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Why does alcohol dehydrate your body?

Mina Draskovic, B.Psy., reviewed this content for accuracy on October 25, 2023

Ever wake up after a night of drinking feeling parched while your head was pounding? Alcoholic drinks make you lose up to four times more water than they provide, leading to dehydration in a hurry. 

Table of Contents

If you regularly experience extreme dehydration after drinking, you’re damaging your body. Binge drinking can wreak havoc on your health, so you might consider cutting back. Better yet, think about quitting entirely. 

You don’t have to go down this path alone. Our Utah rehab center welcomes anyone who struggles with addiction.

Walking through Ardu was the most wonderful experience.  It’s not only a beautiful place with a calm and peaceful feeling, their staff truly cares and is ready to help all who walk through their doors… Thank you for making such an extraordinary facility to help change and save lives.

Suzette Astle


What are the symptoms of dehydration?

Dehydration sneaks up on you, with subtle symptoms slowly depleting your body’s fluid reserves. Pay attention to the following signals your body is sending to tell you it needs more fluids. 

  1. You experience thirst and a dry, sticky mouth.
  2. You feel tired and sluggish. 
  3. Your skin and lips become dry. 
  4. Your urine turns dark yellow. (When well-hydrated, urine is typically pale, but dehydration can turn it dark yellow, amber, or even brown.)
  5. You have headaches and migraines. 
  6. You start to sweat more and pee less.
  7. You may feel dizzy and light-headed as your blood pressure drops.
  8. Your heart rate may increase.
  9. You can’t focus and experience mood swings. 
  10. Your muscles may start to cramp. 

Dehydration spells trouble for your entire body. No matter what causes it, the end result is disrupted bodily functions. Yet people voluntarily down dehydrating toxins (alcohol) every day. Why would you purposefully put your body through distress with so far-reaching consequences? 

What happens to your body when you’re dehydrated?

Dehydration makes your body lose more fluid than it takes in, upsetting the delicate balance of water and electrolytes. Even mild dehydration can have detrimental impacts on nearly every system in your body. 

  • When you’re dehydrated, your blood starts to thicken and has trouble circulating through your vessels. Your heart strains as it tries to push this sticky blood to your tissues, causing your blood pressure to rise.
  • Without adequate blood flow, your muscles and organs don’t get enough oxygen and key nutrients. You may feel weak and lethargic, and even simple tasks become exhausting.
  • Dehydration may also cause a throbbing headache. It’s because your brain actually shrinks due to fluid loss. The membranes connecting your brain to your skull get tugged and strained, causing intense headaches.
  • Without sufficient moisture, your skin dries out and loses elasticity. It starts to look wrinkled and aged as it loses its natural plumpness. 
  • Digestion really suffers when you don’t have enough fluid for saliva, stomach acid, and healthy bowel movements. You might get painfully constipated.
  • Your kidneys can’t properly filter metabolic wastes out of the blood without good hydration. Toxins build up, putting you at risk for infections.
  • Electrolytes such as sodium and potassium go out of balance. You need your electrolytes to regulate nerve impulses and muscle function, so without proper hydration, you may experience painful cramps and irregular heartbeats.

Clearly, proper hydration levels are crucial for your health. When we say hydration, we really mean water. Adequate amounts of water every day are the only way to maintain that delicate water-electrolyte balance and dodge the detrimental impacts of dehydration.

Why is water important?

Up to 78% of your body is water. Water is the primary component of our cells. Without it, our bodies can’t perform their myriad of vital functions. 

This is how much water your vital body parts contain:

Brain and heart




Muscles and kidneys







Over 90%

Given that we’re composed mostly of water, it sort of makes sense to keep the levels up. Here are a few more reasons: 

  • Water helps you digest food and get rid of waste.
  • It makes saliva, helping you to swallow your food.
  • It lubricates your joints.
  • Water balances out your body’s chemical levels. Your brain needs water to make hormones and neurotransmitters.
  • It delivers oxygen throughout your body.
  • It helps regulate your body temperature.

So, make it a habit to drink enough water daily to keep every part of your body functioning optimally. 

What causes dehydration?

Water in and water out—you are a dynamic system. If water in is too low, you’re in trouble. If water out is too high, the same thing. Here are some of the factors that contribute to dehydration: 

  • You lose water through sweating. Sweat is mainly water, and it’s an important mechanism for regulating your temperature. When your body overheats, sweat glands release fluids onto the skin’s surface, which then evaporate, cooling the body. When you sweat a lot in hot conditions or during physical activity, you lose significantly more water—which is why it’s important to hydrate during exercise or hot weather. 
  • When you exhale, you release moisture into the air. At higher altitudes or in dry climates, increased respiration can cause greater water loss.
  • The digestive process also involves water. In cases of diarrhea or vomiting, you lose tons of water and electrolytes which result in dehydration. 
  • Certain medical conditions (e.g., diabetes and kidney disease) can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate fluids.
  • Certain medications, including diuretics and certain blood pressure medications, increase urine output and lead to dehydration. 
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women typically require more fluids to support the increased demands on their bodies. 
  • Alcohol and caffeine are known diuretics. They increase urine production and potentially contribute to dehydration.

Dehydration is more than just an uncomfortable sensation. Depending on the reason and the severity, dehydration can have serious consequences for your health. 

How does alcohol cause dehydration?

Alcohol is a diuretic. Diuretics are compounds that promote diuresis, the excessive passing of urine, which stimulates the kidneys to produce more urine than usual. This makes you lose precious water and electrolytes (essential minerals) much faster. 

Swift and Davidson report that the “symptoms of mild to moderate dehydration include thirst, weakness, dryness of mucous membranes, dizziness, and lightheadedness— all commonly observed during a hangover.” However, excessive alcohol consumption can set in motion a series of mechanisms that can lead to severe dehydration.

Here’s what makes alcohol one heck of a diuretic agent: 

  1. Alcohol inhibits the release of vasopressin, an anti-diuretic hormone that normally helps your kidneys reabsorb water. When vasopressin activity is reduced, you lose more water through urine.
  2. Alcohol can impair your kidneys’ ability to concentrate urine effectively, causing them to excrete more dilute urine and further lose fluids.
  3. Alcohol can irritate the stomach and intestines, causing nausea and vomiting. Vomiting offloads bodily fluids in a hurry. According to Swift and Davidson, “sweating, vomiting, and diarrhea also commonly occur during a hangover, and these conditions can result in additional fluid loss and electrolyte imbalances.”
  4. Alcohol enhances perspiration, increasing the rate of fluid loss out the pores of the skin. This effect is especially pronounced in hot or humid environments or during physical activity.
  5. Alcohol affects the body’s ability to regulate temperature. Without proper thermoregulation, you overheat, and that’s when your body releases more sweat to cool you down. More sweat equals more fluid loss.
  6. Booze has some pretty terrible effects on the heart. Its vasodilatory effects make the blood vessels expand. You may think this is a good thing—the wider the blood vessels, the more water can pass through—but, counterintuitively, wider blood vessels lead to a drop in blood pressure. To elevate your blood pressure and maintain blood flow, the body may increase heart rate, causing further fluid loss through sweating.
  7. Excessive alcohol consumption can disrupt the balance of electrolytes in the body. Electrolytes such as sodium and potassium are essential for maintaining proper fluid levels.

Heavy drinking can have some serious effects on your health. Did you know that too much alcohol prevents proper nutrient absorption and metabolism, preventing them from reaching your cells? Over time, with impaired nutrient absorption, you can develop thiamine (vitamin B) deficiency and face serious zinc and iron deficits. A lack of these important compounds can impair your energy production, making you feel tired and sluggish all the time. 

Vitamin B, zinc, and iron are also crucial for your immune function and a healthy nervous system, but alcohol-caused deficiencies can completely wreck your nervous system

If you need help quitting this toxic habit, contact our alcohol detox. We provide a comprehensive alcohol addiction recovery program including detox, counseling, group therapy, and aftercare planning. Our team of addiction specialists can help you break free from alcohol dependence and start your journey toward improved health and well-being.

What body parts are affected by alcohol’s diuretic effects?

Alcohol’s dehydrating effects can sneak up on your entire body. It may start as a headache or dry mouth at first but soon the symptoms snowball into more dangerous deficits across major organs. 

Here are the bodily systems that alcohol-triggered dehydration disrupts: 

  1. Kidneys
  2. Skin
  3. The gastrointestinal (GI) tract
  4. The respiratory system

Alcohol impairs kidney function

The kidneys are responsible for filtering waste products and maintaining fluid balance. When booze is involved, they work overtime to process the excess fluids from ethanol. The more you drink, the more substantial burden you place on your kidneys. Overwhelmed by the excessive amount of alcohol, your kidneys become less efficient at reabsorbing water—hence a more significant loss of fluids through urination. 

Alcohol is one of the ten drugs that completely wreck your kidneys

If you want to quit drinking and start healing your body and your mind, contact Ardu Recovery Center.

Alcohol dehydrates the skin

Booze can be particularly bad for your skin. Among its other ill effects, it compromises your skin’s ability to retain water, so your complexion turns from plump to wrinkly and dry.

Alcohol also makes you sweat more. As a vasodilator, ethanol widens the blood vessels near the surface of your skin to boost blood flow, making you feel warm. Your body responds by sweating to lower skin temperature. Excessive amounts of alcohol also ramp up your metabolism and cellular activities, which generates more heat. 

You get it: whenever there’s excess heat, your body cranks up perspiration to cool the systems down. 

Your skin needs moisture to be and feel supple and healthy. Alcohol seriously dehydrates your skin, so it’s working against the best interests of your complexion. 

Alcohol damages the gastrointestinal tract

The gastrointestinal tract often bears the brunt of heavy drinking. Alcohol can irritate the lining of the stomach and intestines, sometimes triggering nausea—a queasy feeling that might quickly escalate to full-blown vomiting. This isn’t just your body’s way of rejecting excessive alcohol; it’s also a substantial contributor to dehydration.

As the stomach rebels against the irritants, you lose not only the contents of your stomach but also precious fluids in the process. Vomiting pushes a significant amount of water and electrolytes out of your body. These losses can further deplete your body’s hydration levels, so replace that glass of wine at dinner with an extra glass of water. 

Alcohol dehydrates your respiratory system

Your respiratory system is yet another victim of alcohol’s dehydrating properties. Did you know that alcohol can disrupt the delicate balance of fluid and moisture in your airways? Every time you breathe, you release moisture in the form of water vapor into the surrounding air. This is a natural part of respiration, and under normal circumstances, it’s a minimal loss that doesn’t significantly affect your overall hydration status. 

However, alcohol can amplify this process, resulting in a noticeable increase in water vapor expelled with every breath. The more you indulge in your favorite alcoholic beverages, the more likely you are to lose water through exhalation.

Give your body a rest

Alcohol is a drug. While it may induce relaxation and make you forget about your problems for a day, alcohol—especially in excessive amounts—can be severely detrimental to your health. Alcohol addiction can have a cascade of physical, mental, and social consequences that, in the end, only amplify the very problems you seek to escape. 

It’s never too late to turn your life around, to choose well-being over temporary relief, and to seek help if you find yourself trapped in the cycle of addiction. 

How much alcohol does it take to dehydrate you?

The threshold for alcohol-induced dehydration is different for everyone. Several factors are involved: your body weight, tolerance, metabolism, and hydration status. However, even moderate alcohol intake—a few “harmless” drinks—can trigger some degree of dehydration.

Alcohol’s diuretic effect sets in even after just one drink and escalates as you keep the booze coming. The diuretic effects of alcohol can lead to losing up to four times as much liquid as you gain from drinking it. 

According to research, “the consumption of 50 g of alcohol in 250 milliliters (mL) of water (i.e. approximately 4 drinks) causes the elimination of 600 to 1,000 mL (or up to 1 quart) of water over several hours.” During this process, you also lose critical electrolytes imperative for proper circulation and kidney function. 

To avoid the terrible consequences of dehydration, some clever people aim to intersperse alcoholic beverages with water and ensure they’re properly hydrated. This may mitigate alcohol’s dehydrating effects somewhat, but the safest option is to avoid drinking altogether.

Tips on how to stay hydrated

Staying well-hydrated is a simple yet profoundly important health choice. Your body and energy will thank you for it. When you ditch the booze and focus on hydration, you’re offering your body an opportunity to shine. 

Here are some tips and tricks on how to keep those hydration levels up.

  1. Begin your morning with a glass of water before reaching for that cup of coffee. It kickstarts your hydration and helps to rehydrate your body after a night’s rest.
  2. Carry a reusable water bottle wherever you go. Having a water bottle on hand at all times can serve as a visual reminder to sip regularly throughout the day. 
  3. Break your day into hourly segments and aim to drink a glass of water during each. 
  4. If plain water doesn’t excite your taste buds, try infusing it with slices of citrus, berries, or herbs for a more refreshing twist. 
  5. Foods like watermelon, cucumbers, and oranges have high water content and can contribute to your daily fluid intake.
  6. Have a glass of water before your meals. It not only aids in digestion but also ensures you’re addressing your hydration needs.
  7. Establish a hydration routine by setting specific times for drinking water, such as when you wake up, before your meals, and before bedtime.
  8. Pay attention to your body’s signals. Thirst is a clear indicator that it’s time for a drink, so honor that cue.
  9. After physical activity, replenish your body with water to replace the fluids lost through sweat.
  10. Limit caffeine intake. Caffeine is another diuretic and can contribute to dehydration. If coffee runs through your blood, try consuming it in moderation and balance it with water.

Contact Ardu Recovery Center

Alcoholics suffer from a plethora of alcohol’s damaging effects—including dehydration. If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol abuse, we can help you start your recovery in a judgment-free environment.

At Ardu, you can start your treatment with medically reviewed detox practices before moving on to group therapy or individual therapy sessions for alcohol addiction. Our experienced team will walk beside you through detox and rehab, and help you achieve lasting recovery.

Alcohol detox

The first step in alcohol addiction treatment involves safely managing withdrawal symptoms through medical detox or holistic detox. We offer 24/7 medication-assisted treatment to relieve withdrawal symptoms that occur when alcohol use is reduced or stopped and before they turn into alcohol withdrawal syndrome

You can also choose holistic treatment, where our caring staff can help you detox from alcohol with the help of medications, exercise therapy, yoga, and nutrition therapy

We have the best holistic inpatient treatment center in Utah, so rest assured you’ll be in great hands.

Once detox is complete, rehabilitation begins. 

Alcohol rehab

We offer customized alcohol rehab treatment plans that include various proven forms of therapy and counseling. Options range from intensive inpatient rehab programs where you reside at our residential treatment facility to outpatient rehab programs where you attend scheduled sessions but live at home or in a sober living facility.

For those needing an intermediate level of support, we offer intensive outpatient treatment programs and partial hospitalization programs. Therapies provided include cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, family therapy, and more.

Overcoming an alcohol addiction is extremely challenging, but with the right help and support, recovery is possible. Contact us today.

Alcohol and skin FAQ

Does skin redness from alcohol go away?

Skin redness from alcohol typically fades away as the effects of alcohol wear off. Once your body metabolizes the alcohol and acetaldehyde that cause the redness, your skin should return to its normal color. Alcohol flush is a temporary reaction that usually disappears within a few hours after you stop drinking. 

The frequency and intensity of alcohol-induced skin redness are different for each person. While the redness itself goes away, continuous excessive alcohol consumption can lead to long-term skin issues and other health problems.

Why do drinkers have red skin?

One reason why people who drink have red skin is alcohol’s ability to dilate blood vessels, leading to increased blood flow near the skin’s surface. This results in the appearance of redness and warmth. 

In people with a genetic predisposition, typically East Asians with the “Asian flush” gene, the body may struggle to break down acetaldehyde, a toxic byproduct of alcohol. As acetaldehyde accumulates, it triggers skin redness and other symptoms. 

The extent of redness can also be influenced by the type and amount of alcohol consumed. While the redness is typically temporary, it’s a sign that your body is responding to the alcohol and its byproducts.

Will my skin improve if I stop drinking?

When you limit or completely stop alcohol consumption, you can notice improvements in your skin’s appearance and overall health. The redness and inflammation associated with excessive alcohol intake should subside. Long-term skin issues caused by alcohol abuse, like skin dehydration and poor complexion, can also gradually improve. 

The extent of improvement depends on each person’s individual factors such as the duration and severity of alcohol abuse, genetics, and overall skin care. 

What are the first signs of liver damage from alcohol?

The initial signs of liver damage from alcohol misuse may include fatigue, unexplained weight loss, and a general feeling of being unwell. Some people experience mild abdominal discomfort, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), and dark urine. Skin issues like itching and redness may also occur. As liver damage progresses, more severe symptoms, such as abdominal pain, swollen abdomen, and mental confusion, can manifest. 

Try to recognize these early signs and seek medical attention to prevent further liver damage, as untreated alcohol-related liver issues can become irreversible. But once you stop drinking, your liver can recover.

Why am I allergic to alcohol all of a sudden?

You may develop an allergic reaction to a specific component in the alcoholic beverage, such as certain preservatives, grains, or sulfites. You could also develop a histamine intolerance. Alcohol triggers histamine release, leading to skin redness and other unpleasant symptoms. 

In rare cases, you can have an allergy to alcohol itself, specifically ethanol. If you experience unexpected allergic reactions to alcohol, consult an allergist or healthcare provider for proper evaluation and diagnosis.

Is 2 beers a day bad for your liver?

Two beers a day may not pose an immediate threat to your liver, but they may have long-term effects. Chronic daily alcohol intake, even in moderate amounts, can gradually strain your liver and increase the risk of liver-related issues. The liver has the capacity to metabolize alcohol, but continuous exposure can lead to liver damage over time. Individual factors, such as genetics, overall health, and the type of alcohol consumed, can also influence the impact of booze on your liver. 


Igelman, S., Na, C., & Simpson, E. L. (2020, February 1). Alcohol-induced facial flushing in a patient with atopic dermatitis treated with dupilumab. JAAD Case Reports; Elsevier BV. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jdcr.2019.12.002

Haider, A., Gurjar, H., Ghazanfar, H., Singh, H., & Siddiqa, A. (2023, February 15). A Reversible Cause of Cutaneous Rash in a Patient With Alcohol Consumption. Cureus; Cureus, Inc. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.35011

Further reading

How do I know if I have an alcoholic personality?

Can alcohol mess with birth control?

How does heavy drinking impact the brain?

Why is alcohol neurotoxic?

Is beer really the cause of the “beer belly”?

What are the health risks of alcohol for men?

How much alcohol is too much to drink?

What is a high-functioning alcoholic?

How can I help a loved one with their addiction?