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Alcohol and Health

Can You Drink Alcohol Before a Colonoscopy?

April 26, 2024
23 min read
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How To Approach Drinking Alcohol Before a Colonoscopy 

  • Drinking before a colonoscopy can complicate the procedure by interfering with anesthesia and causing an inflammatory reaction in the gastrointestinal tract.

  • Staying sober for at least 48 hours before a colonoscopy will ensure a smooth, safe, and effective procedure.

  • Prioritize your health and reduce your cancer risk by quitting or cutting back on alcohol. Reframe’s neuroscience-backed program helps by supporting all areas of your well-being!

Colonoscopies are no glamorous procedure. To add to its unpleasantness, the procedure involves a comprehensive preparation regimen that boosts its accuracy. One of the many instructions in the prep booklet for a colonoscopy is to avoid alcohol. While testing our luck is fun and games when buying a lottery ticket, this “no drinking” guideline is one we’ll want to follow.

Understanding the risks of drinking before a colonoscopy will help us follow protocols and have a safe procedure. Let’s take a good look (no pun intended) at if and when it’s okay to drink before a colonoscopy. 

Understanding Colonoscopy Screenings

A medical professional showing an illustration of the human intestines

A colonoscopy is a screening procedure that is used to check the large intestine for abnormalities like swelling, polyps, irritated tissue, and diseases. To do this, they insert a colonoscope — a flexible tube with a tiny camera on the end — through the rectum to view the inside of our colon and surrounding areas. 

Although it’s relatively quick (typically under an hour), a colonoscopy is considered an invasive procedure that requires anesthesia and a lengthy pre-procedure regimen that ensures the physician gets a clear view of our colon. Standard colonoscopy preparation includes limiting certain substances. Let’s take a closer look at what these are.

What To Avoid Before a Colonoscopy 

Preparation for a colonoscopy typically starts three to four days before the scheduled procedure. However, it’s always important to check with our treatment team for specific instructions. 

To ensure that the gastroenterologist has an unobstructed view of our colon, we have to flush out our intestine. To do this, we are instructed to avoid certain foods and substances in the days leading up to the procedure: 

  • Fibrous foods. Foods such as raw fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds take longer to digest. If particles of undigested food remain in our bowel, it may block crucial areas that our doctor needs to see.
  • Non-clear liquids. Beverages such as milk and fruit juices with pulp are considered non-clear liquids. These liquids may leave residue in our bowel, affecting color-sensitive screening such as tissue inflammation and polyps.
  • Blood thinners. Physicians recommend avoiding blood thinners before a colonoscopy to prevent the risk of excessive bleeding during or after the operation. It may also interact with sedation that is needed for the procedure. If we are prescribed routine blood thinners, it’s best to discuss individual recommendations with our treatment team.
  • Alcohol. Patients are advised to stop drinking alcohol once starting other colonoscopy protocols. Alcohol has blood-thinning properties and other effects that can impact the procedure. 

Avoiding these four things will give us the best chance of a successful procedure. But let’s dive into how alcohol, specifically, could complicate our colonoscopy.

Drinking Alcohol Before a Colonoscopy

Most clear liquids are permitted up to two to four hours before the procedure. While most alcoholic beverages are clear liquids, they are still not allowed. 

Why? There are several reasons. Alcohol dehydrates us, impacts anesthesia (the stuff that keeps us safe and asleep), and thins our blood. All of these can complicate what would normally be a standard procedure. 

But what about just one beer? Can one sip of wine hurt?

Effects of Different Types of Alcohol on Colonoscopy Screenings

When it comes to preparing for a colonoscopy (or any procedure for that matter), all alcohol is created equal. 

Spirits, indeed, contain higher alcohol by volume, but any amount of alcohol can impact a colonoscopy. Lower-alcohol beverages such as wine or beer may produce less of an impact, but any amount of alcohol can have serious adverse effects.

Negative Effects of Drinking Alcohol Before Colonoscopy Procedures 

People get colonoscopies for one reason: to detect abnormalities. If the doctor cannot get a clear picture, the whole procedure is pointless. When we drink before the procedure, we complicate the screening in multiple ways:

  • Impacted imaging. Depending on the alcoholic beverage, alcohol can leave a residue that may mask important areas that may have abnormalities. This can affect treatment and lead to further health complications. 

  • Cognitive impairment. Alcohol is known to lower inhibitions, cloud judgment, and increase food cravings, all of which could derail pre-op protocols and interfere with successful imaging.
  • Dehydration. Combined with the bowel prep instructions, which are designed to eliminate fluids, alcohol can cause further dehydration, elevating the risk of kidney issues and dehydration symptoms.
  • Dangerous sedation. Alcohol affects the same system as anesthesia — making the anesthesia less effective and causing dangerous symptoms. If our treatment team is not aware, they may increase the level of sedation due to ineffectiveness. Interactions with anesthesia can lead to nausea, vomiting, aspiration, accidental awareness, and other complications.

  • Risk of infection. A colonoscopy is an invasive procedure that is prone to infections. Alcohol suppresses proper immune function, which increases the risk of developing an infection. 

Drinking before a colonoscopy opens the door to complications that can be fatal. It is imperative that we tell our medical team if we have had anything to drink in the days leading up to our procedure. We might be hesitant to say anything for fear they will reschedule the procedure, but rescheduling is a small price to pay to avoid complications. 

Risks of Drinking Before a Colonoscopy

When Should You Stop Drinking Before a Colonoscopy

We should clear our calendars of all happy hours, weddings, or other festivities two to three days before a colonoscopy. A liquid diet and bowel emptying preparation typically start two days before colonoscopy procedures are scheduled. While avoiding alcohol for a longer period before a colonoscopy is beneficial, ensuring our last drink is at least 48 hours before is crucial for our safety.

Chronic drinking is also shown to impact anesthesia, regardless of following proper protocols. Be sure to communicate clearly with the operating physician and request individual direction if needed. Colonoscopy prep seems like it involves a lot of “no’s.” Let’s get into some “yes’s” and alternatives to alcohol.

What To Drink Instead of Alcohol Before a Colonoscopy

Colonoscopy prep can be unpleasant, but it doesn’t have to be miserable. As long as the beverage is non-alcoholic and meets the clear liquid criteria, we can still enjoy it. There are plenty of alternatives that won’t impact our colonoscopy:

  • Tea
  • Coffee 
  • Soda
  • Sports drinks
  • Juices without pulp 
  • Clear mocktails

Including variety in our clear liquid diet helps make the days leading up to our procedure less miserable. Water can get a bit old after two days of just that (even if it is the liquid of life). These alternatives can help us avoid alcohol the days before a colonoscopy, but what do we do if we slip up?

What To Do If You Drink Before a Colonoscopy

If we do accidentally have a drink within 48 hours of our colonoscopy, the first thing to do is note the time of our last drink. We can then inform our treatment team to receive further guidance on how to proceed. If necessary, the colonoscopy can be postponed to a later date.

We’ve warned against drinking before the procedure, but what about after?

Can You Drink After Colonoscopy Procedures?

Drinking right after a colonoscopy may not pose an immediate risk to our health, but it may lead to adverse symptoms and produce complications during recovery.

It may take hours or days to fully metabolize anesthesia. If we drink while anesthesia is still in our system, our liver may not be able to keep up. This can lead to increased side effects from anesthesia drugs and hangover symptoms from alcohol. 

Furthermore, if any abnormalities are discovered and removed during the procedure, we might be prescribed medications. Drinking after the operation can interact with prescribed medications and also impact recovery.

When dealing with invasive procedures, the fewer complications the better. We’ve determined that alcohol is one of these complications that negatively influences the safety and outcome of colonoscopy procedures. To set us up for success, we can make intentional choices during colonoscopy preparation. 

Practicing Safe Preparation for Medical Procedures

Implementing safe practices leading up to any medical procedure helps things go more smoothly. Here are four tips we can keep in our toolbox for colonoscopies and other medical procedures:

  • Follow procedures. The long list of protocols leading up to a colonoscopy is there for a reason. It may seem extensive, but each direction helps to increase the success of the operation and keep us safe. Even though it may not seem like it at the moment, the preparation guidebook doesn’t exist just to make us suffer. 
  • Limit complicating substances. Strict guidelines for drinking and smoking may be outlined in the 24-48 hours leading up to a procedure. However, limiting substances such as alcohol and tobacco before this period and after the procedure can further prevent unwanted complications. 
  • Stay hydrated. Proper hydration seems to be recommended for everything. That’s because it’s beneficial in all aspects. Drinking plenty of water helps our cells and organs function optimally and can aid in recovery.
  • Ask questions. When in doubt, it’s always better to ask for clarification. The preparation guidelines are helpful for general safety, but since we all have individual differences and circumstances, specific directions can be most beneficial. 

Key Takeaways

A colonoscopy and the prep leading up to it can be a pain in the butt (pun intended), but a successful procedure can help catch issues before they get more serious. The procedure is short but open to a host of complications when pre-procedure guidelines aren’t followed. One of these procedures is avoiding alcohol. We may think that a sip of wine can’t hurt, but any amount of alcohol before a colonoscopy can have detrimental effects on our safety and the conclusiveness of the test. Thankfully, there are plenty of alternatives to alcohol that we can still enjoy during colonoscopy prep. Avoid alcohol and follow protocol!

Summary FAQs

1. Is it safe to drink alcohol before colonoscopy screenings?

No. Alcohol affects the sedation used for the procedure and causes other complications during and after the colonoscopy.

2. Can I drink beer before a colonoscopy?

No. Although beer is a clear liquid, it’s still an alcoholic beverage that impacts anesthesia and presents further complications.

3. When should I stop drinking coffee before a colonoscopy?

Generally, clear liquids are permitted up to 2-4 hours before the procedure. However, it’s best to check with your physician for specific instructions. 

4. Can I drink alcohol two days before colonoscopy procedures?

It’s recommended to refrain from drinking alcohol up to 48 hours before the colonoscopy to avoid interaction with anesthesia and avoid other complications. 

5. Can I drink after a colonoscopy?

Drinking after a colonoscopy may cause adverse interactions between anesthesia and prescribed medications following the procedure.

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