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A night of heavy drinking can lead to some regrets. Even if you drink responsibly, the effects of alcohol may weigh you down for days on end.
This is especially true when it comes to bloating. Alcohol bloat can stick with you long after your last round. But just how long will your bloating last?
This article will cover the causes of alcohol bloating and some tactics you can use to get some relief.
How Alcohol Affects Your Stomach
Alcohol irritates your stomach. Whether you drank a lot or a little does not necessarily matter. Any time you drink, your stomach automatically produces more acid.
Having acid in your stomach is normal. This acid is a necessary part of a healthy digestive system. But too much acid is a problem.
An excessive amount of stomach acid causes a condition called gastritis.
When this happens, the lining of your stomach will become inflamed. This inflammation can create discomfort. In extreme cases, it leads to some real damage.
If that damage continues over time, the lining of your stomach will break down. There are multiple causes of gastritis, and alcohol consumption is one of the most common.
But how exactly does this contribute to bloating? And what other factors are involved?
Why Does Alcohol Cause Stomach Bloating?
Alcohol causes bloating for a few reasons. The most common causes are listed below.
- Swallowing Air
- Water Retention
Odds are you will encounter more than one of these bloating factors on a night of drinking.
As you just learned, alcohol causes your stomach to produce more acid. In turn, this acid causes inflammation in the stomach lining.
Any type of inflammation leads to swelling. Inflammation in your stomach lining is no different. As such, you will notice your stomach feels larger as you continue drinking.
Of course, one reason behind this is that you have more liquid in your stomach. But your stomach itself is also getting larger because it is swollen.
Many alcoholic beverages contain carbonation. Carbonation can enhance your drinking experience. But it is not at all helpful if you are trying to avoid a bloated belly.
Whether you are drinking beer or some other bubbly drink, carbonation can take a toll on your tummy. This is because those tiny bubbles are often filled with carbon dioxide.
After swallowing a sip of your carbonated drink, the gas is released inside of your stomach. As you fight the urge to belch, that gas has nowhere to go.
This adds to the total volume your stomach is holding. As I’m sure you know, it adds to your discomfort as well.
When people drink alcohol, they tend to swallow air as well. Part of the reason for this is the excitement surrounding drinking. A lot of times, people get together to drink as a form of celebration.
You may be honoring an achievement or just rejoicing in the close connection you have with your drinking buddies. Either way, this enthusiasm can make you eat and drink more quickly than you normally would. As the speed of your consumption increases, so does the chance of swallowing air.
Much like with carbonation, this swallowed air adds to the contents of your stomach. As you continue drinking or eating quickly, you might start to feel like you have a big bubble in your stomach. The truth is you probably do.
Most people know that drinking alcohol causes dehydration. But what you might not be aware of is that dehydration causes your body to retain more water than it usually would.
You might expect the opposite to be true. But when your body senses that it is dehydrated, it will do its best to hold on to any water it can.
Holding on to water is a survival tactic. All your body knows is that it has limited water intake. Since water is vital to your life, your body knows you need it.
Hopefully, your drinking does not take place in a real life-or-death situation. But regardless of the cause, your body will react to dehydration in the same way.
When drinking, your body will retain water that it usually would have flushed out of your body. This water retention will only add to your bloating.
How Long Should Alcohol Bloat Last?
The time it takes for your bloating to subside depends on many factors. But in general, bloating caused by drinking shouldn’t last more than a few days.
If your bloating persists for weeks or months, it may be a sign of a more severe condition.
Alcohol can worsen the symptoms of many conditions. But one of the most common ailments affected by alcohol is called irritable bowel syndrome or IBS.
Alcohol and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
IBS is a condition that afflicts millions of people across the country. It comes with a laundry list of gastrointestinal symptoms. These include the following
- Stomach Pain
The symptoms of IBS are well known, but the exact cause remains a mystery. To this day, researchers are still trying to determine why IBS arises in some individuals.
But you don't need a degree in gastroenterology to understand why alcohol is bad for people with IBS. More often than not, drinking alcohol will cause an IBS flare-up.
Flare-Up – A sudden worsening of symptoms related to an underlying disease Drinking can aggravate any IBS symptoms including bloating. Some people with IBS, their best option may be to give up drinking entirely. Still, others can get by just limiting their alcohol consumption or making some small changes to their drinking habits.
For example, some alcoholic beverages are less likely to cause a flare-up of IBS. Likewise, there are some drinks to specifically avoid.
Drinks less likely to cause a flare-up:
Drinks more likely to cause a flare-up
There is a scientific explanation behind why some drinks are safer for those with IBS than others. This explanation is somewhat complicated, but it is related to the fact that people with IBS have trouble digesting certain types of carbohydrates.
When in doubt, choose drinks with limited carbonation and limited sugar content. But even if you follow this guidance, you may still experience an IBS flare-up after drinking.
Is Alcohol Affecting Your IBS?
The odds of an IBS flare-up when drinking will vary between individuals. So how can you know how much alcohol affects your IBS? There are a few ways to get a better idea of how much drinking will alter your IBS symptoms.
First, drink slowly. Take one small drink of alcohol and then wait. If your IBS symptoms flare-up shortly after the drink, it is likely that the alcohol is the cause. You may also want to try eliminating all alcohol consumption. If you do this and you still experience flare-ups, they are likely caused by something other than alcohol.
If you stop drinking entirely and your IBS symptoms subside, that's great. But you still don’t technically know that alcohol was the source of your previous flare-ups. Try reintroducing alcohol into your diet very slowly. Only drink a small amount. If your flare-ups return, you may have found the culprit.
Some conditions result in symptoms similar to IBS. Some of the most relevant related diseases are the following.
- Ulcerative Colitis
- Crohn's Disease
- Celiac Disease
Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease are the two most common forms of inflammatory bowel disease also known as IBD. People are often confused about this difference between IBS and IBD because of the similarity in their symptoms. But there is a significant difference between the two conditions.
Both IBS and IBD affect the digestive system. However, IBD includes visible damage to the digestive organs while IBS does not.
This damage appears most often in the form of ulcers in various places throughout the intestines, stomach, and other digestive organs. If you have ulcerative colitis or chrons you need to be even more careful when drinking. The toxic nature of alcohol can easily worsen your internal damage.
Those with celiac disease also need to take special precautions when drinking. People with this disease have a diagnosed insensitivity to gluten. Though many take up a gluten-free diet, whether they need to or not, celiac disease is not at all a lifestyle choice.
People with celiac disease are unable to process gluten. If they do, it can lead to serious complications. This means that drinking and eating options are severely limited for people with celiac disease.
For example, beer has wheat as one of its main ingredients. Wheat contains gluten. This means that those with celiac need to stay away from beer. If you find yourself with celiac disease you can still drink. Just stick to alcohol that is free of gluten such as wine or hard liquor.
Does Alcohol Cause Indigestion?
Even if you don’t have a condition such as IBS, you can still experience indigestion. Indigestion is frequent, even in healthy individuals. Most people will experience indigestion at some point in their life.
Indigestion is not always a sign of a more dire affliction, but it does include symptoms similar to true gastrointestinal ailments. These include but are not limited to the following symptoms.
- Stomach Pain
Additionally, there are many common causes of indigestion.
- Food high in acid, fiber, or fat
- Lack of sleep
- Eating at certain times of day
How Alcohol Affects Indigestion
Alcohol contributes to indigestion in two primary ways.
- Irritating the Stomach
- Muscle Relaxation
We already covered how alcohol causes major irritation to your stomach. Alcohol in itself is a toxin that can damage the stomach lining. It also has the effect of causing your stomach to produce too much acid as mentioned earlier.
But what about muscle relaxation? Relaxation rarely sounds like something that is harmful. It even seems like something you might want to achieve. After all, isn't the point of drinking to achieve some level of relaxation.
Alcohol causes your muscles to loosen. Overall, this is not a problem except as it related to your sphincter muscles.
Your sphincter is the muscle responsible for closing the opening that allows food to pass from your esophagus into your stomach. When your sphincter is too relaxed, it doesn't close completely.
As the connection between your esophagus and stomach remains open, acid from your stomach can enter your esophagus. This causes the fiery sensation known as heartburn.
Heartburn is a painful symptom of indigestion. The increased stomach acid and loosened muscles resulting from drinking will only make matters worse.
What Are The Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on The Stomach?
General indigestion, and even IBS flare-ups, can be temporary. But drinking alcohol can lead to long term damage. As you might guess, much of this damage occurs in the stomach.
If you are a heavy drinker, look out for these two long term stomach defects
- Poor Nutrient Absorption
Both of these problems have dangerous implications for your overall health.
Poor Nutrient Absorption
As you continue to drink over the years, the damage to your stomach increases. Inflammation to the stomach lining diminishes its ability to function correctly.
As a result, you may not be able to absorb the nutrients from the food you eat. A balance of nutrients is essential to a healthy diet. But if your stomach lining no longer works properly, you won't get all of the nutrients you need even if you are eating healthy foods.
But there is more to the story than poor absorption. Since alcohol increases your stomach's production of digestive fluids, you may end up feeling less hungry. When you are less hungry, you won’t have the urge to eat all of the food that your body needs. If this continues for a long time, your wellbeing will suffer greatly.
Prolonged inflammation can lead to ulcers. Ulcers are open wounds on the inside of your stomach. Not only are these wounds painful, but they also make you feel sick. Ulcers can reduce appetite and cause vomiting.
Heavy drinking eventually creates ulcers. To make matters worse, alcohol also makes it more difficult for your ulcers to heal. Even if your ulcers arise from a different source, the corrosive effect of alcohol will make them worse. In most cases, ulcers heal relatively quickly. But alcohol will significantly slow that healing process.
Why Do You Get Stomach Pains When Drinking Alcohol?
By now you have a fairly good understanding of the damage alcohol can do to your stomach. Let’s summarize the main ways drinking leads to stomach pain.
- Alcohol Increases stomach acid which can harm the stomach lining and the esophagus
- Alcohol adds to the volume of both liquid and gas in your stomach often to the point of discomfort
- Alcohol is an irritant that causes inflammation which can be painful in the short term and damaging in the long term
Not all of these issues have easy fixes. But there are some tactics you can use to at least reduce your alcohol bloating.
How Do You Get Rid of Alcohol Bloat?
Now that you understand why alcohol makes you feel bloated, it is time to figure out how to fix the problem.
The best way to enjoy a life free of alcohol bloat is to avoid getting it in the first place. Here are some tips to help you prevent bloat without quitting drinking altogether.
- Avoid carbonated beverages – Limiting carbonated drinks will reduce the amount of gas in your stomach.
- Drink at a slow to moderate pace – Rather than chugging, sip your drink slowly. A slow drinking pace means it's less likely you will swallow air.
- Eat less salt – Salt in your diet causes you to retain water. The more water you retain, the more likely you are to feel bloated.
Stopping bloating in its tracks sounds like the ideal scenario. But what if it is already too late? After a night of drinking, you just don’t have the option to go back in time and follow the tips above.
As you sit on your couch with a bloated belly, eating might be the last thing on your mind. After all, how could putting more into your stomach possibly help your situation?
The truth is that several foods can help reduce bloating. If you can overcome a lack of appetite, try eating these foods.
The foods listed above will help lower your bloating in multiple ways. But if you can't find any of these items in your home, don’t worry. Just find some form of food that has one or more of the following qualities.
- High Fiber
- High Potassium
- High Water Content
- Anti-Inflammatory Properties
If you find a food with the properties listed above, it will likely have a positive effect on your bloating.
To Exercise or Not to Exercise
Treating bloating through exercise can be a challenging balancing act. This is because there are some conflicting factors to exercise that could make your bloating better or worse. On the one hand, exercise can help to promote digestion. Getting some movement in your digestive system can be beneficial.
On the other hand, if you work out too vigorously, you may reach a level of dehydration. Again, your body will utilize the same water retaining strategy.
If you hope to help alcohol bloat through exercise, keep these two contradictory phenomena in mind. Consider only engaging in light exercise to promote digestion without breaking too much of a sweat.
More Home Remedies
Luckily there is still some hope. There are a few ingredients in your kitchen that you can use to reduce your bloating.
- Lemon juice
Add any of those ingredients to your water and they may help to reduce your bloating. And be sure to drink slowly. These products are usually meant to enhance the flavor of your food, but they also have some de-bloating properties.
But in attempting this fix, we are indirectly using one of the best methods to get rid of bloating. If you have a bloating problem, your solution may be much simpler than you think.
Does Drinking Water Help with Bloating?
Drinking water is one of the best ways to prevent and resolve alcohol bloat. Water is essential to our existence and it is even more vital when we are drinking alcohol.
Recall that dehydration will cause you to retain water. Again, this is because your body thinks you are in a scenario where water supply is limited. Your body then holds water like the precious resource it truly is.
Fortunately for those who are bloated, the opposite effect can also take place. The more water you drink, the less tempted your body will be to hold onto the water it has.
Although this is far from what you might expect, the more water you drink, the less water you hold. The less water you hold, the less bloated you will feel. So next time you go out drinking, make sure you stay hydrated.
A good approach is to drink equal amounts of water and alcohol. Each time you finish an alcoholic beverage, drink a glass of water as well.
Perhaps this means your night of drinking will be a bit less rowdy. But it also means the next morning will be less painful. Your belly will be far less bloated as well.
Don’t let the fear of a bloated belly stop you from having a memorable night out on the town. By following the guidance in this article you can reduce the discomfort that often follows drinking. As long as you don’t have a serious underlying condition, you should be all set. By paying attention to what you drink and how you drink it, you can enjoy your alcoholic beverages without getting bloated.