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Here's Why Alcohol Messes With Your Poop

"Blame it on the a-a-a-a-a-alcohol." —you, singing from the toilet

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Maybe it happens while you're drinking, and you end up trapped in a bar bathroom praying for mercy.

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...or you spend the entire morning after on the toilet.

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Either way, alcohol poops are no fun. To get to the bottom of this, BuzzFeed Health reached out to two experts: Dr. Lisa Ganjhu, gastroenterologist at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City, and Dr. Ali Keshavarzian, director of digestive diseases at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and grantee of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

So, here's why booze can be a literal shitshow sometimes:

First, let's go over how alcohol is actually processed through your digestive system.

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When alcohol hits the stomach, a little bit is absorbed through the stomach lining. The rest ends up sloshing around in your stomach before it goes to the small intestine. In the small intestine, alcohol is absorbed directly into the bloodstream. What's left after that is waste products and water, which moves through the large intestine (colon) until it reaches the rectum, and leaves the body...as poop.

Along this magical journey, alcohol can screw with everything from your stomach enzymes to the speed of digestion, all of which can wreak havoc on your poops.

Alcohol can ~speed things along~ in your intestinal tract, which is you why you might have diarrhea after drinking.

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The muscles of the colon contract and relax to push waste out of the body, explains Ganjhu, and alcohol can speed up those contractions.

"The increased transit time means there's less time for absorption of water in the colon, so the stools are watery and come out as diarrhea," says Keshavarzian.

Rapid colon movements also make you feel like you need to go immediately, which explains why you sometimes need to sprint to the bar bathroom.

But you're also drinking way more fluids than normal, which can loosen and liquify your stools.

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You consume way more liquid than normal in a night of drinking, especially if you're alternating your drinks with water — which you should. Most of the liquids end up in your bladder or they get reabsorbed in the colon, but sometimes the excess fluids end up in your stool instead, Ganjhu says. And we all know that watery, loose stool is also harder to control, so things can get a little ~explosive~.

Your post-party poop problems might also be tied to certain types of alcohol or mixers.

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Some people have intolerances or allergies to the non-alcoholic compounds in alcohol, like the gluten from wheat in beer or the grape in wine. "Many people have a reaction to the tanins from grape skins in red wine, which can cause nausea and diarrhea," says Keshavarzian.

All those sugary sodas and juices mixed in cocktails can wreck your stomach, too. Drinks that are high in sugar can cause rapid gastric emptying, says Keshavarzian, where the contents of your stomach move too fast into the small intestine (cue diarrhea).

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And let's not rule out drunk food, either...

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Chances are your drunk munchies are high in fat, grease, salt, and carbs. "There's no logic behind it, but people will crave these high-calorie foods after drinking," says Ganjhu. So maybe it's your usual after-party mozzarella sticks to blame for your bowel issues the next day.

Not to mention, alcohol can impair your judgement and decision-making, so it's harder to resist foods even when you know they give you indigestion or diarrhea. Drunk You will convince yourself that chili cheese fries at 3 a.m. are always always a good idea.

And if you already have bowel issues or an intestinal disease like IBS, alcohol can be even worse on your gut.

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Doctors typically advise laying off alcohol if you have a very sensitive stomach or an intestinal disease like IBS or ulcerative colitis, says Ganjhu. Not only can alcohol worsen symptoms like diarrhea, but they can also cause additional irritation or inflammation.

"People with these diseases simply can't tolerate alcohol in the digestive tract as well as other people can," says Keshavarzian.

On the other hand, intestinal disease could actually be the underlying problem. If you tend to have a lot of stomach or poop issues from drinking, you should visit your doctor to make sure you don't have an undiagnosed intestinal disease.

But it's not just drunk poops you have to worry about. Sometimes alcohol can have the opposite effect.

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Alcohol can be dehydrating because it prevents your body from reabsorbing water, and at the same time you're losing more fluids through frequent urination.

So if you're not drinking plenty of water with your alcohol, you can become dehydrated, which causes your poops to be harder and move slower, says Ganjhu. Translation: You're bloated and constipated.

It also depends how much alcohol you drink.

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Interestingly enough, drinking higher amounts of alcohol doesn't always translate into more explosive diarrhea. Studies have shown that low amounts of alcohol can speed up the emptying of stomach contents into the intestines. But high amounts of alcohol can actually slow down the stomach's motility, which is more likely to cause bloating or feelings of constipation, says Ganjhu.

Having food in your stomach might help reduce alcohol's effect on the intestines.

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Food helps to decrease the absorption of alcohol by slowing down the process of gastric emptying, says Ganjhu, when the contents of the stomach are dumped into the small intestine. That might make you feel a little bloated, but in general food will have a protective effect. Plus, you won't get hammered as fast.

Drinking on an empty stomach on the other hand means more alcohol goes to the small intestine and gets absorbed into the blood so it can affect other organs like the colon, causing loose stools and diarrhea.

That said, it obviously matters what you eat, says Ganjhu. Here's what experts suggest eating before and after drinking.

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And hey, sometimes alcohol doesn't cause any poop problems. So it really depends on the person.

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Everyone's gastrointestinal process and digestion speed is a little different, says Ganjhu. Alcohol doesn't necessarily cause diarrhea on it's own, but it can cause it in some people depending on what they drink and how it impacts their stomach.

"It's actually a bit cryptic how alcohol affects the gastrointestinal tract, and we're still researching how it works," says Keshavarzian. For example, new research shows that intestinal damage from alcohol may be worse if your circadian rhythm is disrupted — like in people who have jet lag, work graveyard shifts, or pull all nighters.

If you're someone who can drink all night without any disruption of your poop schedule, you may just have some intestinal advantage scientists haven't fully figured out yet. Also, you're #blessed.

It's worth noting that severe diarrhea lasting for more than a day after drinking is not normal, so you might want to see a doctor for that.

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Some looser-than-normal stools or bloating after drinking isn't usually a big deal, but the experts agree that debilitating poop problems aren't normal. "If you have profuse diarrhea, such as 10 to 15 bouts in a day, and it doesn't get better in a day or two — you might want to visit your doctor," says Ganjhu.

And of course, there are more serious bowel issues that can stem from long-term chronic drinking or alcohol abuse.

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That includes inflammation of the pancreas, liver damage or failure (cirrhosis), a leaky intestinal barrier (leaky gut syndrome), and ulcers, says Keshavarzian. Chronic drinking can also cause lactose intolerance, says Ganjhu, because the alcohol eventually shuts down enzymes that break down lactose.

It ultimately depends on the person and how long they've been drinking, but long-term alcohol abuse generally has a negative impact on the digestive system. "Alcohol is a very potent chemical with the potential for addiction and should be considered as such," says Keshavarzian.

So it's always important to drink responsibly and take care of yourself.

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According to the U.S. Department of Health, moderate drinking is defined as no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. (Low-risk binge drinking is defined as having no more than four drinks on any single day for men and no more than three drinks for women.) And one drink is defined by the NIAAA as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of a distilled spirit.

As mentioned before, any major bowel changes or stomach issues should be brought up with your doctor. And if you notice a literal shitstorm every time you drink, maybe hold off for a while and see if your symptoms improve.

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