Does Alcohol Dehydrate You?

It’s summertime, and that means hanging out by the pool, maybe having some drinks with friends. But while drinking and socializing with friends is fun, there’s also a higher risk of dehydration (especially in the summer heat). In this article, we’ll go over what you need to know about alcohol’s dehydrating effects: how it works, the dangers, and what to do about it.

Does Alcohol Dehydrate You?

Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it increases urine output. Excessive urination causes your body to lose vital electrolytes. These include things like sodium, potassium, calcium, and chlorine. These nutrients are essential for proper kidney functioning. 

According to one study in the Journal of Alcohol and Alcoholism, one drink of alcohol can lead to a 2-4% increase in additional urine output.

Why Does Alcohol Dehydrate You?

To understand why alcohol makes you urinate more you need to understand ADH. ADH stands for antidiuretic hormone (also known as vasopressin). When the human body senses it is getting dehydrated, ADH is produced by the pituitary gland to reduce urination.

Alcohol inhibits the production of ADH in the body. This makes it harder for your body to retain enough fluids. The higher the alcohol content of a particular drink, the greater this effect becomes.

Fortunately, researchers have discovered these effects are not sustained over multiple drinks. The diuretic effects are greatest as the level of alcohol in the body rises, but production of ADH recovers as the alcohol is metabolized. As ADH production recovers, the body regains its ability to conserve fluids and limit dehydration.

Does Alcohol Dehydrate Muscle?

It’s currently unknown whether or not alcohol dehydrates muscle, but it definitely weakens it. Scientists have learned of several ways it damages tissue. Due to its diuretic effect, alcohol makes it more likely for tissues to be deficient in electrolytes. This is something for athletes to be aware of, as it puts them at greater risk of pulling or straining their muscles.

Alcohol is also known to break down muscle tissue and reduce protein synthesis – sorry, bodybuilders! Effects of alcohol upon the muscles can include pain, swelling, and general muscle weakness. This can occur after only a single episode of binge drinking and it may take a week or more to fully recover. Studies show chronic heavy drinkers experience more significant muscle damage and loss.

Does Alcohol Dehydrate Skin?

Yes. Too much alcohol can lead to dry skin. This can prematurely age you as you gain more lines and wrinkles on your face. One study with over 3200 participants found excessive alcohol consumption is linked to accelerated facial aging. The effects here include increased facial lines, eye puffiness, loss of facial volume, and broken blood vessels.

Alcohol can also cause facial redness and aggravate skin conditions like rosacea, dermatitis, and psoriasis.

What Type of Alcohol Dehydrates You the Most?

While any kind of alcoholic drink will dehydrate you to at least some extent, those with higher alcohol content will cause more dehydration. This includes most hard liquor like whisky, vodka, rum, and gin. These are all over one-third alcohol in total content and thus are more likely to dehydrate you.

By comparison, the dehydrating effects will be somewhat reduced – but not eliminated – in drinks with lower alcohol content. For example, a glass of wine typically has around 12.5-14.5% alcohol – much less than hard liquor. Beer will naturally dehydrate you the least, since it typically has an alcohol content ranging between 2 and 8%. 

Alcohol Dehydration Symptoms

Symptoms of dehydration can range from mild to severe. How much alcohol you consume will influence what symptoms you experience. Signs and symptoms of dehydration will also differ by age.

For an adult, symptoms of dehydration typically include:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Less frequent urination
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion

If you feel yourself getting dehydrated, find somewhere cool and switch to a drink with electrolytes, such as a sports drink (ex: Gatorade).

Does Dehydration Cause Hangovers?

Dehydration certainly contributes to hangovers but it’s just a piece of the puzzle. Studies have pointed to additional causes, such as inflammation, gastrointestinal irritation, and poor sleep.

Five Tips to Prevent Alcohol Dehydration

Here are five tips to practice this summer to prevent dehydration from alcohol:

  1. Eat plenty of food. Consuming alcohol on an empty stomach will lead to a higher blood alcohol content level. This will quickly lead to dehydration. If you know you’re going to be doing some drinking, try to have a full and satisfying meal beforehand. During the summer especially, make sure it has not only meat, but fruits and veggies, as these contain lots of fluids.
  2. Limit the amount you drink. This is a no-brainer. The more you drink, the more dehydrated you’ll get. It takes most people one hour to metabolize one standard drink (i.e. 14 grams of alcohol). Nursing that glass or beer or wine along, rather than downing it quickly, will help you moderate your alcohol consumption.
  3. Make sure you are hydrated beforehand. Contrary to popular belief, alternating alcoholic drinks and water will not help you avoid dehydration. But you can certainly make sure you are as hydrated as possible before attending that pool party or going out to the bar.
  4. Choose drinks with lower alcohol content. The higher the alcohol content, the more the drink will dehydrate you. Consider sticking to primarily beer or wine to mitigate any alcohol dehydration you may experience.
  5. Know when to stop. Pay attention to how your body is feeling throughout the day. Monitor your fluid intake and how much you’re urinating. Large amounts of dark colored urine is a sign you are becoming dehydrated. If you consistently find yourself unable to stop drinking alcohol, consider seeking alcohol treatment in Orange County.

Ways to Stay Hydrated While Drinking Alcohol

When drinking alcohol, especially in hot weather, avoiding dehydration is very important. One way to do this is to avoid sugary drinks. That margarita may seem refreshing but the added sugar creates an acidic environment in your body. That makes it harder for your body to store extra water.

And while chips and popcorn are mainstays at BBQ’s, it’s best to limit your consumption of them. Too much sodium increases fluid loss as your body tries to flush it out. When you pair this with alcohol, the dehydration compounds further. After eating something salty, chase it with some ice tea, lemonade, or even plain water, rather than alcohol.

How to Rehydrate Fast After Drinking

The best way to rehydrate quickly is to regain the minerals that were flushed out due to excessive urination. 

There are various products available at your local pharmacy or grocery store designed to do this. They’re usually powders or liquids that can be mixed with water.

Popular brands include:

  • Snake Juice
  • Mio
  • Liquid IV

These products contain electrolytes, potassium, sodium, and chloride – all of which your body loses with higher urine output. Sports drinks such as Gatorade can also help with this.

When is Alcohol Dehydration an Emergency?

Alcohol-induced dehydration can easily turn from uncomfortable to an emergency.

Here are some signs to watch out for when you or someone you know might need to seek medical attention:

  • Sunken eyes
  • Rapid heart rate and breathing
  • Delirium
  • Headaches
  • Muscle cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Fainting

If someone is experiencing any of these symptoms, they should seek immediate medical attention.

Alcohol Treatment at South Coast Behavioral Health

Alcohol dehydration can happen to anyone, but if you find yourself truly struggling with alcohol, it may be time to seek professional treatment. At South Coast Behavioral Health, we offer a full continuum of care for alcohol addiction. Our beautiful drug and alcohol rehab centers in Orange County combine expert care with serene environments to give you the best possible chance at recovery. Our services include medical detox, residential treatment, partial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient treatment. We also offer various therapies, recreational activities, and accept insurance. Call us at 866-881-1184 to get started today.