A man in pain, showing signs of long term effects of alcohol on the kidneys

Drinking alcohol can have a serious impact on our organs, especially our kidneys. But what are the long-term effects of alcohol on the kidneys?

In this article, we cover everything you need to know.


What Are the Main Functions of the Kidneys?

In our bodies, we have five vital organs, and our kidneys are one of those five. Vital organs are necessary for life, and without them, our bodies would not survive.

Our kidneys are responsible for several jobs that help keep our bodies healthy. Here’s a clear explanation of their main functions:

  • Removing waste products: The kidneys filter out waste products from our blood. These wastes come from our cells’ everyday activities and from the food we eat, too. After filtering, these wastes are sent out of the body in our urine.
  • Balancing body fluids: They control the amount of water and salts in our body. This balance is essential for our cells and organs to work properly.
  • Regulating blood pressure: The kidneys also help control blood flow and blood pressure by adjusting the volume of blood (by holding on to water or releasing it) and by making a hormone called renin. Renin helps manage how the blood vessels expand and contract.
  • Hormone regulation: Kidneys play an essential role in regulating our hormones. They produce erythropoietin, which stimulates red blood cell production, and renin, which (as we touched on above) regulates our blood pressure. They also activate vitamin D to help manage calcium levels.
  • Producing red blood cells: The kidneys release a hormone called erythropoietin. This hormone tells the bone marrow to make red blood cells, which carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.
  • Keeping bones healthy: They help keep bones strong by balancing calcium and phosphorus in the body and by converting a form of vitamin D into an active form that helps us absorb calcium.


How Does Alcohol Affect the Kidneys?

Alcohol can have many harmful effects on our kidneys.

Alcohol Consumption & Diuretic Effects

When we drink alcohol, it acts as a diuretic. So, this means that it increases the amount of urine produced by the kidneys.

Normally, our kidneys control the amount of water that’s removed from our bodies, but when we consume alcohol, it disrupts this balance. And the more alcohol you consume, the more urine your body produces. This diuretic effect can lead our bodies to become dehydrated.

Dehydration occurs when the body loses more water through urine than it takes in from drinking fluids. Symptoms of dehydration can look like feeling thirsty, having a dry mouth, and feeling tired or dizzy.

Stress on Kidney Function

As we touched on earlier in this article, our kidneys have several important jobs – including filtering waste from the blood, managing blood pressure, and maintaining a healthy balance of salts and other substances in the body.

Chronic drinking, especially alcohol consumed in large quantities (e.g. binge drinking excessive alcohol use), can strain our kidneys, making it very difficult for them to filter out harmful substances, such as alcohol, from our blood.

If we look at this from a long-term perspective, over time, if someone drinks a lot of alcohol regularly, it can lead to more serious kidney problems.

These problems might include changes in the normal function of the kidneys and even chronic kidney disease, which is where the kidneys gradually lose their ability to function properly.


Common Conditions Linked to Alcohol and Kidney Damage

Unfortunately, there are many kidney-related health issues and conditions linked to how much alcohol we consume.

  • Acute kidney injury (AKI): This is classed as a sudden episode of kidney failure or kidney damage that happens within a few hours or a few days. It causes waste products to build up in our blood and makes it hard for our kidneys to keep the right balance of fluids in our body. Excessive alcohol consumption in a short time can lead to Acute kidney injury.
  • Chronic kidney disease (CKD): This is the gradual loss of kidney function over time. Alcohol addiction and drinking heavily for many years can put you at risk of developing CKD.
  • High blood pressure: Drinking alcohol heavily and frequently can lead to developing high blood pressure. High blood pressure is actually a leading cause of kidney disease because it forces the kidneys to filter blood at a higher pressure than normal, weakening them over time.
  • Liver disease: The liver and kidneys work closely together, and heavy drinking can also cause liver disease. If the liver becomes damaged, it affects our kidney function, too. This is because a damaged liver can increase the pressure in the central vein that carries blood from the digestive organs to the liver. Increased pressure here can cause increased pressure in the kidneys – leading to kidney damage.
  • Kidney stones: Although alcohol consumption itself doesn’t cause kidney stones, being dehydrated frequently can lead to forming stones. Kidney stones are hard objects that form from chemicals in your urine. They can be extremely painful and can require medical intervention to remove them.


The Key Symptoms and Signs of Kidney Stress and Failure

If you’re worried about your kidneys, there are some key signs to look out for that might suggest they are under stress or not working correctly.

  • Swelling: If your kidneys are under stress, your ankles, feet, or hands might swell up. This happens because your kidneys can’t get rid of extra water in your body.
  • Feeling very tired: When your kidneys aren’t working right, toxins can build up in your blood, making you feel more tired than usual.
  • Dry and itchy skin: Healthy kidneys make red blood cells, keep bones strong, and control the amount of minerals in your body. When they’re not working well, it can lead to dry and itchy skin.
  • Needing to urinate more often: If you find yourself needing to go to the toilet a lot, especially at night, it could be a sign that your kidney function is changing.
  • Your muscles are cramping: Impaired kidney function can affect your electrolyte balance, causing muscle cramps, particularly in your legs.
  • Blood in the urine: Healthy kidneys typically keep the blood cells in the body when filtering wastes from the blood to create urine, but if the kidneys are damaged, these blood cells can start to “leak” out into the urine. If you’re experiencing this, seek medical advice as soon as possible.
  • Foamy urine: Bubbles in the urine indicate that there’s protein in your urine. This is an early sign of kidney disease.
  • Puffiness around your eyes: Protein in the urine is one early sign that the kidneys’ filters have been damaged, allowing protein to leak into the urine. This can result in puffiness around the eye area.
  • Appetite changes: This is a very common symptom, but it’s also quite broad and can be caused by many other conditions. If your kidneys are starting to fail, you might feel less inclined to eat.


How to Prevent Kidney Damage from Alcohol

To prevent kidney damage from alcohol, it’s important to manage how much alcohol you drink. No matter which way we look at it, drinking too much alcohol can be harmful to the kidneys.

Here are some simple tips to follow:

  • Avoid binge drinking and try to keep to the recommended limit, which is not to drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week.
  • Set non-negotiable, drink-free days each week to help your kidneys recover.
  • Drinking plenty of water and staying hydrated, especially when you drink alcohol, is also helpful.
  • If you find it hard to cut down on alcohol, seek advice.
  • Eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and avoiding smoking can help keep your kidneys and other organs in good health.


Struggling with Alcohol? Reach Out Today

If you’re struggling with your alcohol consumption and feel worried about the effects of alcohol, please get in touch with our team today. We provide free, impartial, and confidential advice to those who need it and can help you find resources that are local to you. We’re also able to provide comprehensive alcohol addiction treatment at one of our clinics.

Call us today on 0330 107 2950.