Alcoholism and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

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Alcohol use, especially chronic patterns of alcoholism, can trigger episodes of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Certain alcohol rehab programs can help a person manage both conditions.

Alcoholism and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Alcohol addiction (alcoholism) can cause symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to become more severe. Irritable bowel syndrome can greatly disrupt a person’s day-to-day life, causing pain, stress, low-self confidence, and emotional and mental health problems. To cope with these issues, a person with IBS may be tempted to self-medicate with alcohol. Self-medication is a frequent cause of alcohol addiction.

People with both an alcohol use disorder and irritable bowel syndrome generally have better treatment outcomes when both conditions are treated at the same time. These individuals may also be more successful in their recovery and see a greater reduction in IBS symptoms if both concerns are treated in the same program.

An individualized alcohol addiction treatment program that offers targeted, medical support for irritable bowel syndrome can help a person build a strong foundation for a healthier, sober life.

What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Severe, chronic gastrointestinal problems affect millions of Americans each year. For many, these potentially life-altering issues take the form of irritable bowel syndrome. It’s estimated that over one in five Americans struggles with irritable bowel syndrome, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Young people have higher odds of developing IBS than those over age 50. In addition to this, women have a two times greater chance of having IBS than do men, with two out of three IBS sufferers being women.

IBS affects 1 in 5

Commonly referred to as IBS, irritable bowel can cause major stomach problems and change the way a person has bowel movements. Previously, irritable bowel syndrome was referred to as IBS colitis, mucous colitis, nervous colon, spastic bowel, and spastic colon. Signs of IBS include:

  • bloating
  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • cramping
  • gas
  • stomach pain

A person with IBS may have both abnormal and normal bowel movements. Abnormal bowel movements include constipation and diarrhea or a combination of both. There are three types of IBS:

  • IBS with constipation (IBS-C)
  • IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D)
  • IBS with mixed bowel habits (IBS-M)

It’s not fully understood what causes IBS, however, researchers do believe that IBS is caused by a malfunction in communication between the gut, brain, and nervous system. For this reason, IBS is considered a functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorder.

IBS 2 out of 3 affected are women

The Risks And Dangers Of Alcohol Abuse And Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Any amount of drinking can potentially irritate irritable bowel syndrome, however, once drinking becomes compulsive and chronic, like with alcoholism, the toll of alcohol on irritable bowel syndrome can be great.

Many people with IBS experience social struggles, as this condition can limit a person’s day-to-day routines. Additionally, moderate to severe IBS can lead to physical, emotional, economic, career, and educational challenges.

In addition to being risk factors for self-medication, alcohol abuse can cause many of these issues as well. Because of this, individuals with IBS who abuse alcohol may experience these problems more severely.

Depression and anxiety commonly occur with irritable bowel syndrome. In certain cases, living with a chronic illness can cause a mental health disorder to develop. In other cases, the stress of living with a mental illness may cause symptoms of IBS to be more severe.

Self-medicating with alcohol can cause more health problems in the long run than a person had to begin with, including alcoholism. The more a person drinks, the greater the risk of them developing a tolerance and dependence, two defining characteristics of addiction.

In addition to causing symptoms of irritable bowel, many symptoms of IBS may independently be caused by drinking alcohol, especially large amounts. This is why symptoms like diarrhea and stomach pain may occur more frequently and severely in heavy drinkers.

Irritable bowel syndrome can lead to malabsorption, that is, a person isn’t able to absorb important nutrients from their food. It can also lead to dehydration and malnourishment. All of these conditions can be caused and worsened by alcohol abuse. Individuals struggling with both IBS and alcohol addiction may experience these states more intensely, to the point they become dangerous.

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Treating Alcoholism And Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Like treatment for alcohol addiction, the best treatments for irritable bowel syndrome are often integrated into nature. This means that they blend a combination of therapies to address a person’s specific health, medical, and lifestyle needs.

Examples of treatments and supports which may be offered during rehab to treat alcohol addiction and irritable bowel syndrome include:

Alternative And Complementary Therapies

Mind-body balance and wellness are important for both irritable bowel syndrome and recovery from alcohol addiction. Reducing stress can help to manage IBS symptoms while also decreasing triggers for relapse. Many programs offer an engaging array of holistic therapies, including:

  • acupuncture
  • biofeedback or neurofeedback
  • breathing exercises
  • massage
  • meditation
  • progressive muscle relaxation
  • yoga

In addition to being beneficial therapies for addiction, many of these therapies can help manage IBS symptoms.

Advanced Medical Care

During rehabilitation, many people with IBS may need medical care and symptom management while receiving treatment for their alcohol addiction. Chronic disease and illness can be a trigger for relapse. Because of this, it’s important to effectively manage symptoms of this condition during treatment so that a person can more fully focus on their recovery.

Behavioral Therapies

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), an evidence-based psychotherapy used to treat addiction, has been shown to help reduce symptoms of IBS. In addition to this, CBT could help a person better cope with the challenges of a life with IBS.

Dual Diagnosis Care

A person with both an alcohol use and mental health disorder has a dual diagnosis (also called a co-occurring disorder). Dual diagnosis care can be especially important for a person with IBS. Treating a co-occurring disorder within the same treatment program as addiction increases the odds that a person will be successful at building a more balanced, sober life.

These programs treat various mental illnesses so that a person can better manage their symptoms. In turn, this can make it easier to cope with irritable bowel syndrome and the pressures of recovery.

Family Therapy And Support

Addiction is often referred to as a family disease due to the way it can negatively impact a family. Living with a chronic disease can be difficult on a person’s family members too. The best treatment programs offer family therapy and support programs so that the recovering individual and their family can heal and grow towards common goals together.


Medications may be used to treat alcohol addiction and irritable bowel syndrome. In the case of an alcohol use disorder, certain medications may be used during detox to manage symptoms of withdrawal. After detox, a variety of medications may be used as needed with behavioral therapies in a medication-assisted treatment program for addiction.

Gabapentin (Neurontin) and Pregabalin (Lyrica) are two non-opioid medications used to treat severe pain. Despite not being narcotic painkillers, both of these medications can still be abused. For this reason, individuals with a history of addiction should be thoroughly evaluated before any medications are prescribed.

Mindfulness And Stress Management Practices

Stress can trigger both IBS and thoughts of relapse. With this in mind, it’s critical that a person in treatment learn how to manage stress in a healthy and productive way. Stress is inevitable in life, however, personalized coping methods can help a person to handle stress and stay strong in their recovery.

Fitness And Nutrition

Many programs have gyms or fitness centers in addition to giving clients the opportunity to participate in exercise classes. Working out can help to reduce stress, which can, in turn, support better health, both in regards to IBS and recovery from alcohol addiction.

Certain foods can bring on symptoms of IBS suffers, while on the other hand, other foods may help to manage symptoms. The poor diet that often accompanies alcohol addiction can be problematic and aggravate IBS symptoms. In-house nutritional guidance can help a person to eat healthier, while also teaching them healthy eating habits they can take into their recovery.

Nutritional Supplements And Vitamins

Nutritional supplements and vitamins may be used to manage symptoms and help a person’s body heal and regain strength. Many people are B vitamin deficient after chronic alcohol consumption. Research has also shown that B vitamin deficiency may play a role in IBS.

During alcohol detoxification and treatment, many alcohol treatment programs offer B vitamin supplementation, a therapy which may support better health for IBS sufferers. Fiber (or laxatives) may also be used to help regulate a person’s bowel movements.

The best treatment programs offer meals that are tailored to a person’s specific dietary needs and restrictions. Many of these foods, like lean meats, low-fat dairy products, fruits, vegetables, and grains also work to restore malnourishment caused by alcohol addiction. In addition to this, certain programs may prepare gluten-free or low FODMAP diets to help manage symptoms.

IBS Food

Relapse Prevention Classes

In many cases, IBS can be a lifelong disease. A chronic illness can be mentally and emotionally exhausting and very stressful. Without a solid set of sober living and relapse prevention skills, a flare of IBS could trigger a relapse.

Relapse prevention and sober living skills training helps a person to adopt coping skills that are tailored to their life. With these, a person is better able to live a healthier, alcohol-free life.

For more information be sure to check out these additional resources from

The Dangers Of Mixing Alcohol With Serax (Oxazepam)

Physical Symptoms Of Alcoholism

Self-Medicating With Alcohol

Ulcers As A Result Of Alcohol Abuse


International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders — Facts About IBS
Livestrong — The Relation Between IBS and a Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Mayo Clinic — Irritable Bowel Syndrome
US National Library of Medicine — Cognitive-behavioral therapy for patients with irritable bowel syndrome: current insights, Low intake of vitamin B6 is associated with irritable bowel syndrome symptoms.

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