that beer in particular can greatly exacerbate symptoms.

There are reports from some individuals who claim that their [condition has greatly improved once they gave up alcohol](http://www.patient.co.uk/health/Irritable-Bowel-Syndrome.htm). It is therefore advisable that people with IBS try to avoid drinking altogether to see if this can improve their symptoms.

Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
The [symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome](http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001292/) can vary between individual and include:

* Abdominal pain
* Bloating
* Cramping with bowel movements
* Constipation
* The need to strain when passing stool
* Diarrhea
* Urgent need to open bowels
* Loss of appetite
* Belching
* Tiredness
* Nausea

Some individuals with IBS will find that their symptoms come and go while others will experience these symptoms most of the time.

Treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
There is no actual cure for irritable bowel syndrome but there are things that can be done to lessen the symptoms such as:

* Limiting the amount of alcohol that people drink or avoiding it completely
* Taking fiber supplements and changing the diet to include more fiber; _soluble fiber_, which can be found in bran and some fruits and vegetables, is particularly effective for lessening the symptoms of IBS
* Taking anti-depressant medications, especially when the main symptoms are diarrhea and abdominal pain
* Avoiding missing meals or long gaps between meals
* Consuming probiotics, as these may increase the growth of _good bacteria_ in the gut
* Asking a doctor about medications that will encourage the muscle wall in the intestines to relax, preventing irregular or strong spasms in the gut
* Eating oats to lessen the experience of bloating
* Limiting the amount of caffeinated drinks consumed
* Avoid carbonated beverages
* Identifying food intolerances to establish whether certain foods worsen the condition; a food diary is a useful tool in this case
* Taking laxatives if constipation is an issue

It is worth noting that the solutions to IBS may not always adhere to the most common guidelines. For example, a high- fiber diet can actually worsen symptoms in some cases. Experimentation may be required to determine the optimal level of fiber in the diet.

People who have been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome may have to deal with the problem for the rest of their life. The symptoms can disappear for long periods, and can usually be kept to a minimum following appropriate lifestyle changes. Once people learn to manage their IBS, it need not interfere with their life too much.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Stress Relief
If people are dealing with a great deal of stress in their life it can exacerbate the symptoms of IBS. It is therefore important that people with the condition do all they can to [deal with stress](http://alcoholrehab.com/alcohol-rehab/stress-and-substance-abuse/) more effectively. It is probably not possible for people to avoid stress completely, but it can be managed by:

* Relaxation techniques can be highly effective for helping people to deal with stress. Something as simple as yoga breathing exercises can be of benefit. Most of these relaxation techniques can be performed anywhere.
* Meditation is a wonderful tool for dealing with stress. It not only helps people unwind, but it can also increase the individual’s ability to handle stress as it arises. [Mindfulness meditation](http://alcoholrehab.com/alcohol-rehab/mindfulness-meditation-in-recovery/) in particular can work well for people who wish to improve their own ability to manage stress.
* Exercise is another good way to burn of stress and clear the mind after a stressful day. Even something as simple as a walk in the park can help people unwind.
* Developing a good support network of family and friends can be highly beneficial. Even if these people are not able to offer practical help with a problem they can still provide emotional support. People will usually have a higher tolerance for stress when they feel supported by friends and family.
* If people find that stress has become a problem in their life they might benefit from therapy. A good therapist can help the individual examine the root causes of their stress, and provide guidance for how to improve the situation.
* [Keeping a journal](http://alcoholrehab.com/alcohol-rehab/social-drinking-defined/) is also useful as a tool for combating stress. Just writing things down can be therapeutic as it acts as an outlet for worries and concerns.

Some people drink alcohol because they feel that it helps them unwind and relax. While there can be such benefits from alcohol there are also many of potential dangers if people become dependent on this substance for dealing with stress. Using alcohol to cope with stress can be a particularly bad idea for people with IBS as it is likely to worsen their symptoms.

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