Effects of Drinking Alcohol With IBD

For people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), decisions about drinking alcohol can be difficult to make, particularly if it's not discussed during a doctor's appointment. Social situations where drinking is accepted, encouraged, and even expected are frequent in our culture. This is especially true for young people, and as IBD tends to occur more frequently in teens and young adults, drinking is an important issue for them to consider.

A blue cocktail on a bar
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It has not been proven that drinking alcohol can worsen the symptoms of IBD, but drinking has been shown to significantly affect the digestive system as well as the rest of the body. Read on to learn more about the effects that alcohol has on the body in general, and how alcohol may affect people with IBD and interact with IBD medications.

Effects on the Liver

The function of the liver is to break down toxic substances (such as drugs and alcohol) and filter them from the body. In addition to this important purpose, the liver filters the blood, synthesizes chemicals needed by the body, and stores vitamins, sugars, fats, and other nutrients. When alcohol is present in the body, the liver deals solely with ridding the body of the toxin. As a result, there could start to be a build-up of fatty acids in the liver.

Alcohol can damage the liver by destroying or altering its cells and may even worsen an existing liver condition. Chronic liver disease is a serious complication of IBD that affects from 5% to 15% of people with IBD.

Effects on the Gastrointestinal Tract Lining

Evidence shows that the lining of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract is irritated after drinking alcohol. The results of this irritation can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and bleeding. These are also symptoms that people with IBD are already struggling to keep under control. Irritation of the upper GI tract will not affect IBD that's only located in the lower GI tract, though.

Interactions With Other Drugs and Medications

Several medications prescribed for gastrointestinal conditions may react unfavorably with alcoholic drinks. In addition, medications put a strain on the liver's ability to rid the body of toxins, and alcohol can increase that straining. See the table below that lists drugs commonly used to treat IBD or related conditions and the possible effects when mixed with alcohol.

Are There Positive Effects of Drinking Alcohol?

To complicate matters further, while drinking alcohol clearly has some very negative effects on health, and on the GI tract, in particular, there are potential positive effects. In addition to the psychological and social benefits of the occasional drink at parties, moderate amounts of alcohol may have some health benefits. Studies have indicated that moderate drinking (defined as 1 drink a day for women, or 2 drinks a day for men) may have a positive effect on the coronary system and help prevent coronary artery disease.

What Is One Drink?

One drink is defined as:

  • 5 fluid ounces of wine
  • 8 to 9 fluid ounces of malt liquor
  • 12 fluid ounces of beer
  • 1-1/2 fluid ounces of distilled liquor (80 proof whiskey, vodka, scotch, or rum)

Effects of Alcohol on Medications

Drug Reaction With Alcohol
Antidepressants Diminished alertness and judgment,
possible death
Aspirin Stomach irritation, possible bleeding
Flagyl (metronidazole) Stomach upset and cramps, vomiting,
headache, sweating, flushing
Narcotics (painkillers) Diminished alertness and judgment,
reduction in brain function, possible death
NSAIDs Stomach irritation, possible liver damage

A Word From Verywell

The choice to drink is an individual decision that should be made after clearly understanding all the potential effects. For many with IBD, an occasional drink may not worsen symptoms, but some people discover (primarily through trial and error) that drinking does have a detrimental effect. Additionally, the effect of alcohol on the liver, the stomach, and overall health should be weighed against the positive effects as well as the importance of social drinking to the quality of life.

In some cases, drinking is clearly not beneficial to good health, especially in those who have liver disease, those who are experiencing a flare-up of IBD, or those who are taking medications that may interact negatively with alcohol (see above). If you have concerns about being able to drink socially and how it will affect your IBD, speak to your physician.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Swanson GR, Sedghi S, Farhadi A, Keshavarzian A. Pattern of alcohol consumption and its effect on gastrointestinal symptoms in inflammatory bowel disease. Alcohol. 2010;44(3):223-8. doi:10.1016/j.alcohol.2009.10.019

  2. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Harmful Interactions.

  3. Mathews MJ, Liebenberg L, Mathews EH. The mechanism by which moderate alcohol consumption influences coronary heart disease. Nutr J. 2015;14:33. doi:10.1186/s12937-015-0011-6

  4. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. What Is A Standard Drink?.

Additional Reading

By Amber J. Tresca
Amber J. Tresca is a freelance writer and speaker who covers digestive conditions, including IBD. She was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at age 16.