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Drinking Habits

Breaking the Seal: Why Does Alcohol Make You Pee So Much?

June 19, 2023
9 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
June 19, 2023
9 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
June 19, 2023
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
June 19, 2023
9 min read
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Reframe Content Team
June 19, 2023
9 min read

Picture this: you've just arrived at a party, having a stellar time, starting to finally sip on your favorite alcoholic beverage. Before long, nature calls — and you take a needed first trip to the bathroom. After you get back, your friend grins and says, "Ah, you've broken the seal. Now you'll be peeing all night!"

Sound familiar? For some of us, the idea of “breaking the seal” has become part of our drinking lore.

But what does it mean — and is there any truth to it? How does drinking relate to going to the bathroom? This article explores this and more!

The Anatomy of “Breaking the Seal”

To truly understand this widespread drinking phenomenon, we need to explore the intriguing machinery of our bodies and their interaction with alcohol.

The urinary tract — the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra — is responsible for urination. The kidneys generate urine, which travels via ureters to the bladder, capable of holding 1.5 to 2 cups of urine at a time. When full, the bladder sends a signal to the brain, leading to urination through the urethra.

Anatomically speaking, there is no “seal” to break.

“Breaking the Seal”: Physiology or Folklore?

Drinking affects our body in various ways. Among these is that it can lead to dehydration. Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it makes us go to the bathroom more frequently — leading to fluid loss and dehydration. This is largely due to its effects on a critical hormone in our bodies: vasopressin, or the antidiuretic hormone (ADH).

Normally, ADH helps our kidneys reabsorb water, keeping us from losing too much of it. When we imbibe, alcohol puts the brakes on ADH production, and our kidneys don't reabsorb as much water. Instead, it's sent straight to our bladders, leading to increased urination.

Why does this happen? Remember, alcohol is a toxin, something the body wants to be rid of. Its accruals lead to a high alcohol blood concentration — which can be dangerous.

This diuretic process is like a waterfall that doesn't stop until the alcohol is out of our system. As a result, it can seem that once we start peeing when we’re drinking, we’re running to the restroom more often than normal.

The “seal” is more a psychological concept than a physiological reality. The urge to urinate simply increases as we drink more — a process known as diuresis. There's no magical "seal" that once "broken" increases our need to pee.

The Illusion of “Breaking the Seal”

Given the scientific explanation, why does it still feel like we're “breaking the seal"? This common sensation is largely a result of perception and conditioning. After our first visit to the bathroom while drinking, we become hyper-aware of our need to urinate — akin to becoming mindful of time after looking at a watch!

Moreover, we are, by nature, creatures of habit. If we've grown used to believing that "breaking the seal" is a legitimate phenomenon, our minds can easily persuade us that it's true — especially when our cognition is slightly impaired from drinking.

Consequences of Alcohol-Induced Diuresis

Dehydration can take a toll on the body. Each time we urinate, we lose not just water, but also vital electrolytes. This loss is exacerbated when we drink alcohol — leading to uncomfortable side effects such as hangovers, dizziness, headaches, and the unwelcome dry mouth.

Another fallout of the diuretic effects of alcohol is interrupted sleep. Have you ever experienced a night of fitful sleep, marked by constant trips to the bathroom? Alcohol's diuretic effect plays a significant role in these nocturnal disruptions. Not quite the recipe for a refreshing night's sleep.

Fostering Healthier Drinking Habits

Armed with this understanding of how alcohol influences our bodies, we're in a strong position to adopt smarter drinking habits. Such practices can pave the way for healthier relationships to drinking. Here are some practical steps we can incorporate:

  1. Prioritize hydration: Consider water your closest ally when drinking. For every alcoholic drink you have, aim to consume an equivalent amount of water. This simple habit can help replenish the fluids lost during urination and reduce the severity of hangover symptoms.
  2. Pace your drinking: Slowing down your alcohol consumption gives your body more time to process the alcohol, potentially reducing the frequency of bathroom visits.
  3. Opt for low-alcohol beverages: Drinks with lower alcohol content result in less diuresis, which translates to fewer bathroom breaks.
  4. Tune into your body's signals: Rather than adhering to the unfounded belief of "breaking the seal," listen keenly to your body's cues. Use the restroom when you genuinely need to, not because you think you've "broken the seal."
  5. Get curious: Lean into the sober curious movement as a way to examine your own drinking habits. It’s not about achieving sobriety; it’s about embracing more mindful drinking practices. Fewer drinks means fewer trips to the bathroom!

The concept of "breaking the seal" is more a myth than reality. By appreciating the underlying science of our body's response to alcohol, we can make more informed choices leading to healthier, more enjoyable drinking experiences.

Remember, moderation and awareness are the cornerstones of responsible drinking. Here's to better health and wiser choices — cheers!

Reconnect and Thrive With Reframe

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

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The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app today!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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