Search IconSearch

Is ‘Breaking the Seal’ a Real Thing When Drinking Alcohol?

The short answer from a urologist

person flushing toilet

Q: One trip to the bathroom during a night out at a pub inevitably leads to another… and another… and another. Is “breaking the seal”a real thing?

A: Let’s start with a basic fact when it comes to drinking: What goes in eventually comes out.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

So when you’re tipping back glasses of your favorite adult beverage… well, you can only hold in so much. Your body’s reservoir is a pear-sized bladder, after all, not a 5-gallon bucket. Eventually, you have to empty.

The question, though, is when? This is where the myth about a biological barrier known as “the seal” enters the discussion.

The legendary seal is celebrated as a water-tight cap that locks down your bladder. When fully intact, it keeps you from heading to the bathroom to pee. (This ensures that you never miss any fun.)

So what happens when you break that so-called seal and answer nature’s call? Well, you’ve now opened the floodgates and can expect to spend the rest of the night making tracks to the restroom.

In the neon glow of a weekend night, the logic behind this theory seems pretty solid. It doesn’t hold up quite as well under closer (and sober) examination.

Drinking mass quantities of any liquid will inevitably send you to the bathroom, but beer, booze and wine amplify the effect. The reason? Alcohol is a diuretic, which – in the simplest of terms – increases the production of urine.

Breaking it down more, alcohol suppresses the release of an antidiuretic hormone (ADH) called vasopressin. This ADH tells your kidneys to absorb guzzled fluids and distribute to the rest of your body.

But when your brain slows down ADH production during happy hour, the drinks passing by your lips take a more direct route to your bladder. Your bladder only holds about 300 to 400 milliliters of fluid, which is roughly 12 ounces.

It doesn’t take long to exceed your bladder’s capacity. Pressure builds at this point, resulting in the urge to pee. Alcohol also can irritate your bladder, increasing the feeling that you need to tinkle.

So why does it seem like your first bathroom break opens the door to so many return trips? That’s just your body catching up with all the drinks you’ve tipped back during the evening. (Remember the formula: Fluid in = fluid out.)

Holding back on bathroom visits isn’t a good idea, either. Repeatedly preventing the natural flow of things can lead to broader issues, such as urinary tract infections.

If you want to go to the bathroom less during a night out, there’s only one proven way to reduce your trips: drink less. Otherwise, listen to your body and empty your tank before any awkward dancing starts.

Because, to be clear, there is no seal that you’re protecting.

Urologist Petar Bajic, MD


Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Female breast feeding baby
Can You Drink Alcohol While Breastfeeding?

An occasional drink is OK, and you can safely nurse your baby after the alcohol has left your breast milk

Male holding pill and glass of water, with assorted alcohol behind him crossed out
April 22, 2024/Primary Care
Why You Should Avoid Alcohol on Antibiotics

Even a little alcohol can slow your recovery, so it’s best to wait until after you finish your antibiotics before imbibing

Spoonful of apple cider vinegar
March 27, 2024/Weight Loss
Does Apple Cider Vinegar Help You Lose Weight?

The science on ACV isn’t very promising for weight loss or appetite suppression

Female and male waking up with hangovers in aftermath of a party
March 13, 2024/Digestive
Hangover Pills Aren’t Worth the Hype

Misleading claims, lack of scientific evidence and the risk of over-doing it are all concerns

Couple enjoying mixed drinks during the day in a bar
March 1, 2024/Wellness
Here’s Why Day Drinking Feels Different

Drinking during the day can result in drinking more than usual and worsen your sleep cycle

blurred person looking out window in background with glass of wine and bottle in foreground
February 21, 2024/Brain & Nervous System
How Does Alcohol Affect Your Brain?

Even one drink can have an impact on your cognitive function leading to slurred speech, blurred vision and impaired memory

Glasses of alcohol on wooden stump outside in the snow, with bottle nearby
February 16, 2024/Wellness
Drinking Alcohol in the Cold? 5 Tips on How To Stay Safe

A cold one out in the cold can cause a false sense of warmth and increase your risk of hypothermia

Closeup of people holding up shot glasses
February 15, 2024/Digestive
What Does Alcohol Do to Your Body? 9 Ways Alcohol Affects Your Health

Alcohol affects your whole body, from your liver and immune system to your brain and mental health

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims