Alcohol and Kidneys: How Does Alcohol Affect the Kidneys?

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Both acute and chronic alcohol consumption can impair kidney function, especially with a pre-existing liver disease. Research has shown that alcohol can lead to alterations in the kidneys’ structure and function, as well as a decreased ability to regulate the body’s fluid volume and electrolyte balance.

Continue reading to explore the relationship between alcohol and kidneys, understand why you might be experiencing kidney pain after drinking alcohol, and learn tips for responsible drinking.

About Kidneys

The kidneys are a pair of bean-shaped organs, each roughly the size of a fist, situated on either side of the spine, just below the rib cage.

The kidneys are essential in the urinary system, filtering about half a cup of blood per minute to remove waste and excess water through urine. They help regulate the body’s acid-base balance and maintain crucial mineral levels (like sodium, calcium, phosphorus, and potassium), vital for the proper function of nerves, muscles, and tissues.

The kidneys also produce hormones that are vital for:

  • Regulating blood pressure
  • Stimulating the production of red blood cells
  • Ensuring the strength and health of bones

How Does Alcohol Affect the Kidneys?

Given the vital and diverse functions of the kidneys in the body, their dysfunction can lead to a spectrum of health issues, ranging from minor changes in fluid balance to severe acute kidney failure, which can be fatal.

A concerning aspect of alcohol consumption is its ability to directly compromise kidney function or indirectly through the development of liver disease. When consumed in excess, alcohol can have several adverse effects on the kidneys, such as:


Alcohol’s diuretic effect can lead to increased urine production within 20 minutes after consumption, contributing to dehydration and electrolyte loss.

Dehydration can impair kidney function by reducing the body’s ability to flush out waste products effectively, potentially accumulating waste products in the bloodstream. This can strain the kidneys and compromise their ability to maintain proper electrolyte balance and function.

Electrolyte Imbalance

Alcohol-induced dehydration causes an electrolyte imbalance, disrupting the balance of crucial minerals such as calcium, sodium, potassium, and magnesium, which are vital for maintaining hydration, nerve impulses, and muscle function.

Symptoms of electrolyte imbalance may include:

  • An accelerated or irregular heartbeat
  • Nausea with or without vomiting
  • Lack of energy
  • Headaches
  • Cramping or weakened muscles
  • A confused mental state
  • Seizures

Kidney Stones

Can alcohol cause kidney stones? The answer is yes, but not directly. Electrolyte imbalance due to chronic dehydration can increase your risk of developing kidney stones. They form when waste products in your urine become too concentrated and crystallize.

High calcium levels in the urine can predispose individuals to developing calcium oxalate or calcium phosphate kidney stones. More than 80% of kidney stones globally comprise calcium oxalate (CaOx).

Alcohol and Kidney Disease

Excessive alcohol consumption can contribute to chronic kidney disease (CKD), a gradual decline in kidney function, especially in those with existing kidney issues.

Research indicates that alcohol can directly damage the kidneys, changing their structure and form. Alcoholic patients with cirrhosis may experience kidney enlargement and inflammation. Alcohol consumption can cause high blood pressure or alcohol-induced diabetes, which are major risk factors for CKD.

Short-Term and Long-Term Effects of Alcohol and Kidneys

Alcohol and kidney health can be seen both in the short and the long term. While some effects may manifest quickly after alcohol consumption, others may develop gradually over time with chronic or excessive drinking, as shown in the chart below:

Effect of Kidneys and Alcohol Short-Term Effects Kidneys and Alcohol Long-Term Effects Kidneys and Alcohol
Dehydration Increased urine production leads to dehydration Chronic dehydration may strain kidney function
Electrolyte Imbalance Loss of electrolytes such as sodium and potassium Chronic imbalance can impair kidney function
Acute Kidney Injury (AKI) Risk of sudden impairment in kidney function Repeated episodes can contribute to chronic kidney disease
High Blood Pressure Temporary elevation due to alcohol’s effects Chronic hypertension can damage kidney blood vessels
Toxicity Alcohol and metabolites can directly damage kidney tissues Chronic damage may impair kidney function
Liver Disease Alcohol-related liver disease can indirectly impact kidney function Liver dysfunction may exacerbate kidney damage
Medication Interactions Alcohol can interact with medications used to treat kidney and other conditions Interactions may affect kidney function over time
Alcohol-Induced Diabetes This can lead to temporary spikes/dips in blood sugar levels Chronic alcohol abuse can contribute to the development of diabetes, increasing the risk of kidney damage

Kidney Pain After Drinking Alcohol

There are many reasons to answer why your kidneys hurt after drinking alcohol. The underlying cause must be accurately diagnosed and treated, as it could indicate a serious condition.

Below are some of the common causes of kidney pain after drinking alcohol:

  • Dehydration: Alcohol, a diuretic, leads to frequent urination and dehydration, stressing the kidneys
  • Acute Kidney Injury: Binge drinking can overwhelm kidneys, leading to a rapid decline in kidney function
  • Kidney Stones: Alcohol can dehydrate you and cause/worsen kidney stones, causing pain
  • Other Conditions: UTIs, gastritis, and liver disease may cause pain near the kidneys after drinking

If you experience kidney pain after drinking, see a doctor right away. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent serious complications.

Early Signs of Kidney Damage from Alcohol

Early detection of alcohol and kidney damage is vital for preventing the progression of kidney disease and minimizing long-term complications. Symptoms may include:

  • Changes in urine output or color
  • Swelling in the ankles, legs, or abdomen
  • Persistent fatigue or weakness
  • High blood pressure
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Itchy skin or skin rash
  • Muscle cramps or twitches
  • Back pain, specifically in the kidney area

Can Kidneys Recover From Alcohol Damage?

Recovery from alcohol damage depends on the severity of the case. If you catch it early, acute kidney injury caused by alcohol can usually be reversed entirely in months with abstinence from alcohol and supportive care, such as intravenous fluids.

Unfortunately, chronic kidney disease caused by alcohol is usually not reversible. However, stopping drinking can help slow the progression of the disease and prevent further damage.

Is Alcohol Bad For Your Kidneys? − Final Considerations

While moderate alcohol consumption might not directly harm healthy kidneys, for those with chronic kidney disease, any amount can be detrimental. Alcohol can further impair kidney function and accelerate disease progression.

Unfortunately, dealing with chronic kidney disease and alcohol dependence presents a significant challenge, but complete abstinence is the best course of action. For optimal kidney health, stay hydrated with water. Detox drinks for kidney health are a myth.

If you suspect kidney impairment or have difficulty controlling alcohol intake, seek professional medical help immediately. Early diagnosis for alcohol and kidney damage, along with a personalized treatment plan, can significantly improve your quality of life.

People Also Ask

Does alcohol cause kidney stones?

While alcohol doesn’t directly create stones, excessive consumption can dehydrate you. Dehydrated urine concentrates waste products, making them more likely to crystallize and form stones.

Is beer bad for your stones?

Yes, beer can be bad for kidney stones. Dehydration from beer and purines in it can worsen existing stones or raise your risk of forming new ones.

Can alcohol cause kidney failure?

Yes, excessive alcohol consumption can cause acute kidney failure, a sudden drop in kidney function. Binge drinking is a significant risk factor.

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Page Sources

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  5. Gamage, K. N., Jamnadass, E., Sulaiman, S. K., Pietropaolo, A., Aboumarzouk, O., & Somani, B. K. (2020). The role of fluid intake in the prevention of kidney stone disease: A systematic review over the last two decades. Turkish Journal of Urology, 46(Suppl 1), S92.
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Retrieved on May 13, 2024.

Published on: March 9th, 2018

Updated on: May 13th, 2024

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