An Alcohol-Less Holiday Season?

Last updated: December 2019

I’ve never been a huge drinker, but I do enjoy a glass of wine or two. I like having a glass in the evening with dinner and while chilling out after a long day. And I very much enjoy having a few glasses with a really good meal, when in the company of friends or family.

Why do I enjoy it so much? I like the taste of wine and how it makes a meal seem more decadent. I also like the slight buzz the wine gives me that makes the world feel better – yes, I’ll admit to that. But there’s probably also the habitual expectation that it’s ‘what you do’ at social gatherings, which makes it feel ‘right’.

Alcohol and IBS don’t always play nice

A common piece of advice for someone with IBS is to avoid alcohol, because it’s a potential gut irritant. This is an important term to understand. Alcohol can definitely irritate the gut, therefore it is a gut irritant. But from a clinical perspective, it’s a potential gut irritant, because it doesn’t seem to have these effects on everyone. More likely though, there’s a dose effect. So for some people, alcohol isn’t irritating after only one glass, but it becomes irritating after several glasses. So alcohol will definitely irritate all guts eventually, but it doesn’t have to be completely avoided by everyone.

How does alcohol irritate the gut? Alcohol stimulates the digestive system and makes the contents of the gut move more quickly than normal. So if you’re particularly prone to loose bowel movements, alcohol is likely to trigger bowel urgency for you. On the flip side, the stimulation of the digestive system by alcohol can also trigger spasms in the gut, which affects how bowel movements are formed. This can lead to constipation in people who are more prone to this effect with their IBS.

How alcohol affects my IBS

I’ve learned, somewhat regrettably, that my health is better without alcohol. It’s more than IBS though, since alcohol dries out my sinuses and makes my chronic sinusitis worse. In terms of my gut, lots of alcohol is definitely a problem for me. If I drink two or more glasses of wine in a sitting, I’ll start getting abdominal pains and the next day I’ll be constipated.

But one glass of wine is okay for me and doesn’t usually cause me problems. And even one and a half glasses of wine is okay most of the time, if my IBS was in a good place at the time. I have however learned that if my IBS was touchy before I started drinking, then even one glass can become a problem. So once again, it’s not just about this one thing, but how it adds up with everything else that’s going on.

Is it necessary to be alcohol-less over the holidays?

This is where the juggling act of IBS comes in. I know that I would be better off, and have an easier time of managing my IBS, if I didn’t drink any alcohol over the holiday season. But, I also know that I would like to have some wine during the celebrations. So I’ll need to pick and choose based on what’s available and how my IBS has been acting. It’s a balancing act, like most things. I may not get it completely right, but if I’m careful, I should be okay most of the time.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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