Adults + Booze = Bedwetting? Here’s Why It Happens to You

Alcohol confuses your brain, irritates your bladder
Adults + Booze = Bedwetting? Here's Why It Happens to You

Waking up in sheets damp with your own urine isn’t fun, especially when you’re sharing the bed. Have you had this embarrassing experience after a night of imbibing a few too many drinks?

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This involuntarily nighttime urination, or what scientists call nocturnal enuresis, can happen when you overindulge because alcohol affects several mechanisms in your body that make it more difficult to hold urine.

Of course, drinking too much alcohol isn’t healthy, especially if it’s affecting your ability to hold your urine on a regular basis. If you have an occasional extra drink or two, there are a few ways to reduce your risk of wetting the bed while you sleep.

Urologist James Ulchaker, MD, helps explain what’s going on in your body that’s causing the bed-wetting.

1. Alcohol suppresses a hormone in the brain

We are all equipped with an anti-diuretic hormone (ADH) that the brain produces. ADH signals the kidneys to keep them from making too much urine.

Drinking alcohol suppresses ADH production, so your body produces more urine than it normally would. It even begins to pull from your body’s liquid reserves, which causes dehydration and contributes to hangovers, Dr. Ulchaker says.

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When you are awake, you make up for the extra urine production by making more trips to the bathroom. If you pass out later, or are sleeping too soundly, your bladder continues to fill more quickly and gets over-distended. Your body then releases the pressure by urinating, he says.

2. Alcohol causes your bladder to quickly become full

The detrusor muscle — part of the wall of the bladder — lets you know when you need to urinate and allows you to do so.

Alcohol causes a distention in the bladder from a large amount of fluid when the bladder quickly becomes full, Dr. Ulchaker says. This makes you go more frequently than you would if you weren’t drinking.

3. Extra fluids build up faster

The simple act of drinking a lot of alcohol can dramatically increase the amount of fluid in your bladder when you go to bed. This can really be a problem for people who have a hard time holding urine under normal circumstances.

“If you drink large volumes in a short period with a small-capacity bladder, it may affect you,” Dr. Ulchaker says. 

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4. Caffeine activates the bladder

The main perpetrator behind the bladder’s involuntary contractions is caffeine, Dr. Ulchaker says.

Caffeine makes those muscles that tell you to urinate begin to contract when the bladder is less and less full, allowing you to hold less urine over time. This means that drinking vodka and Red Bull or rum and Coke is a double-whammy for your bladder. Instead, you might try a gin and tonic or a glass of wine.

An extra precaution to prevent accidents

You may find that you try to reduce fluids and avoid caffeine but it doesn’t help — you still aren’t able to reliably hold your urine until morning when you have been drinking. If that’s the case, another technique Dr. Ulchaker recommends to control bed-wetting is to set an alarm.

If you set it to go off during the night to wake you up before your bladder gets too full, you can make an extra trip to the bathroom and avoid problems in the morning.

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