Alcoholism and kidney disease
Drinking large amounts of alcohol can affect many parts of your body, including your kidneys. A little alcohol—one or two drinks now and then—usually has no serious effects. But drinking too much can harm your health. It can also worsen kidney disease. So, yes, alcohol and kidneys are very related.
How does alcohol harm the kidneys?
Your kidneys filter harmful substances from your blood. One of these substances is alcohol. Alcohol can cause changes in the function of the kidneys and make them less able to filter your blood. In addition to filtering blood, your kidneys do many other important jobs. One of these jobs is keeping the right amount of water in your body. Alcohol affects the ability of your kidneys to do this. When alcohol dehydrates (dries out) the body, the drying effect can affect the normal function of cells and organs, including the kidneys.
Too much alcohol can also affect your blood pressure. People who drink too much are more likely to have high blood pressure. And medications for high blood pressure can be affected by alcohol. High blood pressure is a common cause of kidney disease. More than two drinks a day can increase your chance of having high blood pressure.
Chronic drinking can also cause liver disease. This adds to the kidney’s job. The rate of blood flow to your kidneys is usually kept at a certain level so that your kidneys can filter your blood well. Liver disease impairs this important balancing act. In fact, most patients in the United States who have both liver disease and associated kidney dysfunction are alcohol dependent.
What is Alcoholism?
We are used to hearing about Alcoholism quite often, we even lightly use the term most of the time to refer to someone who just likes to drink, but it is a really serious disease and should not be taken lightly. In the scientific article ‘The Definition of Alcoholism’ Morse RM, Flavin DK, published on Jama Network Journal, a 23-member multidisciplinary committee of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and the American Society of Addiction Medicine conducted a 2-year study of the definition of Alcoholism.
Therefore, the committee agreed to define Alcoholism “as a primary, chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. The disease is often progressive and fatal. It is characterized by impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, most notably denial. Each of these symptoms may be continuous or periodic.”
Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) in the United States
According to the 2019 NSDUH, 14.5 million people ages 12 and older had AUD. This number includes 9.0 million men and 5.5 million women. This problem threatens a big number of young people too, as stated by the same source, an estimated 414,000 adolescents between the ages of 12 to 177 had AUD. This number includes 163,000 males and 251,000 females.
An estimated 95,000 people, approximately 68,000 men, and 27,000 women die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the third-leading preventable cause of death in the United States. The first is tobacco, and the second is poor diet and physical inactivity.
Causes of Alcoholism
It is common to think this condition arises from a person who simply does not know how to control their alcohol consumption and is trapped in a vicious circle, but according to the scientific piece ‘The many causes of Alcoholism’ Cohen, S. Published on the Drug Abuse & Alcoholism Newsletter, there are three main causes of this disease: biological, physiological, and sociocultural.
- Biological causes may be:
- Genetic: “inherited susceptibility to alcohol’s acute effects, impaired ability to catabolize ingested alcohol, or difficulty in dealing with anxiety, frustration, and depression”.
- Biochemical: sensitivity to insulin, episodes of spontaneous hypoglycemia, or adrenal insufficiency.
- Or endocrine: persistently low levels of androgenic hormones.
- Among the psychological causes of Alcoholism are:
- Need for tension relief and anxiety control
- Personality disorders
- Psychodynamic factors
- Learning: tension reduction from drinking provides a positive reinforcement to continue drinking
- Role modeling: peer example or occupational pressures
- Culture-specific drinking traditions, and those stresses and conflicts experienced by certain subcultures also contribute to overindulgence in alcohol
Symptoms of Alcoholism
As stated by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, these are the signs to be aware of in terms of this condition:
- Appearing intoxicated more regularly
- Appearing tired, unwell or irritable
- An inability to say no to alcohol
- Becoming secretive or dishonest
- Drinking more, or longer than one intended
- Wanting to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but haven’t been able to do so
- Spending a lot of time drinking, being sick or getting over the aftereffects
- Experiencing craving, a strong need, or urge to drink
- Founding that drinking, or being sick from drinking, often interferes with taking care of your home or family, job troubles or school problems
- Continuing drinking even though it was causing trouble with family or friends
- Giving up or cutting back on activities that are important or interesting to you, in order to drink
- More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)
- Continuing to drink even though it was making you feel depressed, anxious, or adding to another health problem, or after having had a memory blackout
- Having to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want. Or finding that your usual number of drinks have much less effect than before
- Finding that when the effects of alcohol are wearing off, you have withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating.
Alcohol and Kidneys
When experts talk about one drink, they are talking about one 12-ounce bottle of beer, one glass of wine (5 ounces), or one shot (1.5 ounces) of “hard liquor.”
Having more than three drinks in a day (or more than seven per week) for women, and more than four drinks in a day (or more than 14 per week) for men, is considered “heavy” drinking. The kidneys of heavy drinkers have to work harder. Heavy drinking regularly has been found to double the risk for kidney disease.
Binge drinking (usually more than four to five drinks within two hours) can raise a person’s blood alcohol to dangerous levels. This can cause a sudden drop in kidney function known as “acute kidney injury.” When this happens, dialysis is needed until a person’s kidney function returns to normal. Acute kidney injury usually goes away in time, but in some cases, it can lead to lasting kidney damage.
Some people should not drink at all. Ask your healthcare provider if it is safe for you to drink, especially if you have a medical condition or take medicines that might be affected by using alcohol. Women, older people, and those with smaller bodies should be especially careful. Of course, pregnant women are advised not to drink alcohol.
Treatment for alcoholism
When it comes to Alcoholism treatment, it is normal to think of 12-step programs or 28-day inpatient rehab, but it becomes difficult to think of more options of treatment for this condition. In fact, there are a variety of treatment methods currently available. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, there are three types of treatment:
- Behavioral Treatments for alcoholism: are aimed at changing drinking behavior through counseling. They are led by health professionals and supported by studies showing they can be beneficial.
- Medications for alcoholism: Three medications are currently approved in the United States to help people stop or reduce their drinking and prevent relapse. They are prescribed by a primary care physician or other health professional and may be used alone or in combination with counseling.
- Peer-Support Groups for alcoholism: Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other 12-step programs provide peer support for people quitting or cutting back on their drinking. Combined with treatment led by health professionals, mutual-support groups can offer a valuable added layer of support. Due to the anonymous nature of mutual-support groups, it is difficult for researchers to determine their success rates compared with those led by health professionals.
Reclaim Your Life From the Implications of Alcohol and Kidneys
Drinking large amounts of alcohol can affect many parts of your body, including your kidneys. Alcohol and kidneys are very related. We Level Up California can provide to you, or someone you love, the tools to recover from alcoholism with professional and safe detox and treatment. Feel free to call us to speak with one of our counselors. We can inform you about this condition by giving you relevant information. Our specialists know what you are going through. Please know that each call is private and confidential.
 Joo YS, Koh H, Nam KH, Lee S, Kim J, Lee C, Yun HR, Park JT, Kang EW, Chang TI, Yoo TH, Oh KH, Chae DW, Lee KB, Kim SW, Lee J, Kang SW, Choi KH, Ahn C, Han SH. Alcohol Consumption and Progression of Chronic Kidney Disease: Results From the Korean Cohort Study for Outcome in Patients with Chronic Kidney Disease. Mayo Clin Proc. 2020 Feb;95(2):293-305. doi: 10.1016/j.mayocp.2019.06.014. Epub 2019 Dec 26. PMID: 31883696.
 Epstein M. (1997). Alcohol’s impact on kidney function. Alcohol health and research world, 21(1), 84–92.