Does Alcohol Affect the Kidneys?

Does Alcohol Affect the Kidneys?

Last Updated: February 15, 2023

The kidneys play an important role in filtering wastes. They work to keep the right balance of chemicals and electrolytes in the blood and help maintain a normal blood pressure. Alcohol can impact these functions, as drinking affects your kidneys in many different 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, it’s important to be aware of how it can affect kidney function and health.

How Much Alcohol Is Too Much?

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.

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

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While alcohol can damage the kidneys, there are no symptoms of kidney damage that are specific to alcohol use. However, kidney damage from alcohol or other factors does cause 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
  • 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.

How Does Alcohol Affect the Kidneys?

Alcohol affects the kidneys in several different ways. Alcohol is dehydrating, so it reduces the volume of water in your body. While many parts of the body are affected by dehydration, the kidneys are particularly sensitive to it. The kidneys are designed to retain water when dehydration occurs, but they are not able to 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 is causing. With alcohol use, the kidneys experience stress because they are working to both 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.

Can Kidneys Recover from Alcohol Damage?

The kidneys can often recover from alcohol damage. Studies show that many of the kidney-related problems caused by alcohol use resolve with four weeks of abstinence. While the kidneys usually heal quite well once the stress of heavy alcohol use is removed, there may be some 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 all play an important role in how recovery progresses.

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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, then quitting alcohol is essential.


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