June 22, 2021

How Alcohol Affects Your Kidney Health

A kidney specialist breaks down this problematic relationship

variety of wine bottles on table

After a night of one too many cocktails, you wake up dehydrated with a stitch in your side. Is that pang your kidneys crying “uncle?”

Advertisement

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

Drinking alcohol to excess is linked to several health problems, including liver disease and an increased risk of some cancers (not to mention risks from drunk driving or accidental injuries while intoxicated).

But the relationship between alcohol and your kidneys is a bit more nuanced. Kidney specialist Shane A. Bobart, MD, FASN, breaks down this troublesome pairing.

Alcohol’s effect on kidneys

Your kidneys have an important role to fill. They filter waste from your blood, regulate the balance of water and minerals in your body and produce hormones.

When you drink heavily, your kidneys have to work harder to filter out the alcohol. And in rare cases, binge drinking — five or more drinks at a time — can cause a sudden drop in kidney function called acute kidney injury. This serious condition occurs when toxins from alcohol build up in your blood so fast your kidneys can’t maintain the proper fluid balance. Though it’s reversible with treatment, it can increase the risk of developing chronic kidney disease.

Regular, heavy alcohol use can also be harmful to your kidneys over time. According to the National Kidney Foundation, regular heavy drinking can double the risk of chronic kidney disease. The risk is even higher in people who drink heavily and also smoke.

Advertisement

Alcohol risks: A body out of balance

Heavy drinking also has an indirect effect on kidney health. “The body is a big domino set,” says Dr. Bobart. “If you have one part of your body that’s not in balance, it can cause problems in many other parts of the body.”

Drinking heavily can increase the risk of high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes, for example. Both of those conditions are the most common causes of chronic kidney disease in the United States.

Chronic alcohol use is also a major cause of liver disease. When your liver isn’t functioning well, it can impair blood flow to your kidneys. “Liver disease can have significant impacts on the kidneys,” says Dr. Bobart.

Kidney pain, kidney stones and kidney infections: an alcohol link?

What about the kidney pain some people claim to feel after a night of drinking? According to Dr. Bobart, there’s no research to suggest a link between alcohol and kidney pain. But alcohol acts as a diuretic and can leave you dehydrated.

Similarly, there’s minimal evidence to suggest that alcohol increases the risk of kidney stones or kidney infections. “We do know that people who don’t drink enough fluids have a greater chance of developing kidney stones.” So, people who drink heavily and are often dehydrated may be at greater risk — though the science of alcohol’s role in kidney stones is still unclear, he adds.

Advertisement

What is clear is that heavy drinking takes a toll on your organs, kidneys included. Many people drink more than they realize. In the U.S., heavy drinking is defined as:

  • For women: More than seven drinks per week or more than three drinks in a single day.
  • For men: More than 14 drinks per week, or more than four drinks in a single day.

“I urge anyone who has any trouble with alcohol to seek medical help,” says Dr. Bobart. “Doing so is nothing to be ashamed of. We have a lot of avenues to help people, and there are resources out there to get people the help they need.”

Related Articles

blurred person looking out window in background with glass of wine and bottle in foreground
February 21, 2024
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

Closeup of people holding up shot glasses
February 15, 2024
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

Person spilling pills from bottle into hand with shape of kidneys overlayed in the foreground.
February 21, 2023
Your Guide to Medications for IgA Nephropathy and C3G

Expect some new prescriptions, as well as recommendations to avoid some medications

Scientist using microscope.
February 16, 2023
Why Genetic Testing for C3G May Be an Important Choice

It can help determine a best treatment path

Illustration with a salt shaker, kidneys and heart
December 1, 2020
How Salt Can Impact Your Blood Pressure, Heart and Kidneys

Modifying your salt intake can affect your health and longevity

Illustration of the heart and kidney relationship
February 12, 2020
The Close Link Between Your Heart Health and Kidney Health

What's good for one is good for the other

Older man drinking water after working out
August 15, 2019
7 Secrets to Keeping Your Kidneys Healthy

Take action to prevent common diseases that harm kidneys

woman taking blood pressure reading at home
May 7, 2019
5 Kidney Failure Symptoms to See Your Doctor About

Plus, two easy-to-spot kidney disease risk factors

Trending Topics

White bowls full of pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate and various kinds of nuts
25 Magnesium-Rich Foods You Should Be Eating

A healthy diet can easily meet your body’s important demands for magnesium

Woman feeling for heart rate in neck on run outside, smartwatch and earbuds
Heart Rate Zones Explained

A super high heart rate means you’re burning more than fat

Spoonful of farro salad with tomato
What To Eat If You’ve Been Diagnosed With Prediabetes

Type 2 diabetes isn’t inevitable with these dietary changes

Ad