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Here’s what happens to your gut when you drink alcohol

The gut is a powerful organ in our body. It is where we absorb our nourishment and nutrients. It is our main immunity defense to protect us from what we put in our bodies. It regulates hormones by telling our brain how much stress is in the body. It produces 90% of serotonin (our happy hormones) as well as other vital hormones. It regulates our metabolism. It eliminates toxins, regulates hydration, and keeps us healthy by supporting the immune system (1). This is just the iceberg of everything it can do, not to mention all the things science hasn’t discovered it can do. 

For all these reasons and more, it is in our best interest to protect and promote a healthy gut. Alcohol is detrimental to our gut health in many accords. 

Alcohol causes an unhealthy relationship between the types of bacteria in the intestine. Maybe you have heard about “probiotics.” These are ‘good’ bacteria in our intestines that aid in digestion, make vitamins, create cravings, and help make hormones (1). Without them, we would not be able to digest any of our food. Alcohol promotes the growth of ‘bad’ bacteria. This overcrowding does not allow good bacteria to function properly. The bad bacteria create inflammation, send bad metabolites (signals), and do not aid in digestion. Alcohol promotes the growth of bacteria that craves alcohol. The more you drink, the more you crave. 

All of these three things can cause havoc on the body purely, however, the problems just compound. Since our good to bad bacteria ratio is off, this does not allow the good bacteria to produce short-chain fatty acids and cell-protecting mucus. These guys go to our gut wall lining and make sure it is sealed tightly— similar to cement on a brick wall. If these are not made, then our gut lining begins to separate creating a condition called Leaky Gut. This allows unprocessed food particles— aka feces— to slip through the cracks and enter the rest of our bodies. As you can imagine, this causes chaos throughout our bodies. It promotes inflammation throughout our body, wears down our immune system, and disrupts the brain through the gut-brain axis (2). This also puts the body at higher risk of developing autoimmune diseases such as Multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, Crohn’s, and ulcerative colitis (3). It also contributes to inflammation, food allergies, and mood imbalances.

The gut-brain relationship plays an important role in regulating our body. Metabolites (signals) travel up the vagus nerve into our brain. This tells our brain how our body is doing. When it is bombarded with the wrong system, then the brain has misinformation and cannot tell the body what to do. This nerve, the vagus nerve, is responsible for the parasympathetic sender of our body. This system is responsible for relaxation and digestion. So if this is impaired, we have an increase of not only anxiety but the inability to properly digest food (2).  

So as you can see, not having a healthy gut can disrupt the body in many ways, and unfortunately, this doesn't address the entire damage that it does to the gut. And this is not even touching what it does to our liver, brain, and hormones. Thankfully, this can be reversed by stopping drinking alcohol (3). If you need help navigating the cultural, physiological, and mental barriers to stopping drinking, Dr. Brooke has the knowledge and community to help. 

Want to learn more about how to support your gut as part of your sober or sober-curious journey? Click here to learn more about the Functional Sobriety Academy and get started on your alcohol-free healing journey >>



1. Ballway JW, Song BJ. Translational Approaches with Antioxidant Phytochemicals against Alcohol-Mediated Oxidative Stress, Gut Dysbiosis, Intestinal Barrier Dysfunction, and Fatty Liver Disease. Antioxidants (Basel). 2021 Mar 4

2. Simpson, S., Mclellan, R., Wellmeyer, E. et al. Drugs and Bugs: The Gut-Brain Axis and Substance Use Disorders. J Neuroimmune Pharmacol (2021).

3. Leclercq S, Matamoros S, Cani PD, Neyrinck AM, Jamar F, Stärkel P, Windey K, Tremaroli V, Bäckhed F, Verbeke K, de Timary P, Delzenne NM. Intestinal permeability, gut-bacterial dysbiosis, and behavioral markers of alcohol-dependence severity. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014 Oct 21

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