Does Alcohol Abuse Cause Kidney Failure?

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis completed medical school at The University of Mississippi Medical Center and residency in general psychiatry in 2003. He completed a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2005. Following this, he served as Chief Medical Officer for 10 years of Brentwood Behavioral Healthcare a private health system including a 105-bed hospital, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient services.

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Can Alcohol Abuse Cause Kidney Failure?

Alcohol consumption affects many different parts of the human body, and some of them can feel pretty good for a short while. Most people can have a few drinks without seriously impacting their health, but excessive drinking can have very adverse effects. Alcohol abuse is well-known for hurting the human liver. However, it can also make kidney disease worse. One drink per day can be defined as one shot of liquor, a single glass of wine, or a bottle of beer, but excessive drinking is usually more than four alcoholic beverages per day.

Alcohol and Kidney Disease

According to estimates, the majority of Americans consume alcohol. In many cases, a significant number of routine drinkers have six or more drinks in one sitting. One in four drinkers admit to doing this once or more per year. Excessive drinking is commonly called “binge” drinking, and it can hurt your kidneys. Over time, there is a growing risk of a sudden decrease in kidney function, known as acute kidney failure. It’s a condition that can go away after a while, but it might also result in long-term kidney damage.

While binge drinking is dangerous, regular drinking can hurt the kidneys slowly over time. Routine heavy drinking doubles the risk of chronic kidney disease, and that’s something that will not dissipate over time. Heavy drinkers who are also smokers have even greater odds of developing kidney problems. Chronic kidney disease is abbreviated as CKD. Heavy drinkers who also smoke have approximately five times the risk of CKD than people who don’t excessively drink or smoke.

Some individuals shouldn’t drink under any circumstances. Your physician can tell you if you’re one of them. Pregnant women should avoid alcohol, for example. Women, the elderly, and anyone with a more petite body should exercise caution as well. If you’re on prescription medications, alcohol might interfere with the medications, resulting in negative side effects.

The human kidneys serve a crucial role in filtering harmful substances out of the body, and alcohol is one of those substances. Heavy drinkers force their kidneys to work even more than usual. Alcohol triggers changes in how kidneys function, and one of those changes is reducing their ability to filter the blood passing through. Another change alcohol triggers in the human body is the capacity to regulate electrolytes and fluids. Even though alcohol is a liquid, it dries the body out via the process of dehydration. The associated drying effect impacts how cells and organs function, such as the kidneys. Further compounding matters is how alcohol disrupts hormones responsible for managing kidney functions.

Excess alcohol can impact someone’s blood pressure. Anyone who drinks too much increases their risk of higher blood pressure. This is frequently treated with blood pressure medications, but the presence of alcohol impacts those prescriptions. Kidney disease has many contributing factors or potential causes, and high blood pressure is one of them. If you drink more than two alcoholic beverages per day, then you have a greater risk of higher blood pressure. Excessive drinking can trigger albuminuria, which is a protein found in urine that’s a common warning sign for kidney disease. Fortunately, practicing light or moderate drinking can prevent many of these risks.

Alcohol also causes liver disease. While that is an entirely different organ, chronic drinking that impacts the liver can make life harder for the kidneys. The rate at which blood flows to the human kidneys usually stays at a particular level, enabling the kidneys to filter blood efficiently. However, this delicate balance is disrupted when there is liver disease. Most Americans who are simultaneously diagnosed with liver disease and related kidney dysfunction are typically identified as being alcohol dependent.

Warning Signs of Kidney Disease

Kidney disease can progress over time, and it often does so very quietly. However, there are potential warning signs you should know about:

  • High blood pressure is a common repercussion of kidney damage
  • Loss of appetite might happen with a metallic taste present in the mouth
  • Muscle cramps can result from electrolyte imbalances
  • Swelling might occur in the feet, ankles, and legs
  • Urination changes can include foamy urine, blood in output, and increased frequency
  • Vomiting and nausea might occur due to the internal accumulation of waste products
  • Weakness and fatigue are common because kidney functions are closely intertwined with energy levels

Diagnosis of Chronic Kidney Disease

The primary diagnostic tool for kidney disease is blood testing. One of the waste products in human blood is known as creatinine. Measuring its levels tells doctors how your kidneys are doing, though your gender, size, and age are other factors in the calculation. Healthcare providers determine how many milliliters of waste kidneys can filter per minute in the estimated glomerular filtration rate, listed as eGFR on your lab report. A healthy set of kidneys can filter over 90ml per minute. Rates lower than that might be diagnosed as chronic kidney disease. Urine testing is another possibility to check for creatinine and albumin levels; your albumin to creatinine ratio is your ACR.

Other testing might be necessary to determine how much damage your kidneys have suffered. Scans, such as CT, MRI, or ultrasound scans, can see how the kidneys look and ascertain the presence of blockages. In some cases, a kidney biopsy involves removing a small tissue sample so the cells can be investigated for damage under microscopic analysis.

CKD Treatment

CKD doesn’t have a known cure at the time of writing, but there is treatment available to alleviate symptoms and prevent the progression of the disease. Your specific treatment will vary based on how advanced your CKD has become. Lifestyle changes can help people retain as much of their remaining physical health as possible. Medications can be prescribed to manage related issues, including high levels of cholesterol or blood pressure. In advanced stages of chronic kidney disease, dialysis might reproduce some of the lost kidney functions. In the most serious cases, kidney transplants can prove necessary.

Lifestyle changes can help manage kidney disease. If you’re a smoker, cease tobacco use as soon as you can. Follow a balanced and healthy diet. Regular exercise can help if it’s a minimum of 150 minutes each week. In addition, you should lose weight if you’re categorized as obese or overweight. Minimize your salt intake to under 6g daily to help your blood pressure. Restrict alcohol intake to 14 units per week or less. Talk to your doctor about whether it’s safe to use non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs; NSAIDs, including ibuprofen, can hurt diseased kidneys, even when purchased over the counter.

Finding Freedom From Alcohol

The best way to avoid kidney damage from alcohol abuse is to stop drinking entirely. If you do this before developing kidney disease, you might have a good chance of avoiding it altogether. The benefits of quitting drinking start happening almost immediately. Consult your physician or healthcare team before stopping drinking if you’re worried about withdrawal symptoms, as these can be dangerous in some cases. When you do stop drinking, you’ll not only help your kidneys but also reduce your odds of cancer, stroke, and heart disease. You should also sleep better and possibly even start losing weight if the alcohol you used to consume was high in calories.

After you quit alcohol, your blood sugar levels should stabilize in the first 24 hours. You’ll also have a lower risk of accidents because your ability to think and react clearly and quickly will improve. You may notice improved mood, energy, and hydration within a week. After the first month of sobriety, you should see improved liver function and healthier skin. The specific changes that happen in your body will vary based on how long you consume alcohol and the level of your consumption. In time, your immune system will become more resilient, and your cognitive functions and memory will also improve.

Giving up drinking might require professional assistance or intervention. Identify your triggers and the patterns that surround them so you can address underlying issues that might include trauma, anxiety, or depression. You need to understand the relationship you have with alcohol to set pragmatic goals you can attain over time.

Kidney Pain After Drinking

Some individuals experience physical kidney pain after drinking. If this happens to you, stop drinking immediately. Also, avoid stimulants, such as caffeinated sodas or coffee. A warm bath with Epsom salt can ease your pain. You can also consider applying a heat pad on your back or side where you feel the kidney pain. If your pain is severe or ongoing, then consult your doctor to rule out more serious health issues that might be present.

While more research is needed, some data indicates a link between the consumption of alcohol and kidney stones. Excessive drinking, especially beer and grain alcohol, might boost your odds of developing kidney stones. Other studies suggest there isn’t a direct connection. Since alcohol is a diuretic, it can stimulate the production of urine while simultaneously inhibiting the absorption of water into the kidneys. That can make kidney stones form or grow more extensive but not pass through.

While those dealing with alcohol abuse often seek to stop drinking entirely, everyone should track how much alcohol they consume. Drinking in moderation can prevent you from developing a substance use disorder and keep your vital organs healthy and functional. Consult your physician about whether or not alcohol consumption is safe for you to do in each stage of life, and stick to the guidelines they provide you. Typically, this will be one or two drinks for men each day. Women and the elderly are often advised to only consume one alcoholic beverage per day.

Defining Wellness Centers Can Help

Alcohol rehab can help you deal with the substance abuse you’re facing in life. Set on dozens of acres brimming with verdant plant life, our facilities are a place for you to heal your body, mind, and heart and turn the corner from mental health struggles, including alcohol abuse. Finding ways to live sober and clean sets you on a new path that helps every aspect of your life. Whether you’re worried about preventing damage to your kidneys, reclaiming your career path, or restoring relationships with friends and family, your time at Defining Wellness Centers gives you access to wellness programs, innovative treatment options, and 12-step programs, all customized to your needs.

Contact us at (855) 790-9303 to find out more or get started on your path to a better life.

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