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Un-Cool Runnings: Why we get the runs when we drink

Author: The Simple Bit

Category: Science

Getting the runs after a night on the booze is pretty common. So what makes it happen, and can we make it stop?

The simple bits:

  • Drinking even a little bit of alcohol can give us the runs
  • Sometimes, it can have the opposite effect
  • The type of alcohol we drink can make a difference
  • Planning ahead can help

Booze, huh? We’ve already looked at what it does to our brain and why it makes us feel ‘hangxious’ but alcohol can affect us physically as well. You know what we’re talking about, right? Things tend to…move pretty quickly the day after a drinking session. So what’s the science behind this unpleasant phenomenon? And can we stop it? (Spoiler alert: sort of). 

So let’s start with WHY it happens, starting with how we process alcohol.

Why it happens:

So that’s the digestion process. And drinking – even just a little bit – can speed up the rate of digestion and cause loose stools. The kinds of greasy foods we tend to eat when we’ve had a few (gee that 3am Halal Snack Pack seemed like a sweet idea) can also move things through us quickly. Weirdly, drink too much and the opposite can happen. You can end up bloated, constipated and passing very firm stools. It’s a delicate balance. 

Or, as one study puts it, “Low alcohol doses accelerate gastric emptying, whereas high doses delay emptying and slow bowel motility.” Ewwww.


We would have fallen for it too. Pic by Skyler Smith


Who does it happen to?

Anyone who drinks, really. But some groups are more likely to get the runs than others. People with chronic bowel, intestinal and auto-immune illnesses like coeliac disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and Crohn’s disease already have sensitive digestive tracts so alcohol can play havoc with them.

The runs can also depend on what you drink. Beer tends to have a lot of gluten in it, and wine contains allergens which some people can be sensitive to. Weirdly enough, a 2015 study also found that people with irregular sleep patterns like shift workers and students pulling all-nighters may also be more likely to get the post-booze runs. 

Please make it stop.

Well, just like hangovers and blacking out, there’s not a lot you can do once the drinking has been done. Planning ahead can help though. Eat a proper meal before you drink, drink slowly, go for a drink with less alcohol content and alternate between alcohol and water when you’re drinking. And afterwards, feed your stomach good things to get things back to normal, not more grease. No matter how good that HSP sounds….


And as always, go see your trusty GP if your after-alcohol runs last for more than a day.