Cheers! Alcohol and the ostomy

One of the questions I see posted on forums often revolves around the ability to drink alcohol with an ostomy. Though every ostomate is different in what they can tolerate, I thought I would share my experiences. Now I will say straightaway that I am not a big drinker. Months can go by where I don’t drink at all. I even sometimes have beers in the fridge that reach their expiration date. Crazy, I know. However, even though I don’t drink that often, there is nothing like cracking open a cold beer after doing a successful climb, relaxing with a brew at a baseball game or enjoying libations at a special occasion.

Enjoying drinks with friends is something I hoped I could still do after surgery, and I am happy to report that I have no problems drinking wine, beer, or other alcoholic beverages with my ileostomy. Here are a few of the things I notice:

  • If I drink on an empty stomach, I get pure liquid output that rushes through my system, and I can get dehydrated. I make sure to always eat a meal when I drink alcohol. When I do eat food with the alcohol, my output isn’t affected at all.
  • Even when things don’t rush through, I notice that alcohol still dehydrates me. Therefore, I make sure to drink a lot of water. Last night, I had two drinks and drank two 12 oz glasses of water with each one.
  • I can drink wine, beer (as long as it is gluten-free due to being gluten intolerant) and any other alcoholic beverages. I notice no appreciable differences in the way they affect my stomach or output.
  • Some people find that carbonated beverages like beer can cause gas which makes their pouch puff up. I have not found this to be the case and notice no difference from the normal “poofing” I get everyday.
  • The effects of alcohol seem more pronounced now that I have an ileostomy. I am very careful to assess my transportation options before I drink any alcohol.

Last night there was much reason to celebrate. My friend, Sarah, had passed her prelims and is now a Ph.D. candidate for her Graduate Degree Program in Ecology. Her final next step will be to complete her doctoral dissertation on the research she is doing on elephants in Africa. She even started an organization to help the Tanzanian people form a personal connection with the wildlife in nearby Ruaha National Park in hopes that it will lead to a local ethic of conservation. Sarah is a super inspirational person, and had worked so hard to reach this milestone. Celebrating over margaritas and beer was most definitely in order.

Amanda, Sarah and I celebrating after Sarah aced her Ph.D. prelims.

I often write about how meaningful the small things in life feel after being sick. It felt so good to be sitting there in the bar last night, laughing and enjoying drinks with my friends, basking in the camaraderie and hearing stories of hard tests and accomplishments reached. I looked around and saw everyone at the booths and tables around me smiling and having a fun time. It was one of many moments this year when I had the profound sense that everything is wonderfully normal and good in my life again.

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17 thoughts on “Cheers! Alcohol and the ostomy

    1. Hi Carol,
      I can definitely relate to what you are feeling. Though I was pretty excited to get my colon out because it was making me so sick and medications were causing me painful side effects, I was still completely terrified before my surgery. I am not going to sugar coat things… the initial days after the operation hurt. Still, even with post-surgical pain, I knew the day after surgery that I felt better without the diseased colon in my body. The learning curve of managing an ostomy is huge at first, but before you know it you will be a pro. Take it day by day. Be patient and don’t worry about figuring it all out at once. Once you heal up, you will get back to the things you love! Best wishes.
      -Heidi

      1. Seeing as I have UC is it possible for the UC to travel somewhere else. I will have colon removed and rectum as well as anus. Seeing as it started in the rectum first and spread I figure that type surgery will be done. I had a test done recently and my liver count was high and I have had this happen before. Like I told my doctor I don’t want to have added problems to deal with besides the problem I already have. I do not want a bad liver.

  1. Carol,

    I remember my surgeon telling me that there was a liver condition that, though rare, sometimes went hand-in-hand with UC. He said the surgery helps UC, but would not make the chances of the liver condition go away. I would continue to work with the doctor to see what the cause of your liver troubles are. When I was on some UC medications, my liver counts were also out of whack. Once I went off the medications, my liver counts went back to normal. It is a bummer that sometimes there are extra-intestinal manifestations with ulcerative colitis. At least after the surgery though, one does not have to deal with having a colon in their body that is constantly making them sick even if there are some other troubles.

  2. Thanks so much for the reassurance that life with an Ostomy does go on! I had surgery 4weeks ago to remove my colorectal cancer tumor and I’m excited to say that we are currently in the car, driving to my boys’ football tournament in Florida! I was anxious I would not be able to make this trip! I’m being careful to take care of myself and drink LOTS of water, but I’m looking forward to having a beer on the beach to celebrate their victories! Hang in there, y’all! I think we’re stronger than we give ourselves credit for!

    1. Football Momma,

      Yippee! I am so glad that you were able to get out on the trip to your son’s tournament. I love to hear positive stories from other people with ostomies. You are so right! We are strong and can do anything. And then celebrate with a beer!

      -Heidi

  3. Thank you all for your comments. Now I can share also with my mom who now wears an Ostomy bag as she will for the rest of her life due to being diagnosed with Colorectal Cancer two years ago.She endured great pain for a while after the surgery, but now the cancer is gone and she’s doing great! She is now fifty-five, but has a fifty-sixth-birthday coming in March. She also drinks alcohol. I’m relieved to know that it won’t affect her health in any way. Marie in Alabama.

    1. Marie,

      Being able to drink a beer with friends or have a nice glass of wine again is so wonderful. And it definitely continues to cause no issues with my ileostomy or health. I am happy to hear that your mom is doing well and is able to do the things she enjoys again!

      -Heidi

  4. Hi there, you are so positive and I admire that. I wish I could look at my situation in a more positive way.

    I had an ileostomy almost a year ago now due to colorectal cancer. I have found it so hard. I don’t like going anywhere and when I do I just find myself worrying about being near a toilet or whether people will notice I have a bulge. If I do have to go somewhere I just don’t eat until I am back home. Fortunately though, I am hoping to have my stoma reversed in May and I cannot wait! I really cannot live like this. Not to mention not wanting to be intimate with my husband, it has ruined my life. I have been out and have leaked all over the place to the point where it has been running down my leg. Sorry to sound so negative. I actually was looking up about drinking alcohol because I have an awards ceremony to go to next month which I am dreading!

    I wish you all the best and like I said, sorry to sound so negative. x

    1. Hi Andie!
      It’s been more than two years since I had my ileostomy reversed and all is well! But I would like to encourage you to reach out to a good stoma care nurse and see if they can help you with any leakage issues. I had a great nurse who was sincerely interested in teaching me how to be very independent and confident in taking care of myself. It made all the difference in the world!
      And on the issue of intimacy, I completely understand what you are going through! I found that a cute nightgown that covered my midsection kept both of our minds off the bag.
      It always blessed me to remember that, as gross as it sometimes was, that ileostomy helped save my life. Without it, my colon could not have healed the way it needed to and I would have gone septic! Be encouraged to know that this is for a season, not forever! I am excited to hear that the end of the ostomy is in sight for you! Hang in there! You can do this! Here’s hoping for many celebrations to come for you! God bless!

    2. Hi Andie,

      Thanks for writing. No worries– don’t feel bad about being negative. Having an ostomy can be tough and each one of us grieves the loss of our colon differently. I agree with Bill and Camey about trying to get leaks under control. That will give you confidence. In fact, for me, the key to feeling better about my ostomy was doing anything I could to gain confidence. Not only did that mean weeding through all the products, tips and techniques to find the system that worked for me and didn’t leak, but it also meant purposely putting myself in uncomfortable situations to prove to myself that I could handle them with my ostomy. It was scary, but each time I succeeded at a new situation, my acceptance of my ostomy grew. If I did have an issue, I was forced to face it and solve the problem which also built my confidence. It has taken a while, but now I am so comfortable with my ostomy that I really could care less what people think. Maybe there are some little steps you can take to build confidence with your ostomy so that you are not so fearful.

      As far as alcohol, I still have no issues with it as long as I don’t drink on an empty stomach (which leads to watery output.)

      Best wishes with your reversal in May. That is just around the corner and will be here in no time. Keep hanging in there! I also hope your awards ceremony goes well. I am going to one this week as well:)

      Take Care,
      Heidi

  5. The secret to feeling secure in social situations is to see a wound specialist or nurse specially trained to assist you in correctly attaching the pouch. Key after getting the training is selecting the kind of pouching system that works best for you.
    I was surprised to find how little support for after care existed in my community.
    Bill

  6. Hi Heidi,
    I saw one of your climbing photos in which you were changing your ostomy bag. It looks as though you wear an ostomy belt and I am wondering what brand etc you have found works for an active lifestyle?
    Thanks, Suzanne

    1. Hi Suzanne,

      Thanks for writing and thanks for your patience in waiting for a response. I also saw your email. It has been a full week and I have been at a work conference the past couple of days.

      As far as belts, the only one I use (and the one in the climbing video) is a Nu-Hope hernia prevention belt. I use it more for abdominal support than for wafer adherence, but I do think it helps with that as well. The one I use is the flat-panel model in cool comfort elastic. It is found on page 5 of this catalog.

      http://www.nu-hope.com/beltlit.pdf

      These belts are appliance-brand/flange-size-specific, so if you are having trouble figuring out which size and configuration you need, Nu Hope customer service is very helpful. Once you know which one you need and get the model number, you actually order from your regular ostomy supply company such as Byram or Edgepark. Because these are considered an actual medical supply (due to the belts preventing or treating hernias), sometimes insurance will pay a portion depending on your durable medical equipment benefit.

      I like the 6-inch wide belt the most as I find it comfortable and supportive. This is the one I wear for all strenuous activities that might strain the area around my stoma (weight-lifting, snowboarding, rock-climbing, carrying a heavy overnight backpack etc.) I also have a 4-inch wide one I wear for yoga since it is easier to bend in. When I am not working out, I don’t wear any belt, but you could probably wear a Nu-Hope belt all of the time if you wanted to. It just might feel a little confining.

      One issue I have with the Nu-Hope belt is that I have a body shape that includes a narrow waist compared to wider hips. The belt likes to slide up to that narrow spot. To remedy this, I almost always layer it under a pair of Comfizz high-waisted boxers. They hold the belt in place and are very comfortable. In fact, when I don’t need to wear a belt (for instance when doing lighter activities like running, Nordic skiing or bicycling), I will often just wear Comfizz boxers. I like how they hold my ostomy appliance close to my skin and keep it from flopping around while also providing some abdominal support. Comfizz boxers come in both level-one and level-two varieties. I have some of both. The level-one boxers are a bit thinner and nice for everyday wear. The level-two boxers are thicker and provide more abdominal support. This undergarment is from the UK, but they are reasonably priced and ship quickly and inexpensively. I have not found a comparable product made in the US.

      http://comfizz.com/product/highwaist-boxer-unisex/

      One other thing I like to wear is a cloth pouch cover. Without it, the sharp corners and edges of the bag portion of my appliance chafes my leg horribly. You can purchase pouch covers or they are very easy to sew out of cotton broadcloth or calico if you have a sewing machine. Here is an example of pouch covers.

      http://cspouchcovers.com/

      In your email, you had also mentioned wear-time. I don’t have an answer for getting an Eakin ring to last longer. They dissolve on me after about four days. One thing I do after putting on my Eakin ring and wafer is “caulking” the tiny crack between my stoma and Eakin with some Convatec Stomahesive Paste. It was a little trick my WOC nurse taught me. To do this you need to be using a two-piece appliance. After putting down your Eakin, then putting your wafer over it, wet your finger, put a little paste on it, and work the paste into the crack that naturally forms between your stoma and the Eakin. (The wet finger prevents paste from sticking to your finger as you work it into the crack). Once the paste dries a bit, snap the bag portion of the two-piece on. I find this little bit of paste help protect the area until the Eakin has a chance to swell. Eventually the paste and Eakin sort of meld together. I honestly don’t know how much extra time it gives me, but it is one extra layer that the output has to work through before reaching my Eakin.

      If you are having problems with output escaping paste the edge of your wafer, one super handy product for containing leaks are Coloplast Brava Elastic Barrier Strips. You basically picture frame your wafer with them which adds extra protection around the edge. Of course, you want to prevent that situation as output on your skin under the wafer is a no-no. However, at least the Brava Elastic Barrier Strips buy you some time until you can get to a place where you can change the whole appliance.

      https://www.coloplast.us/brava-elastic-tape-1-en-us.aspx

      I hope some of this helps! Please email or comment if you have additional questions.

      Cheers,
      Heidi

  7. It’s good to know this about drinking and ostomy. My wife is looking to have that procedure done, so I know she’ll want to read this. She doesn’t drink alcohol often, so maybe I can get her to just quit, if it really dehydrates you.

    1. Hi Ridley,

      Thanks for writing. I don’t think your wife would have to quit enjoying a drink once in a while. She may end up having a different experience than me, and even if drinking did cause liquid output for her, she could try drinking extra water to help offset any loss.

      Best,
      Heidi

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