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Does Alcohol Dehydrate You?

Going out for a night of drinking can be fun, but waking up with hangover symptoms the following day never is. One of the main causes of hangovers is dehydration. Drinking puts you at a higher risk of dehydration due to its diuretic effects. 

A diuretic is anything that induces diuresis, a medical term that simply means additional urine output. Excessive urination causes your body to lose vital electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, calcium, and chloride. These nutrients are essential for proper kidney function. 

According to one study, one drink of alcohol can lead to a 2 to 4% increase in additional urine output (diuresis).3

Why Does Alcohol Dehydrate You?

Understanding why consuming alcohol leads to increased urination requires an understanding of ADH. ADH stands for antidiuretic hormone (also known as vasopressin). When the human body senses it is getting dehydrated, ADH is produced by the pituitary gland to reduce urination.

Alcohol decreases the amount of ADH produced by your body, which makes it harder for the body to retain enough fluids. The higher the alcohol content, the greater this effect will be.

Fortunately, researchers have discovered these effects are not sustained over multiple drinks. The diuretic effects are greatest as the level of alcohol in the body rises, but  production of ADH recovers as alcohol is metabolized. As it recovers, the body is once again able to conserve water and limit dehydration.1

Does it Dehydrate Muscle, Skin, or Both? 

It is not currently known whether or not alcohol dehydrates muscle. However, scientists have learned of several other ways that it damages tissue. Due to its diuretic effect, alcohol makes it more likely for an electrolyte imbalance to occur. 

For athletes, this can be bad news, since it puts them at greater risk for pulling or straining their muscles, as well as cramps.3

Alcohol is also known to break down muscle tissue and reduce protein synthesis, resulting in muscle weakness, pain, and swelling. This can occur after only a single episode of binge drinking and may take a week or more to recover from residual effects. Chronic heavy drinkers show more significant muscle damage and loss.7

Too much alcohol can also lead to dry, inelastic skin. One large study found excessive alcohol consumption is linked to accelerated facial aging. The effects here include increased facial lines, puffiness in the eyes, loss of facial volume, and broken blood vessels.2

Alcohol can also cause facial redness and aggravate skin conditions such as rosacea, dermatitis, and psoriasis.10

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What Type of Alcohol Dehydrates You The Most?

Drinks with more alcohol content will cause more dehydration. This includes most hard liquor like whisky, vodka, rum, and gin. These are all over one-third alcohol in total content and will be more likely to cause dehydration.

What Type of Alcohol Dehydrates You The Least?

Unfortunately, there is no alcoholic drink that will not cause dehydration to at least some extent. However, the dehydrating effects of alcohol will be somewhat reduced in some of the “lighter” alcoholic drinks. 

A glass of wine has around 12.5 to 14.5% alcohol  — much less than dark liquors. Beer will dehydrate the least, with a typical alcohol content of between 4 to 6%.6 

Alcohol Dehydration Symptoms

Symptoms of dehydration range from mild to severe. How much alcohol you consume will influence what symptoms you experience. Signs and symptoms of dehydration also differ by age. 

For an adult, symptoms include:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Urinating less frequently
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion

Does Dehydration Make Hangovers Worse?

Dehydration contributes to hangovers but is just a piece of the puzzle. Scientific studies have pointed to additional causes. These include inflammation, gastrointestinal irritation, poor sleep, and electrolyte imbalances. 

5 Tips to Prevent Alcohol Dehydration

Here are five tips to prevent dehydration from alcohol:

  1. Eat plenty of food. Research shows that consuming alcohol on an empty stomach will lead to a higher blood alcohol content. This will quickly cause dehydration.
  2. Limit the amount you drink. It takes most people one hour to metabolize one standard drink (14 grams of pure alcohol). Nursing that beer or glass of wine you’re holding will help you moderate your alcohol consumption.
  3. Make sure you are hydrated beforehand. Contrary to popular belief, alternating alcoholic drinks and water will not help you avoid dehydration. But you can certainly make sure you are as hydrated as possible before attending that house party or cocktail.
  4. Choose drinks with lower alcohol content. The higher the alcohol content, the more dehydrating the drink will be. Stick to beer and wine to mitigate any dehydration you may experience.
  5. Know when to stop. Pay attention to how your body is feeling throughout the evening. Monitor your fluid intake and how much urine you are producing. Large amounts of dark-colored urine could indicate you are becoming dehydrated. 

Ways to Stay Hydrated While Drinking Alcohol

When drinking alcohol, especially in hot weather, avoiding dehydration is very important. One way to do this is to avoid sugary drinks. That margarita may seem refreshing, but the added sugar creates an acidic environment. This makes it harder for your body to store extra water. 

Chips and popcorn are mainstays at BBQs, but as tempting as they might be, salty foods are best eaten in moderation. Too much sodium will increase fluid loss as your body tries to flush it out, and that refreshing adult beverage will make it worse. After eating something salty, chase it with a drink of ice tea, lemonade, or even plain water, rather than alcohol. 

How to Rehydrate Fast After Drinking (Treatment)

The best way to rehydrate quickly is to regain the minerals that were flushed out due to excessive urination. 

There are rehydration salt tablets available for purchase at your local pharmacy, which can be mixed with water. They contain electrolytes, potassium, sodium, and chloride, all of which the body loses from increased urine output. Sports drinks such as Gatorade can also help with this.

When is Alcohol Dehydration an Emergency?

Alcohol-induced dehydration can easily turn from uncomfortable to an emergency. Here are some signs to watch out for when you (or someone you know) might need to seek medical attention:

  • Sunken eyes
  • Rapid heart rate and breathing
  • Delirium
  • Headache
  • Muscle cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Fainting

If someone is experiencing any of these symptoms, they should seek immediate medical attention.

Alcohol Dehydration: Common Questions & Answers

Can water flush out alcohol?

No. Once the alcohol is in your body it has to be removed by the liver. The liver processes 3/4th of an ounce of alcohol per hour, and drinking water will not make it happen faster.

Does drinking water after alcohol help your liver?

No. If you alternate alcohol and water as you drink you slow your intake of alcohol. This may give your liver more time to metabolize it, but that can also be accomplished by simply drinking more slowly.

What happens if you are dehydrated and drink alcohol?

Consuming alcohol while dehydrated will just make dehydration worse. The diuretic effects will cause your body to lose water faster due to increased urination. The best way to ensure proper hydration is to drink plenty of water.

How do I know if I'm dehydrated?

If you are experiencing dry mouth or skin, headaches, muscle cramps, or dark colored urine, these are signs of dehydration. You can usually reverse dehydration by taking in more fluids, but some people may be at risk of complications. 

According to Mayo Clinic staff, those at greater risk include the elderly, young children, and those with chronic medical conditions or who work outdoors.5 Possible complications include heat injury, urinary or kidney problems, seizures, and low blood volume shock.

Does beer dehydrate you more than liquor?

Due to the lower alcohol content, beer will dehydrate you slightly less than liquor. However, due to how alcohol affects the production of ADH, you will still become dehydrated after drinking beer. Consuming one beer leads to a 62% increase in urine produced compared to having a glass of water.

How long does it take to rehydrate after drinking alcohol?

According to a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, the body can re-hydrate relatively quickly.10 Consuming just 20.3 ounces of water can restore your fluid levels to normal levels within 45 minutes. While hangover symptoms may remain, be sure to drink water to help speed your recovery.

Does alcohol dehydrate your skin?

Alcohol ages the skin due to the oxidative stress associated with its consumption. Symptoms of premature skin aging depend on how much alcohol is consumed. Drinking in moderation is associated only with facial volume loss and eye puffiness. 

Heavy drinking brings some additional symptoms. These include increased facial lines, oral commissures (lines around the mouth), and increased visibility of blood vessels. 

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Resources

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Gill, GV, et al. “Acute biochemical responses to moderate beer drinking.” British medical journal (Clinical research ed.), vol. 285, 1982, pp. 1170-1173. NCBI.

Goodman, Greg D., et al. “Impact of Smoking and Alcohol Use on Facial Aging in Women: Results of a Large Multinational, Multiracial, Cross-sectional Survey.” The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology, vol. 12, no. 8, 2019, pp. 28-39. PubMed.gov.

Hobson, Ruth M., and Ronald J. Maughan. “Hydration Status and the Diuretic Action of a Small Dose of Alcohol.” Alcohol and Alcoholism, vol. 45, no. 4, 2010, pp. 366-373. Oxford Academic.

Kazakevich, Natalia. “Alcohol and skin disorders: with a focus on psoriasis.” Skin therapy letter, vol. 16, no. 4, 2011, pp. 5-6. PubMed.gov.

Mayo Clinic. “Dehydration.” mayoclinic.org.

The Newsroom. “The alcoholic drinks which put you at most risk of dehydration.” The Yorkshire Evening Post, 2018.

Simon, Liz, et al. “Alcoholic Myopathy: Pathophysiologic Mechanisms and Clinical Implications.” Alcohol research : current reviews, vol. 38, no. 2, 2017, pp. 207-217. NCBI.

Vella, Luke D., and David Cameron-Smith. “Alcohol, Athletic Performance and Recovery.” Nutrients, vol. 2, no. 8, 2010, pp. 781-789. NCBI.

Higgins, EM., and Vivier, AW. “Cutaneous disease and alcohol misuse.” British medical bulletin, vol. 50, no. 1, 1994, pp.85-98. NCBI.

Logan-Sprenger, Heather M., Spriet, Lawrence L. “The Acute Effects of Fluid Intake On Urine Specific Gravity and Fluid Retention in a Mildly Dehydrated State.” The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, vol. 27, no. 4, pp. 1002-1008.

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