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Alcohol and Health

Can Alcohol Cause Diverticulitis?

April 27, 2024
19 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
April 27, 2024
19 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
April 27, 2024
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
April 27, 2024
19 min read
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Reframe Content Team
April 27, 2024
19 min read

Diverticulitis and Alcohol

  • Recent research has shown a correlation between heavy drinking and diverticular diseases, including diverticulitis.
  • If you have been diagnosed with diverticulitis, follow your doctor’s orders and consider lifestyle changes like increased hydration, fiber supplementation, and cutting back on meat, NSAIDs, and alcohol.
  • Download the Reframe app to gain access to a comprehensive, neuroscience-backed program to help you quit or cut back on alcohol.

You fidget on the paper-covered table, swinging your legs, waiting for the doctor to arrive. The nurse asks a lot of questions about your symptoms — nausea, fatigue, and lingering abdominal pain.

“How long has this been going on?”

You’re not quite sure.

“How many alcoholic drinks do you consume each week?”

You’re not sure about that, either.

Part of you thinks this appointment may be overkill, but then again, those late-night Google searches turned up some scary diagnoses — gastritis, appendicitis, and diverticulitis. The paper crinkles as you pull out your phone to look up that last one. What is diverticulitis, and could it be linked to your alcohol use?

Diverticula and Diverticular Disease Explained

A person wearing holding their stomach, indicating discomfort in that area.

First, we’ll need to familiarize ourselves with the differences between diverticulosis, diverticulitis, and diverticular disease. Stick with us — we promise it’ll make sense.

“Diverticula” is the scientific name for abnormal, marble-sized sacs that can form in the wall of the large intestine. Any medical problem involving these structures is classified as a diverticular disease.

There are two major forms of diverticular disease: diverticulosis and diverticulitis. The words look similar, but if you take a look at those suffixes, the differences are easy to spot:

  • -osis means “disease or condition of” 
  • -itis means “inflammation of”

Let’s explore the disease of and inflammation of diverticula. Hint: one is a prerequisite for the other.

What Is the Difference Between Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis?

Diverticulosis is a disease or condition of the diverticula. It’s the catch-all term for the formation of those tiny pockets in our intestinal wall. They’re created when our bowel muscles weaken and the inner layers push outwards. 

Most of us won’t realize we have diverticulosis; it tends to be symptomless. In fact, we may only get a diagnosis after those pouches get inflamed. That’s what diverticulitis is.

After intestinal antechambers have formed, they may tear, wear away, or begin to bleed. Diverticulitis is the medical term for the inflammation, perforation, or infection of those pockets. It’s a relatively rare condition that impacts just 4% of people with diverticula. Symptoms generally include persistent abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting.

So, to recap: diverticulosis is the development of intestinal pockets. Diverticulitis is the inflammation or infection of those pockets. In this article, we’re talking about diverticulitis and alcohol.

How Alcohol Affects Our Digestive System

Symptoms of Diverticulitis

But let’s face it — no matter where we go, there will be alcohol. According to the World Gastroenterology Organisation, 75% of diverticular disease cases are simple. The other 25% come with complications like abscesses, bowel obstruction, peritonitis (inflammation of the abdominal lining), sepsis, and the formation of fistulas. The symptoms of diverticulitis vary from person to person, and they depend on the severity of our condition. 

The hallmark of diverticulitis is severe, persistent abdominal pain, especially on the lower left side. However, some people may experience more discomfort on the right side, which is why diverticulitis and appendicitis are often confused.

There are other symptoms, however, that can help differentiate the two:

  • Sensitivity to touch (abdomen)
  • Changes to bowel movements (usually constipation, more rarely diarrhea)
  • Fever
  • Cramps
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Blood in stool

Many people refer to diverticulitis as a “flare-up,” since it occurs when those little pockets are inflamed. Pain, cramping, and changes to bowel movements can be signs of diverticular distress. Those previously diagnosed with diverticulosis should contact their treatment provider if these symptoms develop.

Causes of Diverticulitis

Because diverticulitis is correlated with age, it’s much more common in older people. When younger folks develop this condition, it’s usually due to factors like obesity and high-risk activities. Smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, and a high-fat, low-fiber diet can increase the risk of diverticulosis and, subsequently, diverticulitis.

Some researchers have begun to speculate about alcohol’s involvement in diverticular disease. Can alcohol cause diverticulitis?

How Alcohol Affects Our Digestive System

Few substances impact our esophagus, stomach, and intestines as strongly as alcohol. Diverticulitis and other GI conditions don’t just develop overnight; it may take years for us to begin experiencing symptoms. That’s because of the insidious ways booze affects our digestive system:

  • Motility issues. Alcohol restricts the movement of the muscles that line our esophagus, stomach, and intestines. This may cause heartburn, diarrhea, or constipation.
  • Mucosal damage. Mucosa is the scientific name for the delicate tissue lining structures like our esophagus. Long-term exposure to alcohol or recurrent vomiting can tear the mucosa or cause abnormal structures called varices to form on it.
  • Malabsorption. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is associated with nutritional deficiencies, partially because it keeps the small intestine from absorbing the vitamins found in our food.
  • More toxins. Alcohol is also a bit of a traitor; even while restricting the absorption of nutrients, it increases the movement of toxins through the intestinal walls, which increases our risk of organ damage.

Conditions Associated With Heavy Alcohol Use

There’s more to gut health than diverticulitis and alcohol. In time, drinking can impact our overall gastrointestinal well-being. Many GI disorders are connected to heavy alcohol use:

  • Inflammation. Drinking can cause inflammation in the stomach lining (gastritis) and pancreas (pancreatitis), as well as other crucial structures. Symptoms include abdominal pain, indigestion, nausea, and vomiting.

  • Alcohol-related liver disease. Abbreviated ARLD, alcohol-related liver disease is a catch-all term for a variety of liver conditions, including cirrhosis (heavy scarring) and alcoholic hepatitis (inflammation of the liver).

  • Cancer. A pattern of heavy drinking places us at risk of several forms of cancer, including cancers of the colon, esophagus, and liver.

  • Vitamin deficiencies. Alcohol misuse keeps us from absorbing nutrients like vitamins B9, B12, and D. This deprivation suppresses our body’s ability to fight infections and disrupts crucial processes like red blood cell production, DNA synthesis, and cellular division.

  • Weakened immune system. Finally, drinking affects the immune system by hindering the production of white blood cells, disrupting our gut’s microbiome, and making us more susceptible to infections.

Diverticulitis and Alcohol: Correlation vs. Causation

Alcohol is related to myriad gastrointestinal disorders, but is it a major player in the irritation of diverticula? Scientific opinion is mixed.

One study from The Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology determined that alcohol consumption is a risk factor for diverticulosis (which, in turn, can lead to diverticulitis). Researchers found that the more a person drank, the more likely they were to develop the condition.

Another group of researchers published similar results in the journal Medicine (Baltimore). They analyzed a database of almost 260,000 people and found that those who consumed alcohol were more vulnerable to diverticular disease. This large-scale study illustrates a clear correlation between alcohol use and conditions related to diverticular disease.

However, some studies have identified an opposite trend. A good example is a meta-analysis published in The Hawaii Journal of Medicine and Public Health, which found no significant relationship between alcohol and diverticulitis or diverticulosis.

While researchers are still gathering information about whether alcohol causes diverticulitis, we’ve confirmed that drinking is not good for our digestive system.

Does Alcohol Affect Diverticulitis?

So, if we have diverticulitis, can we still drink?  

It’s probably not the best idea.

First, drinking weakens our immune system, which is a no-go when we’re fighting off any kind of diverticular infection. Alcohol also interacts with the antibiotic medications used to treat this condition, reducing their efficacy and increasing the likelihood of adverse reactions. Finally, severe cases of diverticulitis may result in fistulas, bowel obstructions, and other complications, and drinking might increase these health risks.

What Is the Best Type of Alcohol for Diverticulitis?

There’s no “best type” of alcoholic beverage to drink during a bout of diverticulitis. There is a worst one, though — liquor, or any libation with a high alcohol concentration. Check the alcohol by volume (ABV) before cheers-ing and consider booze-free alternatives.

How Much Is Too Much?

If we’re in the middle of a diverticulitis flare-up, it’s best to avoid alcohol altogether. Once we’ve recovered, we should talk to our doctor, who might give us the okay to begin reincorporating alcohol. They may also recommend that we continue to abstain, or only drink one or two beverages on special occasions. It is important to follow our physician’s advice to protect our health and safety after a diverticulitis diagnosis.

How To Treat Diverticulitis

If you’re experiencing a diverticulitis flare-up, follow your doctor’s orders, not listicles on the Internet! In addition to your doctor’s orders, however, some lifestyle changes can help alleviate symptoms and prevent future flare-ups: 

1. Forge a new relationship with fiber. Low dietary fiber is behind many cases of diverticular disease. Eating more roughage — a.k.a., vegetables you have to chew thoroughly — can do great things for your GI tract. High-fiber foods are more than just beans and broccoli. To keep diverticulitis at bay, try incorporating more bananas, berries, avocados, brussels sprouts, and whole grains into your meals. If you’re experiencing a flare-up, your doctor may recommend a low-fiber diet instead. This is why it’s important to speak to your doctor before making any major nutritional changes.

2. Move more. Exercise promotes regular bowel movements, improves digestion, and reduces stress, which can worsen the symptoms of diverticulitis. Once your flare-up has passed, ask your provider about low-impact physical activities to boost your health.

3. Take a fiber supplement. A variety of fiber sources can help regulate your bowel movements. For some of us, these supplements work wonders. Talk to a doctor before starting any dietary supplement, even Metamucil or Benefiber. If you do add fiber supplements to your regimen, do so gradually to avoid bloating and gas. 

4. Drink a lot of water. Hydration is especially important if we struggle with constipation or diarrhea. Drinking enough water keeps waste moving smoothly through our GI tract. Try to hit the recommended daily intake of 13 cups of water per day for men and nine for women.

5. Avoid NSAIDs. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Advil and Aleve can irritate our GI tracts, especially our intestines. Cutting down on these over-the-counter pain remedies may be a good idea for those concerned about diverticulitis.

6. Try meatless Mondays. Researchers have found that diverticular disease is much less common in vegetarians. If you’re not down for a meat-free diet, try cutting it out once or twice a week.

7. Avoid alcohol. Drinking can increase our risk of diverticulitis flare-ups and the formation of new diverticula. Cut back on drinking or leave it behind for good! If you need help cutting back on your alcohol use, Reframe can help.

8. Seek medical attention. If you suspect diverticulitis, make an appointment with your doctor or go to the emergency room. Your physician may recommend surgery, prescribe antibiotics, or put you on a clear liquid diet (that doesn’t include alcohol).

When To See a Doctor

Whenever you experience persistent abdominal pain, it’s a good idea to seek medical attention. Don’t wait for the discomfort to pass — you never know what’s to blame. An experienced healthcare provider can rule out life-threatening conditions like appendicitis, which would require emergency surgery.

Pain isn’t the only sign that something is wrong. If you’ve already been diagnosed with diverticulitis or diverticulosis, consider calling the doctor when you experience the following:

  • A high fever, which could be a sign of a diverticular infection
  • Significant changes to your bowel movements
  • Bloating, vomiting, or nausea
  • Diverticulitis symptoms that haven’t improved with treatment

Divert Your Drinking

Back to that crinkly-papered exam table — if your doctor comes into the room and diagnoses you with diverticulitis, we hope this article will give you some actionable ideas about how to move forward. If they ask you to cut back on your drinking, Reframe can help you address your alcohol intake.

Reframe is a proven habit-change app that draws from leading behavioral research, a network of medical and lifestyle professionals, and neuroscientific best practices. With partners at Emory, Harvard, and other major institutions, we’ll show you how to live a fulfilling life with less (or no!) booze.

We made Reframe to help people like you discover the very best versions of themselves. To try the app free for 7 days, visit the App Store or Google Play. We can’t wait to see you thrive.

Summary FAQs

1. Can you drink alcohol with diverticulitis?

No, you shouldn’t consume alcohol during a diverticulitis flare-up. If you’ve been previously diagnosed with a diverticular disease, talk to your doctor about whether drinking is right for you.

2. What triggers diverticulitis flare-ups?

Diverticulitis flare-ups can be triggered by irritants (like alcohol or smoking), low fiber intake, a sedentary lifestyle, chronic stress, and obesity. Your healthcare provider can help you narrow down issues contributing to recurring flare-ups.

3. Can too much alcohol cause diverticulosis?

Scientists are split about whether alcohol can directly cause diverticulosis, but some recent studies seem to show a correlation between regular drinking and this condition.

4. What is the main cause of diverticulitis?

Obesity is a factor in 84-96% of diverticulitis cases, according to the World Gastroenterology Organisation.

5. What is the best treatment for diverticulosis?

Any diverticular disease requires professional medical intervention. In most cases, physicians prescribe antibiotics, dietary changes, and lifestyle modifications. Some patients may require surgery.

Your Pocket-Sized Recovery Coach

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today! 

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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