The role of alcohol use in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and dyspepsia is not well understood. We hypothesised that people with psychological distress who drink no alcohol, or excess alcohol, are at increased risk of having IBS or dyspepsia. Valid gastrointestinal (GI) symptom surveys were mailed to randomly selected cohorts of community residents. Associations between IBS, dyspepsia and abdominal pain and alcohol use were assessed using logistic regression adjusted for a Somatic Symptom Checklist score (SSC). A total of 4390 (80%) responded; of these, 10.5% reported IBS, 2% dyspepsia and 22% abdominal pain. Alcohol consumption >7 drinks week(-1) was associated with a greater odds for dyspepsia (OR 2.3; 95% CI:1.1-5.0) and frequent abdominal pain (OR 1.5; 95% CI: 1.1-2.0) but not IBS. However, significant interactions among gender, alcohol use and SSC scores were detected (P < 0.005). In females with a low SSC score, consuming alcohol > or =7 drinks week(-1) increased the odds of IBS compared to drinking alcohol moderately. Alcohol consumption was associated with dyspepsia and abdominal pain. A relationship with IBS was identified when interactions with somatization and gender were appropriately considered. Whether these associations are due to the effects of alcohol on the gut, or a common central mechanism remains to be determined.