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Alcohol and Health

Why Does Alcohol Make You Pee?

September 5, 2023
14 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.
September 5, 2023
14 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.
September 5, 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.
September 5, 2023
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Reframe Content Team
September 5, 2023
14 min read

You’re at happy hour enjoying a cocktail with some friends. You’re catching up on life, listening to your friend tell a story about her latest dating escapes. You burst into laughter, and suddenly it hits you: you have to pee. Badly. You’ve only had about one drink, and you’re pretty sure you didn’t drink enough water today anyway. So how is this possible?

If you’ve ever asked yourself, “Why do I pee so much when I drink alcohol?” then it’s time to look at the science behind it. In this post, we’ll explore why alcohol makes us have to urinate more frequently. We’ll also look at the consequences of excessive urination, and what we can do to manage our need to pee while drinking. Let’s dive in!

Why Does Alcohol Make You Pee More? 

A person going to take a pee

You’re definitely not imagining it: everytime you drink alcohol, you end up taking way more trips to the bathroom than you normally would. As the night goes on, it probably seems like you’re having to pee every ten minutes. So why does alcohol make you pee? (And it’s a question that can be asked of every kind of alcoholic drink: why does beer make you pee? Why did that pitcher of margaritas make you pee? Why does doing shots make you pee?)

It all comes down to the fact that alcohol is a diuretic, which means it promotes water loss through urine. It does this by inhibiting the production of a hormone called vasopressin — otherwise referred to as the antidiuretic hormone (ADH) — which plays a large role in the regulation of water excretion. 

Normally, ADH helps our kidney reabsorb water, keeping us from losing too much of it. Our kidneys are responsible for generating urine, which travels via ureters to the bladder. When full, the bladder sends a signal to the brain, leading to urination through the urethra. 

When we start drinking, however, alcohol stops ADH production and our kidneys don’t reabsorb as much water. Instead, it is sent straight to our bladders, causing increased urination. (Fun fact: our bladder is capable of holding 1.5 to 2 cups of urine at a time).

The diuretic process continues until the alcohol is out of our system. This is why we suddenly have the urge to urinate shortly after we start drinking and why we continue experiencing that urge throughout the night. It’s also why we’re sometimes warned about “breaking the seal” too early, even though this is more a psychological concept than an actual physiological reality. 

In the medical landscape, diuretics — otherwise referred to as “water pills” — are drugs used to help our kidneys get rid of extra water and salt from our body through our urine. They’re sometimes prescribed to help bring blood pressure down or if we have too much fluid collecting because of heart failure or other medical problems. 

The Problem With Diuretics 

Apart from the annoying side effect of causing us to pee more frequently, diuretics can be dangerous because of the dehydrating effect they have on our body. So, if you’ve ever wondered, “does alcohol dehydrate you?”, the answer is a resounding yes! 

By suppressing ADH, alcohol can make our kidneys release more water, essentially expelling water from our body. Each time we urinate, we lose not just water, but vital electrolytes. This can lead to dehydration, which can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, and worsen hangover symptoms. In fact, consuming one glass of water for every drink we have can make a big difference in how we’ll feel the next day.

Why is hydration so important to begin with? Great question! We can think about our body like a machine: in order for all its parts to function properly and run smoothly overall, it needs to be oiled and well-lubricated. 

Similarly, our body relies on water for many of its vital functions, such as regulating body temperature, keeping joints lubricated, preventing infections, delivering nutrients to cells, preventing muscle cramps, and keeping organs functioning properly. Not only that, but studies have shown that good hydration can improve sleep quality, cognition, and mood. 

On the flip slide, even just mild dehydration can cause problems with blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature. And severe dehydration can lead to weakness, confusion, kidney damage, brain damage, and even death.

Why Does Alcohol Make You Pee at Night?

Alcohol’s diuretic effect can also lead to sleep interruptions, causing us to get up in the middle of night to pee — sometimes multiple times. Alcohol negatively impacts our quality of sleep as it is (including our REM cycle) so it’s really just a double whammy. 

Sometimes, if we drink too much, we might even end up wetting the bed. This usually happens when we binge drink or black out from drinking, as we might lose consciousness and not wake up when our bladder signals to our brain that we need to pee. In other words, just because we’re passed out doesn’t mean that our bladder stops filling up from the alcohol we consumed. And when it becomes distended or maxed out, we’ll pee whether we want to or not!

Diagram about why alcohol  makes us pee more

Why Does Alcohol Make You Pee? Other Factors

Is there more behind the question “Why does alcohol make you pee?” Research indicates that there are several factors that can influence alcohol’s diuretic effects. Here are 4 of them:

  1. Alcohol strength: According to researchers, the strength of the alcohol we’re consuming can play a role in how much we urinate. For instance, one study found that a person’s urine output increased when alcohol content went up from 2 percent to 4 percent compared to an alcohol-free drink. Another study found drinking moderate amounts of higher-alcohol beverages, such as wine and distilled liquors, provoked a small diuretic effect. By comparison, they found lower-alcohol beverages, like beer, didn’t have as strong a diuretic effect. (But don’t let this deceive you! Beer can still make us pee more!)
  2. Hydration levels before drinking: One study found that people who were slightly under hydrated before drinking alcohol urinated less than those who were hydrated, even when drinking the same amount of alcohol. However, some research suggests that everybody responds differently: some people may find they pee more when they drink, while others pee less. 
  3. Frequency of drinking: Interestingly, our body seems to become accustomed to the presence of alcohol when it comes to peeing. In other words, the more frequently we drink, the less diuretic effects alcohol is likely to have over time. But this is not a reason to drink more! In fact, regular heavy drinking can take a toll on our physical health, not to mention our mental and emotional health as well. But this is just an example of how our body regulates itself. 
  4. Individual factors: Our body weight, age, and metabolism can also influence alcohol’s diuretic effects. For instance, someone with more body tissue can absorb more alcohol than someone who weighs less. Similarly, our ability to metabolize alcohol declines as we age. We feel the effects of alcohol more strongly and the alcohol stays in our system for longer.

How To Stop Peeing So Much When Drinking Alcohol

Now that we have a better understanding of the factors that influence alcohol’s diuretic effect, we can shed light on how to stop peeing so much when drinking alcohol. Here are 7 tips: 

  • Drink in moderation: Perhaps most importantly, if we do choose to drink, we should develop healthy drinking habits and drink in moderation. Mindful drinking can be a helpful technique to practice here. If we don’t fill our body and bladder up with as much alcohol, we won’t have to pee as much. 

    Moderation is defined as one drink for women and one to two drinks for men per day. A standard drink is 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, such as rum, tequila, or vodka; 5 ounces of wine; and 12 ounces of a beer that’s about 5 percent alcohol. 

    Drinking in moderation plays an important role in reducing the amount of urine our body produces. It’s also just better for our overall health. Keep in mind, though, that even in small amounts, alcohol can negatively affect our well-being.
  • Choose drinks with low alcohol content: We should also aim to drink beverages with a lower total alcohol content, such as a glass of wine or beer instead of a cocktail with hard liquor. Again, this might help us not only limit the amount of trips we take to the bathroom, but can protect us from alcohol’s intoxicating effects.
  • Avoid drinks mixed with coffee, energy drinks, or cola: Mixing alcohol with energy drinks or other beverages that contain caffeine may increase the frequency to urinate even further. This is because caffeine is also a diuretic and can increase the filling rate of the bladder. It can also be dangerous to mix caffeine with alcohol, as caffeine can mask the effects of alcohol, making us feel more alert and capable than we are. This may lead to overconsumption of alcohol and becoming more impaired than we realize. 
  • Avoid drinks containing carbonation: Carbonated drinks of club soda, seltzer water, and other “sparkling” drinks tend to irritate our bladder and can make us urinate more normally than we would consuming the same volume of a non-carbonated drink. Try to avoid “fizzy” alcoholic beverages, like a gin and tonic. 
  • Avoid sugary drinks: Sugar is known to stimulate the bladder and may increase our urge to urinate. Even eating too much sugar can cause us to pee more because sugar (glucose) is filtered out of the body by the kidneys and into our urine. Mixed drinks in particular are often loaded with sugar. Even some wines can have a sneaky amount of sugar. As enticing as they might be, try your best to avoid high sugar drinks.  
  • Stay hydrated: It may be tempting to keep yourself dehydrated in order to pee less when you drink alcohol. But this is the worst thing you can do. Dehydration will only make us feel worse later, and is never good for our health — regardless of whether we’re drinking alcohol or not. 

    In fact, when we don’t drink enough water, the urine in our bladder becomes concentrated, which can lead to strong smells and bladder irritation. This can also increase our risk of bladder infections or kidney stones — both of which are no fun! It’s always a good practice to drink water alongside or in between your alcoholic beverage of choice. This is also a helpful way to limit the amount of alcohol we’re consuming. 
  • Don’t hold in your pee: Finally, whatever you do, don’t hold your pee! Holding in urine can cause urinary tract infections (UTIs) due to bacteria build up. Plus, holding in our urine for too long can weaken our bladder muscles over time. This can lead to problems such as incontinence and not being able to fully empty the bladder. 

The Bottom Line

Alcohol makes us have to pee more because it is a diuretic. Like all diuretics, alcohol inhibits the release of vasopressin — the antidiuretic hormone (ADH) — causing our kidneys to release more water that ends up in our bladder. This can have a dehydrating effect on our body that not only makes us urinate more, but also causes a host of side effects, such as headaches, dizziness, and nausea. The best way to prevent this from occurring is to reduce our alcohol consumption or eliminate it entirely. If we do choose to drink alcohol, it’s important to drink in moderation, choose low alcohol content beverages, and stay hydrated by drinking a lot of water. 

If you want insight into some of the most effective tips and strategies for cutting back on your alcohol consumption, consider trying Reframe. We’re a neuroscience-backed app that has helped millions of people reduce their alcohol consumption and enhance their health and well-being.

Summary FAQs

1. Why does alcohol make you pee?

Alcohol is a diuretic, which means that it promotes water loss through urine. It does this by inhibiting production of a hormone called vasopressin — otherwise referred to as the antidiuretic hormone (ADH) — which plays a large role in the regulation of water excretion. 

2. Does alcohol dehydrate you?

Yes! Diuretics not only cause us to pee more, but can be dangerous because of the dehydrating effect they have on our body. Every time we urinate, we lose water and vital electrolytes that are essential for keeping many of our bodily systems functioning properly. 

3. What types of things affect alcohol’s diuretic effects? 

Some studies indicate that the alcohol content of beverages, our hydration levels before drinking, and the frequency in which we consume alcohol can play a role in whether alcohol will cause us to urinate more frequently. 

4. How can we stop peeing so much when drinking alcohol?

If we choose to drink alcohol, we can help manage our need to pee by drinking in moderation, choosing low alcohol content beverages, avoiding drinks with carbonation, caffeine, and sugar, and staying hydrated by drinking lots of water. And never hold in your pee! 

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