IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) is a common large intestinal disorder not believed to cause actual physical damage to the intestines. Instead, IBS is hallmarked by persistent discomfort, abdominal pain in the abdomen, regular episodes of diarrhea or constipation, and many issues concerning the types of foods that an individual can consume without discomfort or activities in which they can easily participate.
This condition tends to wax and wane in many people, and when peaking, it can result in significant functional impairment. By some estimates, the prevalence of IBS ranges between 10-15% of the U.S. population.
According to a 2004 study published in the journal Clinical Epidemiology, IBS occurs more often in females than males and across all age groups. It is more prevalent in industrialized countries and occurs twice as frequently among persons with a family history of the syndrome.
Etiology of IBS
The exact etiology of IBS is not fully known, but many factors have been identified that appear to play a significant role in its development, including the following:
- Psychological conditions
- Bacterial infections
- Sensitive large intestine
- Celiac disease
- Food Allergies
- Overuse of antibiotics
- High serotonin in GI tract
Although IBS is typically diagnosed using specific criteria, there is no formal consensus on precisely how IBS should be defined and the criteria required to diagnose it. The symptom profile, however, is varied and includes a few somewhat vague and subjective symptoms that cannot be identified objectively, including the following:
- Abdominal pain and bloating
- Cramps with bowel movements
- Elimination urgency
- Strain when passing stools
- Repeated belching
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Fatigue and lethargy
- Apathy and lack of motivation
Imaging studies of most IBS-affected persons often do not appear to present any significant pathology. Also, many patients’ symptoms tend to get better and worse again over time, making it even more challenging to determine the exact cause(s) of the condition.
Alcohol Use Disorder
Although the term “alcoholism” and “alcohol addiction” are routinely used, they currently have little or no diagnostic purpose. The more modern diagnostic term used for individuals with a substance use disorder related to alcohol use is alcohol use disorder (AUD). This condition is hallmarked by the dysfunctional use of alcohol that could also be referred to as alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence.
An alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a potentially severe mental health disorder that occurs when an individual’s alcohol consumption leads to a marked impairment or distress in life. They must also meet the diagnostic criteria for several specific behavioral symptoms.
Moreover, the former concepts of alcohol abuse, alcoholism, alcohol dependence, and alcohol addiction occur as a spectrum of disorders instead of being placed in mutually exclusive categories. A diagnosis of AUD is intended to consider the contemporary understanding of varying degrees of alcohol use, abuse, dependence, and addiction.
IBS and AUDs
Some research has examined potential links between IBS and AUDs. For example, a 1998 study published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse compared 31 patients who were seeking treatment for alcohol abuse with 40 other patients soliciting treatment for other medical issues. A total of 13 persons seeking treatment for alcohol abuse also met IBS criteria. Comparatively, only one of the 40 patients seeking treatment for other illnesses met IBS criteria.
Moreover, researchers posited that people who abuse alcohol might have higher rates of irritable bowel syndrome. However, the study did not determine a specific reason for this. Thus one question remained—does the discomfort of IBS drive people to drink more, or is a person who drinks alcohol excessively more likely to suffer from IBS?
However, additional research has suggested that there is indeed a relationship between alcohol use and the symptoms of IBS. For example, a 2013 study looked at the drinking patterns and their effects on females with IBS and a control group. Researchers found that the most significant relationship between IBS symptoms in subjects and alcohol use occurred following binge drinking episodes.
This research does not appear to support the notion that people who have IBS are more likely to develop an AUD. Instead, an active alcohol use disorder is a risk factor for the development of IBS. These findings are congruent with what is known about moderate-heavy alcohol consumption. It can be irritating to the stomach and lead to gastrointestinal issues such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.
In fact, depending on an individual’s level of sensitivity, even one alcoholic drink can be enough to trigger an IBS episode, and some alcoholic beverages are more likely to induce symptoms than others.
Moreover, it logically follows that persons already suffering from these symptoms would be more likely to avoid drinking alcohol to cope with issues such as depression or stress due to the gastrointestinal discomfort that can potentially result.
Therefore, researchers’ general conclusion has been that individuals who already experience IBS symptoms typically do not begin using alcohol excessively.
Treatment for IBS and Alcohol Use Disorder
There is no known cure for irritably bowel syndrome, and treatment often primarily consists of the management of symptoms by engaging habits such as the following:
- Limited or avoiding alcohol use altogether
- Limiting or avoiding caffeine intake altogether
- Avoiding junk food
- Avoiding carbonated beverages
- Increasing fiber intake
- Eating small-moderate meals more frequently
- Use of laxatives for constipation, if needed
- Eating certain foods
Medicinal supplements for IBS management may include probiotics and certain medications and also consist of antidepressants or other mood stabilizers to help reduce stress levels. It is also essential to identify which foods and drinks worsen (or possibly reduce) IBS symptoms.
Getting Help for Alcohol Abuse
Treatment for an AUD typically begins with medical detox to supervise people undergoing withdrawal symptoms better manage them both physically and emotionally.
Following medical detox, individuals are strongly encouraged to participate in a comprehensive treatment program for alcohol abuse that includes behavioral therapy, peer support group attendance, and other forms of intensive treatment as needed (family therapy and counseling, for example.)
Individuals in recovery often find that their success in addiction treatment is closely related to the length of time they stay involved in a program. In other words, the longer people remain active in formal treatment, the higher the likelihood that they will be successful at sustaining long-term recovery.
Those with co-occurring disorders, such as IBS, depression, or anxiety, should also have these conditions be addressed in concurrence with substance abuse issues to promote the best outcome for the person both mentally and physically. Moreover, attempting to treat IBS without addressing a co-occurring alcohol abuse issue would likely not be a sensible approach and may not significantly relieve one’s gastrointestinal discomfort.
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery offers integrated treatment programs designed to help patients acquire the tools they so direly need to achieve abstinence and sustain long-lasting sobriety and wellness. We employ professional, certified medical personnel who specialize in addiction and deliver services to those we treat with care and expertise.