The kidneys are responsible for filtering blood to remove waste products, cellular debris, metabolic byproducts and extra water, which becomes urine. Kidneys play a crucial role in controlling blood pressure, maintaining red blood cell populations, and hormone production. The kidneys play an indirect role in metabolizing alcohol (the liver is the primary alcohol metabolizer); alcohol-induced kidney damage is thought to occur as an indirect consequence of metabolic abnormalities in other organs. Despite having an indirect effect, chronic alcohol use can also lead to kidney damage and contribute to kidney failure.
Relationship Between Alcohol and Kidney Function
In spite of its popularity, alcohol is a potent toxin. Consumption of one drink requires your liver to spend the next hour or more breaking it into less toxic byproducts. The more you drink, the more work the liver has to do. The liver can’t increase its metabolism rate, so if you drink faster than it can break alcohol down, alcohol ends up accumulating in your bloodstream (this is why your blood alcohol content goes up when you drink).
Data conclusively show that alcohol use disorder (AUD) is incredibly bad for your liver. However, the effect of alcohol on kidneys is less clear cut. Although your kidneys do not have a direct role in alcohol metabolism, if your liver is damaged by alcohol your kidneys will suffer the consequences. For example, alcohol-induced liver damage causes high blood pressure, which is linked to kidney disease.
Alcohol and Kidney Stones
There is no evidence that directly implicates alcohol in kidney stone formation. However, because dehydration is the prime cause of kidney stones, and binge drinking or chronic AUD can increase the risk of dehydration, alcohol may indirectly promote kidney stone development. Another factor in kidney stone development is urine pH, and binge drinking or chronic AUD can reduce urine pH, so alcohol may be a factor in the development of a specific type of kidney stones (uric acid stones).
Alcohol and Kidney Disease
There is some controversy about how much alcohol contributes to kidney disease. However, AUD does cause liver and cardiovascular diseases, both of which reduce kidney function. AUD damages other organs systems too, including the gastrointestinal tract and even muscle tissue (“rhabdomyolysis”, the breakdown of muscle tissue). Damaged tissues cause inflammation by releasing molecules called oxidants (people often take antioxidant supplements to prevent the damage caused by oxidants) that eventually reach the kidney. Over time, alcohol-induced damage to other organs causes accumulation of oxidants and other chemicals in the kidneys that may contribute to kidney disease.
Alcohol and Kidney Failure
To date, the research on a definite link between alcohol and kidney failure has produced a lot of inconclusive, often confusing, data. For example, a 2009 study found that three or more drinks per day was linked to two outcomes: One was an increase in the levels of a protein called albuminuria in the urine, which is a hallmark of kidney failure. The second finding was that kidney function was actually improved as measured by the “estimated glomerular filtration rate” (eGFR), which is the most common test of kidney function.
In spite of these conflicting findings on whether alcohol directly causes kidney failure, it is clear that chronic alcohol use is incredibly bad for several organs that have inputs to the kidneys. The best way to prevent alcohol-related kidney damage or failure is to use alcohol only in moderation.
What to Do If You Drink Alcohol and Experience Kidney Pain
A common idiom among urologists is, “Dilution is the solution to the pollution”, meaning that increasing water (not alcohol!) intake is the best way to make sure your kidneys are getting flushed out regularly and staying healthy. If you are routinely experiencing kidney pain when you drink alcohol there may be an underlying health problem that is exacerbated by alcohol (for example, a urinary tract infection). In order to make sure that you don’t have a potentially serious health condition, you should make an appointment with your doctor.
If you struggle with alcohol use, contact The Orlando Recovery Center today to speak to a representative about how professional addiction treatment can help you achieve a healthier future.
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National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. “Your Kidneys & How They Work.” June 2018. Accessed August 19, 2019.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. “High Blood Pressure & Kidney Disease.” September 2014. Accessed August 19, 2019.
Loughlin, Kevin R. “What causes kidney stones (and what to do).” Harvard Health Blog, May 2019. Accessed August 23, 2019.
Kwon, Soon Kil; Kim, Seung Jung; Kim, Kyung-Min; Kim, Sun Moon; Kim, Hye-young. “Ethanol Induced Urine Acidification is R[…]ehyde Concentration.” Kidney Research and Clinical Practice, June 2014. Accessed August 23, 2019.
Varga, Zoltan V; Matyas, Csaba; Paloczi, Janos; Pacher, Pal. “Alcohol Misuse and Kidney Injury: Epidem[…]otential Mechanisms.” Alcohol Research, 2017. Accessed August 19, 2019.
White, Sarah; et al. “Alcohol consumption and 5-year onset of […]e: the AusDiab study.” Nephrology Dialysis Transplantation, March 2009. Accessed August 19, 2019.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.