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How Does Alcohol Affect Kidney Health? 

The human body has many vital organs, and the kidneys are among the most important. The kidneys regulate water intake and output. They also balance the level of minerals in the body and produce essential hormones.

Threats to the proper functioning of the kidneys lead to severe medical issues. For example, alcoholism is a leading contributing factor to kidney disease.

The kidneys work hard on any day in a healthy person, but the kidneys of an excessive drinker work overtime. 

A heavy drinker is recognized as a woman who drinks alcohol more than seven times a week or a man who drinks more than 14 times a week.11

One type of alcohol consumption that contributes to kidney disease is binge drinking. Binge drinking is typically defined as drinking four or five drinks within two hours.

Binge drinking leads a person’s blood alcohol content (BAC) to heighten to dangerous levels. In turn, this may cause the kidneys to lose their function, potentially leading to acute kidney injury. 

Kidney Pain After Drinking: Is It Normal?

The areas around your kidneys may feel sore or uncomfortable after you drink alcohol. These areas include the back of your abdomen and under your rib cage on both sides of your spine. 

This sensation may be experienced as a sudden, sharp, or stabbing pain. Or, it may feel like a dull ache. The pain may be mild or severe and can be experienced on one or both sides of the body.

Kidney pain may be experienced immediately after drinking alcohol or after you have stopped drinking. In some circumstances, it worsens at night.

Other symptoms that may come with kidney pain include:

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Painful Urination
  • Blood in the urine
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleeping issues
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Chills

There are many causes of kidney pain. It is essential to understand why you are experiencing discomfort in case it is a sign of something serious. 

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7 Reasons Why Your Kidneys Hurt After Drinking Alcohol

Here are the most common causes of kidney pain after drinking alcohol:

1. Liver Disease

Liver disease makes you more likely to experience pain or discomfort after drinking alcohol. This is especially likely if your liver is affected by alcoholism. Liver disease can also affect blood flow to the kidneys and lead them to be less effective in filtering blood.8

To treat liver disease, your doctor may suggest that you stop drinking alcohol, lose weight, and follow a healthy, nutritious diet. Some cases of liver disease may require surgery or medications. A liver transplant may be necessary in cases of liver failure.

2. Kidney Stones

Kidney stones may develop due to alcohol-induced dehydration. Drinking alcohol if you already have kidney stones may lead them to move quickly, contributing to or increasing kidney pain. It may be possible to treat small kidney stones by drinking more water, taking medication, or using home remedies.7

3. Kidney Infection

A kidney infection is a type of UTI, short for urinary tract infection. It begins in the urethra or bladder and travels to one or both kidneys.6

The symptoms and condition of a UTI may worsen after drinking alcohol. If you have a kidney infection, drink plenty of water and meet with your doctor straight away.

You can use heat or pain medication to reduce discomfort. You will usually be prescribed antibiotics, too. Severe or recurring kidney infections may need surgery or hospitalization.

4. Dehydration

Alcohol features diuretic properties that lead you to urinate more often than usual. This leads to dehydration, especially with excessive alcohol consumption.

Alcohol affects the kidneys' function to maintain water balance and electrolytes in the body.4 This results in impaired kidney function and increases the risk of developing kidney stones. Chronic dehydration leads you to a greater risk for these adverse effects.

Treat dehydration by drinking lost fluids and electrolytes, such as a sports drink with electrolytes and a carbohydrate solution. Avoid sugary beverages. In some circumstances, dehydration requires a visit to the doctor.

5. Ureteropelvic Junction (UPJ) Obstruction

If you have UPJ obstruction, you may experience kidney pain after drinking alcohol. UPJ affects the proper functioning of the kidneys and bladder. You may experience pain in the side, lower back, or abdomen. In some cases, pain may travel to the groin.

Alcohol consumption can intensify any pain. Sometimes UPJ will get better on its own or it can be treated with a minimally invasive procedure. Sometimes it may require surgery.

6. Hydronephrosis

Hydronephrosis occurs from one or two swollen kidneys because of an accumulation of urine. A blockage or obstruction stops urine from draining from the kidney to the bladder. This can lead the renal pelvis to become swollen or enlarged.

You may feel flank pain and pain or difficulty during urination. Having kidney stones heightens your risk of developing hydronephrosis. It is best to treat hydronephrosis as quickly as possible.

Meet with your doctor to receive treatment for kidney stones or infections if they are the cause. These conditions may require antibiotics.

7. Gastritis

Excess alcohol consumption can lead to gastritis. This causes the lining of the stomach to become swollen or inflamed. While it is not directly related to the kidneys, the pain may be experienced in the upper abdomen and linked to kidney pain.5

Treat gastritis by avoiding pain medicines, alcohol, and recreational drugs. Antacids may help relieve symptoms and pain. Your doctor may also prescribe H2 antagonists or proton pump inhibitors to lessen the production of stomach acid.

Can You Flush Your Kidneys After Drinking Alcohol?

Kidney cleanses involve eating specific foods and herbs that may help remove toxins from the body and encourage improved kidney health. 

Kidney cleansing programs vary but usually involve following a restricted and healthy diet for several days. This diet may include teas, juices, smoothies, herbs, and foods that people believe help detoxify the body and enhance overall health.

However, there is currently limited scientific research to support the claims that certain foods, drinks, and diets can detoxify your kidneys and body.1

Most people can keep their kidneys healthy by remaining hydrated and eating a balanced, healthy diet. However, some herbs and foods that are commonly used in kidney cleansing programs may have properties that help enhance kidney health.

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Alcohol & Kidney Stones: How They Develop 

There has been no direct causality found between drinking alcohol and the development of kidney stones. However, alcohol can contribute to an enhanced risk for the formation of kidney stones in various ways. Beer and grain alcohol have a particularly high purine count.

Purines are chemical compounds that can lead to uric acid kidney stones. Uric acid is typically released from the body in the urine, but excessive purines can result in the accumulation of the acid and can eventually lead to the development of a kidney stone.

How to Treat Kidney Stones Caused by Alcohol 

The best treatment and prevention for small kidney stones is to remain hydrated by drinking plenty of water. You should also eat more fruits and vegetables to balance acid levels in the body.

Can Alcohol Cause Kidney Damage?

Drinking alcohol affects various parts of your body, including your kidneys. Moderate drinking, such as one or two drinks now and then, usually has no severe effects. However, too much alcohol (more than four drinks daily) can affect your health and worsen kidney disease.

How Much Alcohol Leads to Kidney Damage?

Even without binge drinking, regularly drinking too much can lead to kidney problems.

Regular excessive drinking doubles the risk of chronic kidney disease, which does not go away over time. Even higher risks of kidney problems have been found in heavy drinkers who also smoke. 

What are the Signs of Alcohol-Induced Kidney Damage?

Aside from kidney pain, an individual with acute kidney injury may also notice the following signs and symptoms:

  • Decreased urination
  • Exhaustion
  • Swollen legs, ankles, or face 
  • Problems breathing or shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Chest pressure or pain

When to See a Doctor (+ Treatment for Kidney Damage)

The kidneys are the body’s essential tool for filtering out dangerous substances. Problems affecting the kidneys can quickly impact the rest of the body, potentially leading to problems in multiple organs.

Contact a doctor if you experience:

  • Pain in the kidneys
  • Symptoms of a UTI
  • A recent blow to the back that leads to pain in the kidneys
  • A fever with kidney pain
  • Decreased urination, even when drinking enough water

Go to the emergency room or urgent care for:

  • Signs of acute kidney injury following drinking
  • Intense pain in the back or kidneys
  • A high fever and kidney pain 
  • High blood pressure and kidney pain 
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Blurred vision
  • Changes in awareness
  • A seizure

Depending on the underlying cause, some types of kidney damage can be treated. Usually, though, chronic kidney disease has no cure.

Kidney damage treatment usually consists of measures to help control symptoms and reduce complications. If your kidneys are severely damaged, you may require treatment for end-stage kidney disease.

Treatment Options for Alcohol Misuse & Addiction 

Alcoholism can be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the number of symptoms you experience.

Signs and symptoms of alcohol use disorder may include:3

  • Struggling to lessen the amount of alcohol you consume 
  • Aiming to cut down on how much alcohol you consume or making unsuccessful attempts to do so
  • Spending a lot of time drinking, looking for alcohol, or recovering from alcohol use 
  • Experiencing a strong craving or urge to drink alcohol 
  • Struggling or failing to fulfill essential obligations at work, school, or home due to consistent alcohol use 
  • Continuing to drink even though you know it is leading to physical, social, or interpersonal issues
  • Giving up or lessening social and work activities and hobbies 
  • Drinking alcohol in situations where it is unsafe, such as when driving or swimming
  • Developing alcohol tolerance so you require more to feel its effect, or you have a reduced impact from the same amount
  • Getting withdrawal symptoms when you do not drink or drink to avoid these symptoms

There are various treatment options for alcohol misuse and addiction, including:10

  • Medications
  • Behavioral treatments
  • Mutual support groups

Resources

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“Detoxes” and “Cleanses”: What You Need To Know, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, September 2019

Fan, Zhenliang et al. “Alcohol Consumption Can be a "Double-Edged Sword" for Chronic Kidney Disease Patients.” Medical science monitor : international medical journal of experimental and clinical research vol. 25 7059-7072. 20 Sep. 2019

Alcohol use disorder, Mayo Clinic, July 2018

Dehydration, Mayo Clinic, September 2018

Gastritis, Mayo Clinic, April 2020

Kidney infection, Mayo Clinic, August 2020

Kidney stones, Mayo Clinic, May 2020

Liver disease, Mayo Clinic, February 2020

Chronic kidney disease, Mayo Clinic, August 2019

Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, March 2021

Drinking Levels Defined, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

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