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How Does Alcohol Affect the Kidneys?

Mina Draskovic, B.Psy., reviewed this content for accuracy on 7/31/23

Alcohol, one of the most commonly consumed substances worldwide, not only poses risks to our overall health but can also lead to significant kidney damage.

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If you are struggling with alcohol abuse, our alcohol addiction treatment program in Utah can help you get sober and limit the alcohol damage to your kidneys and other vital organs.

Can Alcohol Damage Kidneys?

Yes, drinking alcohol can affect the kidneys, and even increase your risk of developing kidney disease. According to the National Kidney Foundation, heavy drinking on a regular basis can double the risk for kidney disease. Excessive alcohol consumption has been linked to renal diseases such as chronic kidney disease, acute kidney injury, and even kidney cancer.

According to a 1997 study, both acute and chronic consumption of alcohol can compromise kidney function and cause damage to the kidneys. This study cites that “chronic alcoholic patients may experience low blood concentrations of key electrolytes as well as potentially severe alterations in the body’s acid-base balance.”

Do you want to put a stop to the damage alcohol is doing to your body? You’ll find compassionate, skilled professionals ready to help you every step of the way at our drug and alcohol rehab center.


Alcohol and Chronic Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is the long-term deterioration of kidney function that leads to the gradual loss of kidney function over time. It is typically a result of underlying conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heavy alcohol or drug consumption, or certain kidney disorders.

According to a 2020 study, when taken excessively, alcohol can be one of the main causes of chronic kidney disease. This study examined glomerular filtration rates (eGFR) in binge drinkers and people who are not prone to binge drinking.

The results show that “there was a significant interaction between alcohol consumption and eGFR for CKD progression,” with binge drinkers experiencing a significant decline in eGFR numbers, meaning that their kidneys had a harder time filtering toxins out of the body.

Alcohol and Acute Kidney Injury 

Acute kidney injury (AKI) is a sudden and often reversible loss of kidney function that occurs rapidly over a short period. It can be caused by factors such as severe dehydration, kidney infection, certain medications, or trauma. If left untreated, kidney injury can lead to acute kidney failure.

Since alcohol is a diuretic, regular heavy drinking and binge drinking can cause severe dehydration, which can lead to acute kidney injury. A 2017 study examined the connection between alcohol misuse and kidney injury.

Researchers concluded that, though more studies on this topic are needed, current research suggests that “research suggests several potential mechanisms by which alcohol may directly or indirectly affect the kidneys” and lead to acute kidney injury.

Alcohol and Kidney Cancer

Kidney cancer, also known as renal cell carcinoma, is the abnormal growth of cells in the kidneys. It typically originates in the lining of the small tubes within the kidney.

A recent study examined the effects of multiple potential causes of kidney cancer, including alcohol, on the kidneys. Researchers concluded that excess alcohol consumption can cause kidney cancer and even significantly contribute to kidney cancer mortality.

Do you want to quit alcohol? Contact us and start your sobriety journey today.

Alcohol and Kidney Development

In addition to causing kidney issues in adults, drinking alcohol affects prenatal kidney development, which can cause issues with multiple functions of the kidneys later on in life.

A 2010 study looked at the effects of prenatal exposure to alcohol and found that “acute prenatal ethanol exposure reduces the number of nephrons, possibly as a result of inhibited ureteric branching morphogenesis, and that these changes affect adult cardiovascular and renal function.”

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What Are the Signs of Kidney Damage from Alcohol?

Your kidneys play a major part in filtering out toxins from your blood, and excess alcohol consumption can lead to impaired kidney functions, and even kidney damage. Symptoms of kidney damage caused by alcohol are:

  • Itchy skin—alcohol can disrupt the balance of fluid and electrolytes in the body, causing skin irritation and itching.
  • Swelling due to excess fluid and electrolytes in the body—alcohol impairs the kidney’s ability to regulate fluid and electrolyte levels, leading to fluid retention and swelling.
  • Reduced blood flow to the kidneys—alcohol consumption can cause constriction of blood vessels, reducing blood flow to the kidneys and impeding their normal functioning.
  • Changes in urination patterns—alcohol-related kidney damage can lead to alterations in urination, such as increased or decreased frequency, changes in urine color, or the presence of blood in the urine.
  • Fatigue and weakness—impaired kidney function can result in reduced production of erythropoietin, a hormone involved in red blood cell production, leading to anemia, fatigue, and weakness.
  • High blood pressure—alcohol-induced kidney damage can contribute to the development or worsening of hypertension (high blood pressure), which further compromises kidney function.
  • Nausea and vomiting—when the kidneys are unable to effectively eliminate waste and toxins, it can lead to gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea and vomiting.

In addition to alcohol, many illegal and prescription drugs can also cause kidney issues. Read about the top 10 drugs that cause kidney issues here.

Can Kidneys Recover from Alcohol Damage?

Kidneys can recover from alcohol-related damage to some extent, especially in the early stages. The degree of recovery depends on multiple factors, including the severity of the damage and the person’s overall health.

Implementing lifestyle changes such as abstaining from alcohol, following a healthcare professional approved kidney diet, and maintaining electrolyte balance can support kidney health. In cases where kidney function has significantly declined, peritoneal dialysis (in the form of home hemodialysis or in-center hemodialysis) may be necessary as a treatment option.

For some people, kidney transplant, either from a living donor or a kidney donation from a deceased donor, can provide a more long-term solution to restore kidney function and overall well-being.

Consulting with healthcare professionals and kidney specialists is crucial in determining the most appropriate course of action for kidney care and exploring available treatment options.

Do You Need Help Quitting Alcohol? Ardu Recovery Center Is Here to Help

Excessively consuming alcohol affects your kidneys, liver, and multiple other organs in your body. We understand that overcoming alcohol addiction can be challenging, but you don’t have to face it alone.

At our addiction recovery center, we specialize in helping people like you break free from the grip of alcohol addiction. Our team of skilled and experienced addiction specialists is here to provide the support, guidance, and personalized treatment you need to embark on your journey to recovery.

The recovery process begins with alcohol detox, where we safely and comfortably help you rid your body of alcohol toxins. Our medical professionals at our detox center closely monitor your progress to ensure a smooth and safe detox experience. Detox is an essential first step, allowing your body to cleanse and heal from the harmful effects of alcohol consumption while managing alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

But detox is just the beginning. We believe in a comprehensive approach to recovery, addressing not only the physical aspects but also the psychological and emotional aspects of addiction. Through evidence-based group therapy and individual therapy, as well as holistic treatment methods we delve into the underlying factors contributing to your alcohol addiction, helping you gain insights and develop effective coping mechanisms.

If you’re ready to take the first step toward a healthier, alcohol-free life, reach out to us today. Our addiction recovery center is here to guide you on your journey to recovery, helping you break free from alcohol addiction and regain control of your life. Remember, you don’t have to face this alone – we are here to support you every step of the way.

FAQ on Alcohol and Kidneys

How many years of drinking before kidney damage?

There is no set number of years you can drink alcohol before you start experiencing kidney damage. For example, people who drink a glass of wine per day may never experience kidney issues, while chronic alcoholics and alcohol abusers can develop kidney problems in a matter of months or years.

How to treat kidney pain after drinking alcohol?

Treating kidney pain after drinking alcohol involves addressing the underlying cause, which can include hydration, rest, and refraining from further alcohol consumption. If the pain persists or worsens, seek medical attention to rule out any potential kidney complications or other underlying conditions.

Is beer bad for kidneys?

Beer, like other alcoholic beverages, can have detrimental effects on kidney health, especially in people with pre-existing kidney conditions or at increased kidney disease risk.

The impact of beer on kidneys can be influenced by factors such as the amount consumed, individual susceptibility, and the presence of conditions like kidney stones.

It is advisable for people with kidney disease or those at risk to consult with their healthcare providers regarding the suitability of consuming beer or other alcoholic beverages.

What are the 3 early warning signs of kidney disease?

The three early warning signs of kidney disease are changes in urination patterns (such as increased or decreased frequency, blood in urine), persistent fatigue, and swelling in the hands, feet, or face.

These signs can vary depending on the stages of kidney disease and individual circumstances. If you are experiencing these symptoms or have concerns about kidney health, consult with a healthcare professional.

How much alcohol does it take to mess up your kidneys?

The amount of alcohol it takes to adversely affect the kidneys can vary depending on several factors, including the number of drinks per day you consume, individual tolerance, and overall health.

Excessive and chronic alcohol consumption can contribute to kidney damage due to the harmful effects alcohol has on a variety of organs and body systems, including the kidneys. Drink alcohol in moderation and be aware of the potential risks associated with excessive alcohol consumption.

Can quitting alcohol affect your kidneys?

Quitting alcohol can have positive effects on overall health, including the kidneys. Alcohol is a harmful substance that can contribute to kidney damage and other health complications.

By abstaining from alcohol, kidney patients can reduce the risk of further harm to their kidneys. However, quitting alcohol alone may not reverse all types of kidney damage.

Regular medical check-ups and appropriate healthcare guidance are crucial for monitoring kidney health and managing any pre-existing conditions. Home dialysis centers and healthcare professionals can provide health plans and guidance in maintaining kidney health and managing any related concerns.

Does alcohol consumption always lead to liver disease?

While alcohol consumption is a known risk factor for liver disease, not everyone who drinks alcohol will develop liver disease.

The effects of alcohol consumption on the liver depend on factors such as the amount and duration of alcohol use, individual susceptibility, and overall health. Excessive and prolonged alcohol consumption significantly increases the risk of developing liver disease.

Monitoring your alcohol intake, using tools like GFR calculators to assess kidney function, and maintaining a balanced lifestyle can help minimize the potential negative effects of alcohol on the liver and overall health. 

Further Reading

Will Ascites Go Away if I Stop Drinking?

Can Alcohol Affect Birth Control?

How Long Does it Take to Detox from Alcohol?

What Are the Symptoms of an Alcohol Detox?

Recognize the Signs of Alcoholism

Learn About Alcohol Abuse Statistics in the USA