Alcohol-related diarrhea might not solely be triggered by what’s in your glass: If you opt for, say, a post-bar cheeseburger and fries (or any other greasy, heavy, or spicy foods), that can also cause diarrhea—especially when you’re combining them with alcohol, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Other drunk-food favorites, like sodas (both diet and regular) used as mixers, dairy products like ice cream, and highly-processed snacks can all lead to torment on the toilet the next day too.
Still: The sheer act of drinking too much is enough to cause poop problems, no matter what you eat. (Drinking on an empty stomach can also make it more likely that you’ll experience diarrhea the next day, according to Dr. Imaeda, because your body absorbs and processes alcohol more quickly if there isn’t food in your system to slow it down.)
The list of possible drinking-related diarrhea causes goes on—malabsorption of certain nutrients, potential damage to the pancreas, a reduced ability for your gut to absorb water, inflammation in the small intestine—but the end product is probably the same: liquidy poop that makes you feel super miserable.
Chronic, heavy drinkers can also experience bacterial overgrowth in their small intestine, or trigger changes in the types of bacteria in there that can lead to “dysbiosis,” a bacterial imbalance in the gut that can result in diarrhea or constipation.
What should you do if you’re having trouble pooping after drinking?
“For some people who have more acute effects of alcohol”—meaning, folks who don’t regularly drink heavily, but are instead having poop drama after an isolated night of heavy drinking—“they could potentially improve pretty quickly,” Sidharta Sinha, MD, an associate professor of medicine at Stanford Medicine, tells SELF.
Adjusting your diet can help soothe your stomach and get things moving the right way again. If you’re experiencing diarrhea on the day after you’ve had too much to drink, the NIH recommends eating high-potassium foods like bananas and potatoes; baked or broiled proteins beef, pork, chicken, fish, or turkey (avoid fried options!); cooked vegetables that don’t typically make you gassy; and bread products made from refined, white flour, like pasta, white rice, and cereal. Overall, opt for “generally mild things that are easier to tolerate,” like brothy soups and oatmeal, Dr. Sinha says. (You can also check out this list of foods that can relieve diarrhea from the NIH for additional pointers.)
On the flip side, if you have constipation on the day after you’ve gone overboard on booze, the NIH recommends eating high-fiber foods (including whole wheat bread and pasta; legumes like black beans and chickpeas; vegetables like carrots and broccoli; and nuts like almonds and pecans) and drinking plenty of water.
If you quit drinking—or at least stick to the recommended limit of one to two drinks per day—you’ll likely see an improvement in your bowel movements, according to Dr. Imaeda and Dr. Sinha. (If you’re not sure what that change should look like, here’s a guide. Generally speaking, your poop should be soft and formed, and easy to pass.) But that won’t happen overnight if you’ve been drinking heavily for a while, Dr. Sinha adds. Thankfully, with time, you should be good to go (to the bathroom in peace) again.
When should you see a doctor about poop issues?
If you quit (or significantly cut down on) drinking, your poop problems should improve within a few weeks to a month, according to Dr. Imaeda and Dr. Sinha. If it’s been weeks since your last drink, but you’re still dealing with persistent diarrhea or constipation, see a doctor if you have access to one. There’s a chance your issues have little to nothing to do with drinking, and may instead be a symptom of a gastrointestinal condition.