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A person experiencing swelling in the feet
Alcohol and Health

Why Do My Feet Swell When I Drink?

Published:
July 4, 2023
·
11 min read
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Written by
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.
July 4, 2023
·
11 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.
July 4, 2023
·
11 min read
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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.
July 4, 2023
·
11 min read
Reframe App LogoReframe App Logo
Reframe Content Team
July 4, 2023
·
11 min read

When you think about the odd ways your body responds to alcohol — headaches, face flushing, and the like — what happens to your feet might not be at the top of your list. And yet it’s a familiar scenario: you’re relaxing at home after a long day, maybe you’re catching up on a new Top Chef episode while sipping something with a little kick to it — maybe a craft beer, a glass of wine, or a zesty cocktail. But the next thing you know, your shoes are feeling a little tight, your feet are starting to resemble balloons, and you're left scratching your head, wondering, “Why in the world do my feet swell when I drink? And why do my legs hurt after drinking?”

It may not seem like the most glamorous of topics, but hey, when your feet are unhappy, it’s hard to ignore the discomfort. So let's pull up our socks (maybe just take them off?) and look into it further.

When Booze and Body Collide

The thing about alcohol is that it's not just a liquid we consume — it has profound effects on our bodies. It's a potent diuretic, encouraging our kidneys to produce more urine and leading to dehydration and swollen feet. Think of your kidneys like the bouncers of the hydration nightclub. When alcohol comes into play, the bouncers get a bit lax, letting more water out than they should.

But there’s more. Alcohol also decreases the production of an important hormone called vasopressin. Vasopressin's job is to tell your kidneys to reabsorb water rather than flush it out. When there's less vasopressin on duty, more water escapes into your urine. You might have noticed this when you “break the seal” during a night out.

How Swelling Fits Into the Picture

Sure — diuretic, vasopressin, got to pee. But what’s that got to do with our feet? Specifically, why does drinking cause our feet to swell and our legs to hurt?

As our bodies dehydrate due to the diuretic effects of alcohol, they start to send out SOS signals — we need to compensate for the lost water. One way the body does this is by drawing water from our cells into our bloodstream to maintain blood pressure and keep vital organs working correctly. This is called fluid shift — and swollen feet can be a sign that it’s happening.

The problem is, gravity isn’t selective. Fluid that is shifting downward due to gravity can pool in our feet and ankles, leading to swelling known as peripheral edema. In short, alcohol gets our fluids all confused, and they end up where they shouldn’t be: in our feet.

Pumping Trouble

While so far we have been focusing on foot swelling as a temporary discomfort caused mainly by dehydration, it’s crucial to keep in mind that swollen feet can be a sign of more serious health conditions, such as heart problems.

When the heart doesn't pump blood effectively, it can cause a condition called congestive heart failure. As the heart struggles, blood flow slows down, causing blood returning to the heart through the veins to back up.

This backup leads to an increase in pressure within the veins, pushing fluid out into the surrounding tissues, causing swelling, usually in the lower parts of the body like the legs, ankles, and feet. So if you have swollen feet and also experience symptoms like shortness of breath, fatigue, rapid weight gain, and a persistent cough, it's a good idea to reach out to a healthcare professional ASAP — these may be signs of heart problems requiring immediate attention.

When the Liver Feels the Strain

Another thing to keep in mind is that swollen feet caused by drinking can be an indicator of liver damage. The liver is a powerhouse organ — it detoxifies harmful substances in the body, stores vitamins and iron, converts stored sugar to functional sugar when the body's sugar levels fall, and even helps produce blood proteins that aid in clotting. What a multitasker!

When the liver gets damaged through excessive alcohol consumption — or anything else, for that matter — it can't perform its functions as effectively. One of its jobs is to produce a protein called albumin. Albumin helps keep fluid in your bloodstream so it doesn't leak into other tissues. But when the liver is damaged and albumin production drops, this fluid can escape into surrounding tissues, causing swelling, or edema.

This fluid can accumulate in various parts of the body, but — because of gravity — it often ends up in the feet and ankles, causing them to swell. This is one way that our feet might be trying to tell us that our liver needs some help.

Liver damage can also cause fluid to accumulate in the abdominal cavity in a condition called ascites. If we’re experiencing foot and ankle swelling along with weight gain and swelling in the abdomen, these could be signs of severe liver disease, like cirrhosis — definitely not something we’d want to ignore.

(Don’t) Leave Me Breathless

Another condition to be aware of is pulmonary edema, which happens when fluid accumulates in the lungs, making it difficult to breathe. It can be caused by heart conditions such as congestive heart failure, which happens when the heart struggles to pump blood effectively.

In such a scenario, increased pressure in the blood vessels of the lungs causes fluid to be pushed into the air sacs. This fluid prevents the lungs from filling with enough air, leading to shortness of breath.

While pulmonary edema itself might not directly cause swollen feet, its root cause — congestive heart failure — often does. So, the presence of swollen feet alongside symptoms such as difficulty breathing, extreme fatigue, or a rapid or irregular heartbeat should trigger an immediate call to your healthcare provider.

When To Worry

The bottom line? While the occasional swelling of feet or leg pain after a night of a bit too much drinking can be chalked up to alcohol's effects on the body, such as dehydration, persistent or severe swelling should never be ignored. If you have swollen feet accompanied by other worrying symptoms, it’s absolutely crucial to seek medical attention promptly. The earlier potential health problems are detected, the better they can be managed. 

Bye-Bye Balloon Feet 

The great news is you have the power to control the impact alcohol has on your body. Reducing or even eliminating alcohol from your lifestyle can improve your health in countless ways, including preventing our feet from swelling when we drink. Here are some specific steps you can take:

Preventing Swollen Feet After Drinking
  • Swap out alcoholic drinks. Try swapping out your alcoholic beverage for a non-alcoholic option. There are plenty of fun mocktail recipes that can give you the sense of treating yourself without the negative side effects.
  • Hydrate. Drink more water. This can counteract the dehydrating effects of alcohol and reduce the fluid shift that leads to swelling.
  • Limit your alcohol intake. Try to have several alcohol-free days each week. This will give your body a chance to recover and could significantly improve your overall health.
  • Get moving. Exercise can help improve your circulation, reducing the chances of fluid accumulating in your feet and ankles.
  • Elevate your feet. When you’re lounging around at home, try elevating your feet. This simple trick can help prevent fluid from pooling in your lower extremities.

Water Retention Tips

Last but not least, if you’re wondering how long does alcohol-related water retention last, the answer is — 24 to 48 hours, max. Give it a day or two, and you'll likely be back to your fabulous, non-puffy self.

As for ways to get rid of water retention after drinking alcohol, try these tips:

  • Eat potassium-rich foods. Foods like bananas, spinach, and sweet potatoes can help balance out sodium levels, reducing bloating.
  • Limit salt. Salty foods can exacerbate water retention. Keep an eye on your intake the day after drinking.
  • Consider herbal teas. Some herbal teas like dandelion or green tea can act as natural diuretics, helping your body let go of that extra water.
  • Rest up. Giving your body adequate sleep can help in the recovery process and reduce stress, another potential bloat culprit.

Summing Up

In the end, those puffy feet might be a nuisance, but they’re also your body’s way of saying “hey, maybe ease up a little.” Let’s give them a break and keep them — and you! — happy and healthy!

When you think about the odd ways your body responds to alcohol — headaches, face flushing, and the like — what happens to your feet might not be at the top of your list. And yet it’s a familiar scenario: you’re relaxing at home after a long day, maybe you’re catching up on a new Top Chef episode while sipping something with a little kick to it — maybe a craft beer, a glass of wine, or a zesty cocktail. But the next thing you know, your shoes are feeling a little tight, your feet are starting to resemble balloons, and you're left scratching your head, wondering, “Why in the world do my feet swell when I drink? And why do my legs hurt after drinking?”

It may not seem like the most glamorous of topics, but hey, when your feet are unhappy, it’s hard to ignore the discomfort. So let's pull up our socks (maybe just take them off?) and look into it further.

When Booze and Body Collide

The thing about alcohol is that it's not just a liquid we consume — it has profound effects on our bodies. It's a potent diuretic, encouraging our kidneys to produce more urine and leading to dehydration and swollen feet. Think of your kidneys like the bouncers of the hydration nightclub. When alcohol comes into play, the bouncers get a bit lax, letting more water out than they should.

But there’s more. Alcohol also decreases the production of an important hormone called vasopressin. Vasopressin's job is to tell your kidneys to reabsorb water rather than flush it out. When there's less vasopressin on duty, more water escapes into your urine. You might have noticed this when you “break the seal” during a night out.

How Swelling Fits Into the Picture

Sure — diuretic, vasopressin, got to pee. But what’s that got to do with our feet? Specifically, why does drinking cause our feet to swell and our legs to hurt?

As our bodies dehydrate due to the diuretic effects of alcohol, they start to send out SOS signals — we need to compensate for the lost water. One way the body does this is by drawing water from our cells into our bloodstream to maintain blood pressure and keep vital organs working correctly. This is called fluid shift — and swollen feet can be a sign that it’s happening.

The problem is, gravity isn’t selective. Fluid that is shifting downward due to gravity can pool in our feet and ankles, leading to swelling known as peripheral edema. In short, alcohol gets our fluids all confused, and they end up where they shouldn’t be: in our feet.

Pumping Trouble

While so far we have been focusing on foot swelling as a temporary discomfort caused mainly by dehydration, it’s crucial to keep in mind that swollen feet can be a sign of more serious health conditions, such as heart problems.

When the heart doesn't pump blood effectively, it can cause a condition called congestive heart failure. As the heart struggles, blood flow slows down, causing blood returning to the heart through the veins to back up.

This backup leads to an increase in pressure within the veins, pushing fluid out into the surrounding tissues, causing swelling, usually in the lower parts of the body like the legs, ankles, and feet. So if you have swollen feet and also experience symptoms like shortness of breath, fatigue, rapid weight gain, and a persistent cough, it's a good idea to reach out to a healthcare professional ASAP — these may be signs of heart problems requiring immediate attention.

When the Liver Feels the Strain

Another thing to keep in mind is that swollen feet caused by drinking can be an indicator of liver damage. The liver is a powerhouse organ — it detoxifies harmful substances in the body, stores vitamins and iron, converts stored sugar to functional sugar when the body's sugar levels fall, and even helps produce blood proteins that aid in clotting. What a multitasker!

When the liver gets damaged through excessive alcohol consumption — or anything else, for that matter — it can't perform its functions as effectively. One of its jobs is to produce a protein called albumin. Albumin helps keep fluid in your bloodstream so it doesn't leak into other tissues. But when the liver is damaged and albumin production drops, this fluid can escape into surrounding tissues, causing swelling, or edema.

This fluid can accumulate in various parts of the body, but — because of gravity — it often ends up in the feet and ankles, causing them to swell. This is one way that our feet might be trying to tell us that our liver needs some help.

Liver damage can also cause fluid to accumulate in the abdominal cavity in a condition called ascites. If we’re experiencing foot and ankle swelling along with weight gain and swelling in the abdomen, these could be signs of severe liver disease, like cirrhosis — definitely not something we’d want to ignore.

(Don’t) Leave Me Breathless

Another condition to be aware of is pulmonary edema, which happens when fluid accumulates in the lungs, making it difficult to breathe. It can be caused by heart conditions such as congestive heart failure, which happens when the heart struggles to pump blood effectively.

In such a scenario, increased pressure in the blood vessels of the lungs causes fluid to be pushed into the air sacs. This fluid prevents the lungs from filling with enough air, leading to shortness of breath.

While pulmonary edema itself might not directly cause swollen feet, its root cause — congestive heart failure — often does. So, the presence of swollen feet alongside symptoms such as difficulty breathing, extreme fatigue, or a rapid or irregular heartbeat should trigger an immediate call to your healthcare provider.

When To Worry

The bottom line? While the occasional swelling of feet or leg pain after a night of a bit too much drinking can be chalked up to alcohol's effects on the body, such as dehydration, persistent or severe swelling should never be ignored. If you have swollen feet accompanied by other worrying symptoms, it’s absolutely crucial to seek medical attention promptly. The earlier potential health problems are detected, the better they can be managed. 

Bye-Bye Balloon Feet 

The great news is you have the power to control the impact alcohol has on your body. Reducing or even eliminating alcohol from your lifestyle can improve your health in countless ways, including preventing our feet from swelling when we drink. Here are some specific steps you can take:

Preventing Swollen Feet After Drinking
  • Swap out alcoholic drinks. Try swapping out your alcoholic beverage for a non-alcoholic option. There are plenty of fun mocktail recipes that can give you the sense of treating yourself without the negative side effects.
  • Hydrate. Drink more water. This can counteract the dehydrating effects of alcohol and reduce the fluid shift that leads to swelling.
  • Limit your alcohol intake. Try to have several alcohol-free days each week. This will give your body a chance to recover and could significantly improve your overall health.
  • Get moving. Exercise can help improve your circulation, reducing the chances of fluid accumulating in your feet and ankles.
  • Elevate your feet. When you’re lounging around at home, try elevating your feet. This simple trick can help prevent fluid from pooling in your lower extremities.

Water Retention Tips

Last but not least, if you’re wondering how long does alcohol-related water retention last, the answer is — 24 to 48 hours, max. Give it a day or two, and you'll likely be back to your fabulous, non-puffy self.

As for ways to get rid of water retention after drinking alcohol, try these tips:

  • Eat potassium-rich foods. Foods like bananas, spinach, and sweet potatoes can help balance out sodium levels, reducing bloating.
  • Limit salt. Salty foods can exacerbate water retention. Keep an eye on your intake the day after drinking.
  • Consider herbal teas. Some herbal teas like dandelion or green tea can act as natural diuretics, helping your body let go of that extra water.
  • Rest up. Giving your body adequate sleep can help in the recovery process and reduce stress, another potential bloat culprit.

Summing Up

In the end, those puffy feet might be a nuisance, but they’re also your body’s way of saying “hey, maybe ease up a little.” Let’s give them a break and keep them — and you! — happy and healthy!

Thinking of Kicking Alcohol to the Curb To Stop Your Feet From Swelling — And More?

Ready to give your feet — and the rest of your body — a break from alcohol? The Reframe app is your ally! While it's not a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), our app acts as a reliable companion, encouraging you to reconsider the role alcohol plays in your life. Backed by the latest neuroscience studies, our method has successfully guided countless people across the globe in reshaping their relationship with alcohol. You can achieve this, and we're here to help!

Reframe’s objective is to equip you with the knowledge and tools that will allow you to truly flourish — not merely survive — with less alcohol. We deliver daily insights grounded in rigorous research to demystify the science behind alcohol. Our Toolkit is brimming with handy resources and activities to help you overcome any obstacles.

Ready to become part of a worldwide community on the same journey? Immerse yourself in our 24/7 Forum chat, where you can draw inspiration from people around the globe who understand and support you. And our certified coaches are always on hand for personalized advice and guidance.

We're constantly adding new features to our app to enhance your journey. Meet Melody, our newest in-app chatbot. Equipped with the latest AI technology, she’s ready to steer you towards a life with reduced or no alcohol. 

But that's not all! Every month, we launch engaging challenges like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You can join in with other Reframers or take them on solo — the decision is yours!

Go ahead: give the Reframe app a go for an entire week, completely free. You've got nothing to lose — and a whole lot to gain! Are you ready to take control and explore what life without alcohol feels like? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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