How Alcohol Affects Your Kidneys: Short- & Long-Term Effects

Written by Theresa Valenzky

& Medically Reviewed by Benjamin Caleb Williams, RN

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Last Updated - 9/15/2023

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Updated 09/15/2023

The kidneys play an important role in filtering waste. They work to keep the right balance of chemicals and electrolytes in the blood and help maintain normal blood pressure. Alcohol can impact these functions, as drinking affects your kidneys in many ways. For example, alcohol causes dehydration, which decreases blood flow to the kidneys and makes it more difficult for them to do their job. If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol use, knowing how it can affect kidney function and health is important.

How Does Alcohol Affect the Kidneys?

Alcohol affects the kidneys in several ways. Alcohol dehydrates, reducing the volume of water in your body. While many body parts are affected by dehydration, the kidneys are particularly sensitive to it. The kidneys are designed to retain water when dehydration occurs, but they cannot fully compensate when alcohol is still being used. This creates stress on the kidneys.

In addition to causing dehydration, alcohol increases blood pressure by causing blood vessels to constrict. The kidneys help control blood pressure. They respond to high blood pressure by removing fluid from the blood, which decreases its volume and the pressure it causes. With alcohol use, the kidneys experience stress because they are working to retain fluid to help with dehydration and release fluid to help with high blood pressure.

Long-term alcohol abuse can also lead to liver problems. The liver plays a role in maintaining blood flow to the kidneys, and alcohol-related liver problems can further impact kidney health.

Diuretic Effect of Alcohol

Alcohol affects how your brain releases a hormone called vasopressin, suppressing how much is released. Vasopressin directly acts on your kidneys, reducing urine production. When alcohol suppresses normal vasopressin levels, your kidneys will increase urine production to higher levels. High urine output (called diuresis) occurs, increasing strain on the kidneys by forcing them to alter their normal levels of function.

Dehydration and Kidney Function

Because of the diuretic effect alcohol has on the kidneys, dehydration can occur. The kidneys are essential in maintaining the body’s fluid levels and are very sensitive to hydration, detecting dehydration by recognizing when electrolyte levels become more concentrated. Dehydration stimulates the kidneys to conserve and produce less fluid. This conflicts with the increased urine production alcohol simultaneously creates by affecting vasopressin levels, significantly increasing the stress and strain on the kidneys by forcing them to try to produce more and less urine simultaneously.

Impact on Blood Pressure

The kidneys are one of several ways the body controls blood pressure. As pressure rises, the kidneys can reduce blood pressure by removing some of the blood’s volume. The kidneys are very sensitive to pressure changes, and big swings in blood pressure or prolonged high blood pressure can damage them. Alcohol causes an initial dip in blood pressure that quickly elevates, leading to high blood pressure for several hours after drinking. Binge drinking can cause severe increases in blood pressure, while heavy drinking over time causes chronically high blood pressure. Both situations can damage kidneys. 

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on Kidneys

Chronic Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease occurs when the kidneys are damaged and unable to function correctly. This condition is typically permanent and sometimes requires dialysis, a form of life support where a machine performs the filtering function of your kidneys. The damage chronic alcohol use creates doubles your risk of chronic kidney disease. This risk is five times higher if you smoke in addition to drinking.


Alcohol use can increase the risk of glomerulonephritis, a condition in which the kidney’s filtering structures become inflamed and damaged. This can be due to alcohol causing an autoimmune reaction that causes this inflammation. Alcohol can also suppress your immune system, increasing the risk of glomerulonephritis. This condition can lead to short- and long-term kidney damage.

Diabetes and Kidney Complications

Alcohol increases your risk of developing diabetes and can make it more difficult to manage diabetes if you do have it. One of the main negative effects that diabetes can create is impaired kidney function. If alcohol increases the symptoms of diabetes, it can indirectly lead to kidney complications. 

Alcohol-Related Kidney Disorders

Alcoholic Kidney Disease

Alcoholic kidney disease is not a specific medical condition. Rather, it is an umbrella term not specifically defined and refers to kidney diseases caused by alcohol use. Alcoholic kidney disease often refers to any kidney disease caused by heavy alcohol use.

Acute Kidney Injury (AKI)

Acute kidney injury is a type of kidney failure that lasts only a few weeks. While a short-term problem, it is often very serious and can even be life-threatening in some situations. It can also turn into chronic kidney disease and have life-long effects. AKI can be caused by the shock binge drinking causes to the kidneys.

Chronic Kidney Damage Due to Binge Drinking

While binge drinking can cause acute kidney injury, it can also lead to chronic kidney damage. In this situation, the strain on the kidneys leads to permanent damage. Chronic kidney damage is often progressive, requiring dialysis every one to three days to remove toxins that build up in your body and keep you alive. 

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Safe Alcohol Consumption and Kidney Health

Studies show that no amount of alcohol is good for your health. However, it is believed that light to moderate drinking is unlikely to cause serious health problems for most people. Some experts would contend that any alcohol is too much, but most will just advise against heavy alcohol use.

Recommended Alcohol Intake

For men, heavy alcohol use is defined as more than four drinks in a single sitting or more than 14 drinks in a week. For women, heavy drinking is defined as drinking more than three drinks in a single sitting or more than seven drinks in a day. It is important to remember that someone who is an older adult or has health problems may be more susceptible to the effects of alcohol than the general population.

Preventing Dehydration During Alcohol Consumption

Dehydration is a serious concern if you drink heavily. You can reduce the risk of dehydration by drinking water while using alcohol. While there is no set amount of water you should be consuming, many medical professionals recommend drinking at least two full glasses of water for every alcoholic drink you use.

What Are the First Signs of Kidney Damage From Alcohol?

While alcohol can damage the kidneys, there are no symptoms of kidney damage specific to alcohol use. However, kidney damage from alcohol or other factors causes several symptoms. Symptoms of kidney damage may include:

  • Red or pink urine
  • Foamy urine
  • Urinating more frequently or in larger amounts than normal
  • Urinating less frequently or in smaller amounts than normal
  • Swelling in the legs or feet
  • Decreased energy
  • Pain in your low back or flanks
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Dry, itchy skin
  • Muscle cramping

While these symptoms can indicate that kidney disease may be present, they cannot be used to diagnose kidney disease. Medical testing by a doctor will be necessary to determine if kidney damage has occurred. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, contact your doctor as soon as possible so they can help control the damage.

Can Kidneys Recover From Alcohol Damage?

The kidneys can often recover from alcohol damage. Studies show that kidney-related problems caused by alcohol may resolve with four weeks of abstinence. While the kidneys can heal quite well once heavy alcohol use is removed, there may be situations where the stress is so great that it causes lasting damage. 

The ability of the kidneys to recover will depend on many factors. How long the person engaged in heavy alcohol use, the presence of other health problems and the types of kidney damage that occurred play an important role in how recovery progresses.

Get Same-Day Admission for Alcohol Addiction Treatment Today

The risk and extent of kidney damage will only increase as alcohol use continues. If you or a loved one are experiencing kidney problems related to alcohol use, quitting alcohol is essential.

If you or your loved one have kidney problems caused by alcohol consumption, you may have an alcohol use disorder. At The Recovery Village Columbus, we offer compassionate, comprehensive treatment programs to help you gain lasting freedom from alcohol addiction. Contact a Recovery Advocate today to learn how we can help you achieve lasting recovery.

View Sources

National Kidney Foundation. “Drinking Alcohol Affects Your Kidneys.” August 12, 2014. Accessed August 15, 2023.

Raphelson, Samantha. “No Amount Of Alcohol Is Good For Your He[…]h, Global Study Says.” NPR, August 24, 2018. Accessed August 15, 2023.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Drinking Levels Defined.” Accessed August 15, 2023.

National Kidney Foundation. “10 Signs You May Have Kidney Disease.” December 17, 2020. Accessed August 15, 2023.

National Kidney Foundation. “Alcohol and Your Kidneys.” Accessed July 15, 2022.

Epstein, Murray. “Alcohol’s Impact on Kidney Function.” Alcohol Health and Research World, 1997. Accessed August 15, 2023.

De Marchi, Sergio; Cecchin, Emanuela; et al. “Renal Tubular Dysfunction in Chronic Alc[…]ffects of Abstinence.” New England Journal of Medicine, December 23, 1993. Accessed August 15, 2023.

Fan, Zhenliang; Yun, Jie; & et al. “Alcohol Consumption Can be a “Double-Edged Sword” for Chronic Kidney Disease Patients.” Medical Science Monitor. September 20, 2019. Accessed August 15, 2023.

Baliunas, Dolly O.; Taylor, Benjamin J.; Irving, Hyacinth; Roerecke, Michael; Patra, Jayadeep; Mohapatra, Satya; Rehm, Jürgen. “Alcohol as a Risk Factor for Type 2 Diabetes.” Diabetes Care, November 2009. Accessed August 15, 2023.


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