Can Alcohol Cause a Crohn's Flare-Up?

Medically Reviewed on 3/14/2022
Can Alcohol Cause a Crohn's Flare-Up
Alcohol can cause a Crohn’s flare-up by disrupting the gut barrier function, which prevents toxins from penetrating the intestinal wall

Alcohol can cause a Crohn’s flare-up by disrupting the gut barrier function, which prevents toxins from penetrating the intestinal wall, thereby triggering or worsening symptoms. Another reason why alcohol can trigger Crohn’s flare-ups is because cocktails often have high sugar content, which can lead to diarrhea.

Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that is caused by chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. Even a small amount of alcohol can cause a Crohn’s flare-up in some people. 

Alcohol can also interact with some Crohn’s disease medications, such as antibiotics. Ask your doctor about whether it is safe to drink alcohol while taking any medications that have been prescribed for your condition.

If you have Crohn’s, take note of how your body reacts to alcohol. You may need to give up alcohol completely or at least practice moderation.

What causes Crohn’s flare-ups?

Some of the most common causes of Crohn’s flare-ups include:

  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Stress
  • Antibiotics
  • Not taking your medications as prescribed
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin, naproxen, or ibuprofen
  • Excessive consumption of foods that your intestines cannot tolerate
  • Complications of Crohn’s, such as: 
    • Fissure
    • Fistula
    • Stricture
    • Abscess

Crohn’s flare-ups usually last several days and go away on their own. In some cases, however, a flare-up may progress and cause complications that require surgery.

What are symptoms of Crohn’s flare-up?

Symptoms of a Crohn’s flare-up may include:

Other less common but warning signs of a flare-up include:

How do you manage a Crohn’s flare-up?

Frequent flare-ups can cause intestinal damage and complications such as:

As soon as you notice signs of a Crohn’s flare-up, it is important to take steps to manage the condition:

  • Diet
    • Opt for bland foods such as:
      • Bananas
      • White bread
      • White rice
      • Applesauce
      • Smooth peanut butter
      • Potatoes without skin
      • Steamed fish
    • Avoid foods such as:
      • Raw fruits and vegetables
      • Greasy, fried foods
      • Coffee and other caffeinated foods or drinks
  • Stress management: Since stress can trigger a flare-up, try to reduce stress by getting enough sleep and practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, or meditation. Even low-intensity aerobic exercise and journaling can help you manage or reduce symptoms.
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) medications: OTC medications can provide relief from some Crohn’s symptoms. For example, antidiarrheal medications can help reduce the frequency of diarrhea, and pain medication such as acetaminophen, can help alleviate abdominal pain. Ask your doctor about whether these medications are safe to take.  

When to seek urgent medical help

Sometimes, a flare-up can lead to serious complications. Seek medical help right away if you experience symptoms such as:


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Medically Reviewed on 3/14/2022
Image Source: iStock Images

Swanson GR, Sedghi S, Farhadi A, Keshavarzian A. Pattern of alcohol consumption and its effect on gastrointestinal symptoms in inflammatory bowel disease. Alcohol. 2010;44(3):223-228.

Feldman L. Does smoking, alcohol, or coffee put you at risk for Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis? Crohn's & Colitis Foundation.

White BA, Ramos GP, Kane S. The Impact of Alcohol in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases. Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2021 May 14:izab089.