Alcohol and IBD

I’ve been wanting to write about consuming alcohol as someone with IBD since I started this site, but as time has gone on my physical reaction to drinking has changed dramatically. It seems like every few months alcohol does something completely different to my body that I can’t predict and struggle to learn from it. Despite that I thought I should still talk about it as there’s commonality in the way to approach alcohol as someone with IBD and things to be aware of.

For the most part since being diagnosed with colitis I’ve not been a big drinker, and haven’t really had any trouble with alcohol. When I’ve flared up I’ve been too sick to consider partying and that is really the only time I drink so I’d not experienced it or been able to say whether it made anything worse. My first bad experience happened in July of last year on a trip to Adelaide with friends. In the past my colitis had either been in complete remission or meltdown level flare, but during the Adelaide trip it was simmering; I wasn’t in remission but I wasn’t flaring terribly. We went to Adelaide for a music festival, which if you aren’t acquainted with the event is basically a 14 hour piss up. I hadn’t drank alcohol much leading up to the trip and really didn’t know what to expect. One beer at pre drinks in the hotel and I was on the toilet, it was going to be a long day.

I stopped at that one and didn’t drink at all for the rest of the day and night, which resulted in me having a pretty rough time at the festival. I was sick, irritable and in pain – not a great way to head into such an event. One thing that really struck me was the wall of portable toilets on one side of the venue, all of which had a line of people 5-10 deep at any given time. What if I had a few drinks and then got sick at the festival? It would’ve ended terribly. I have the can’t wait card from CCA but at a festival with a large crowd that is mostly intoxicated I wouldn’t expect many people to take notice of that. It was an eye-opener to what a lot of people deal with everyday in their IBD experience, something that I hadn’t experienced myself. We followed up the festival the following day by going to a few night clubs, I said “fuck it let’s test this” and decided to have a few drinks. I had 4 drinks before noticing that my stomach was getting upset, the club scene was boring and honestly plain awful (sorry Adelaide), and so I decided to head back to the hotel.

Everyone with IBD knows what I mean when I say I had to do “the run”. About halfway back to the hotel I knew that my guts were not happy and things were in motion, in a very bad way. Trying to hold my insides as still as possible I started a half jog back to our hotel which seemed like it was miles away and made it with about 2 seconds to spare before ruining the lobby toilet. Sorry for that visual but that’s how it is. I left Adelaide completely dejected at the notion of never really fitting in with this cool group of people I’d only recently met.

Between Adelaide and Nepal 5 months later my colitis did end up hitting full blown flare as I’ve documented here, which thankfully got under control when I got onto Remicade. Since getting home I’ve drank alcohol reasonably often and on a few occasions very excessively, never having a problem with my stomach. It seems that when I’m in complete remission alcohol doesn’t have any effect, much like my diet. My GI told me when I was first diagnosed that diet and alcohol has no effect on IBD which I think is disingenuous, but maybe in remission things go (somewhat) back to normal and those things don’t have an effect? I’m not really sure and with the state of medical research I doubt we’ll ever have any conclusive answer to that, but I think this is as much of the personal journey with IBD as anything else. As many other factors in our condition are individual, alcohol is likely part of the gang.

So what have I learnt and what can we use that information for?

Firstly, the importance of access to a toilet. As I noted with the Adelaide festival if I had an issue I would’ve been pretty stuffed, which I guess is a common issue with these events and partying in general. If you’re going out to an event make sure you know that you have reliable access to a toilet. If you aren’t sure, email the organisers and see if they can make things easier for you. It’s surprising how willing most people are to help you out when you approach them kindly.

Secondly, the importance of good friends. As I said when I was coming home from Adelaide I was worried that while things went well and my new friends were really great with the issues I was facing, I wouldn’t really fit in properly and would never be able to enjoy the experiences that come with social drinking. Almost 12 months later that group are some of my closest friends and I’d never doubt that they have my back and would include me regardless of the circumstances. People that don’t include you for not being able to drink, or being hampered by your condition in any facet aren’t worth keeping around. In the past I’ve felt like I might’ve cut people out of my life too quickly when they haven’t given me the time of day, but now I realise that they were never worth my time either. It’s an amazing feeling having people in your life who enjoy your company and like you for who you are, so don’t settle for anything less.