Alcohol and Kidneys: Effects, Risks & Treatment

Last Updated: September 22, 2023

Long-term or heavy drinking can lead to several adverse effects on your kidneys, but there are treatment options available.

Alcohol affects the health of your kidneys in many important ways, especially when you drink heavily or frequently. It is important to be aware of these risks and to understand how to treat kidney issues that may have occurred from your alcohol use.

The Link Between Kidney Disease and Alcohol

Heavy drinking can impact your kidney health in many different ways:

  • Alcohol causes dehydration: Your kidneys are very sensitive to correct levels of hydration as they filter your blood and produce urine. The dehydration that alcohol creates can impact your kidneys, especially over long periods of time.
  • Alcohol increases your blood pressure: Your kidneys play an important role in maintaining a healthy blood pressure. Alcohol increases your blood pressure, disrupting normal kidney function and increasing the risk of kidney damage.
  • Alcohol stresses your kidneys: Alcohol increases your urine production by changing levels of certain hormones. This places more strain on the kidneys at a time when they are already affected by alcohol in other ways.
  • Alcohol can affect liver function: The liver influences blood flow to your kidneys. Alcohol can cause liver damage over time, with one of the byproducts of this being impaired blood flow to your kidneys.

What Is Considered Excessive Drinking for Kidney Health?

Heavy drinking is considered potentially dangerous for your kidneys. For men, heavy drinking is more than two drinks a day each day or more than five drinks in one sitting. For women, it refers to more than one drink a day each day or more than four drinks in one sitting. A “drink” refers to a standard drink, which is about 14 grams of alcohol and translates into about one 12-ounce bottle of beer, one glass of wine (5 ounces) or one shot (1.5 ounces) of “hard liquor.”

Short-Term Effects of Alcohol on Kidneys

Moderate drinking is not generally considered to be harmful to your kidneys. However, drinking heavily, especially binge drinking, can significantly impact your kidney health. The combined effects of higher blood pressure and dehydration coupled with the increased urine production alcohol causes can have short-term effects on your kidneys. 

A single night of binge drinking can even lead to acute kidney failure that requires hospitalization. In some situations, acute kidney failure can turn into permanent kidney problems or chronic renal failure. In these circumstances, you could have to use dialysis for the rest of your life.

When To See a Doctor for Alcohol-Related Kidney Issues

You should see a doctor for alcohol-related kidney issues if you find that you are producing less urine than normal; notice that you are producing much more urine than normal after becoming sober; find that your urine is an abnormal color, like a brown, tea, or red color; or if you notice swelling in your feet or ankles. All of these symptoms can indicate that kidney damage has occurred and can require you to get emergency medical care.

Treatment Options for Kidney Damage from Alcohol

Treating kidney damage caused by alcohol involves two important steps. The first is addressing the immediate kidney problems. Depending on the severity, this could include anything from simple monitoring in a hospital to dialysis, where an artificial kidney filters your blood to give your kidneys time to recover.

Once the initial kidney issues have been addressed, treatment will move on to addressing your alcohol use. Alcohol use that causes kidney damage strongly indicates that you have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol that requires attention. Your doctor will likely recommend alcohol addiction treatment so that you avoid damaging your kidneys again in the future.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does alcohol cause kidney cancer?

Alcohol increases the risks of many different types of cancer but has not yet been discovered to cause kidney cancer specifically. Alcohol has not been found to cause cancer to begin in the kidneys either, but cancers caused by alcohol in other locations may spread to the kidneys.

What are some signs that alcohol may be causing damage to my kidneys?

Signs that alcohol is causing damage to your kidneys include changes in your urine production and signs you are retaining fluid. You may notice that you produce excessive amounts of urine all the time or that your urine production is less than normal. Your urine may become a darker color or have a reddish hue to it. Signs that you are retaining fluid can include swelling that develops in your feet, ankles or lower legs.

Can moderate alcohol consumption have any negative effects on kidney health?

Moderate alcohol consumption is not likely to have significant negative effects on your kidneys. Moderate alcohol consumption can, however, increase the risk that your alcohol use will become heavier or that addiction will develop. If this does occur, alcohol can begin to negatively affect your kidneys.


MedlinePlus. “Alcohol.” March 22, 2022. Accessed June 28, 2023.

National Kidney Foundation. “Alcohol and Your Kidneys.” 2023. Accessed June 28, 2023.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol’s Effects on Health.” 2023. Accessed June 28, 2023.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Alcohol and Cancer.” March 13, 2023. Accessed June 28, 2023.

American Kidney Fund. “Dialysis.” 2023. Accessed June 28, 2023.

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