Listen carefully in a line for the bathroom at any bar on a Friday night and you’ll probably hear a well-meaning buddy warning their friend about “breaking the seal.”
The term is used for the first time a person pees when drinking alcohol. Once you break the seal with that first trip to the bathroom, you allegedly won’t be able to seal it back up and are doomed to a night of frequent peeing.
Turns out, the whole idea of breaking the seal isn’t true. Peeing after you’ve started drinking won’t make you have to go any more or less in the coming hours.
But, what about all the people who swear it’s a thing? Experts believe it’s more of a mental suggestion.
If you believe you’ll break the seal and pee more, the idea will weigh on your mind. This could lead you to feel the urge to pee a bit more frequently. Or, you may pay extra attention to how many times you end up having to go.
You pee more when drinking because alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it makes you pee. It has nothing to do with your bladder getting lazy and not sealing back up.
Your brain produces a hormone called vasopressin, also called antidiuretic hormone (ADH). According to a 2010 study, alcohol suppresses ADH production, causing your body to produce more urine than usual.
The extra urine comes from the liquid you’re taking in, plus your body’s fluid reserves. This depleting of fluid reserves is how alcohol causes dehydration and is partly to blame for hangovers.
When your bladder fills quickly, it puts pressure on your detrusor muscle, which is part of your bladder wall. The more pressure is on it, the more you feel like peeing.
Watch out for caffeine
There’s some bad news if you like a Red Bull or Pepsi in your drink. Caffeine is the worst for making you feel like you need to pee like a racehorse. It makes your bladder muscles contract, even when your bladder isn’t full. This makes it extra hard to hold it in.
Nope. Holding it in is actually a bad idea. Resisting the urge to go won’t make a difference in how much you need to pee, and it can also be harmful.
Repeatedly holding in your urine can increase your risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs), which can make you feel like you need to pee even when you don’t. It can also affect the bladder-brain connection, which lets you know when you need to pee.
While we’re talking about holding it in, going when you need to may keep you from wetting the bed when you’ve had too much to drink. Yep, that can and does happen when someone’s had a few too many and falls asleep or blacks out.
The full bladder and deep sleep induced by enjoying too many beverages can cause you to miss the signal that you need to go, resulting in an unpleasantly damp wake-up call.
There’s not a lot you can do to prevent an increased need to pee when you’re drinking alcohol. Your best bet to keep from running to the bathroom or looking for the nearest bush is to limit how much you drink.
Drinking in moderation is important, not just to keep your peeing to a minimum and avoid getting too drunk, but also to keep your kidneys functioning properly.
Before you reach for that jumbo novelty wine glass or beer mug you got for your birthday, know that one standard drink is:
- 12 ounces of beer with around 5 percent alcohol content
- 5 ounces of wine
- 1.5 ounces, or a shot, of liquor or distilled spirits, like whisky, vodka, or rum
Some other tips to help you manage your need to pee while drinking:
- Go low. Try to choose drinks with a lower total alcohol content, such as wine, instead of cocktails with hard liquor.
- Avoid caffeine. Skip drinks that contain caffeine, like those mixed with cola or energy drinks.
- Skip the bubbles and sugar. Avoid drinks containing carbonation, sugar, and cranberry juice, which can also irritate the bladder and increase the urge to pee, according to the National Association for Continence.
- Hydrate. OK, this won’t help you pee less, but it’s still important. Be sure to have regular sips of water while you’re drinking alcohol and after to help prevent dehydration and a hangover — both of which are worse than an extra trip to the bathroom.
Breaking the seal isn’t really a thing. Having that first pee when you’re boozing it up won’t affect how often you go — alcohol does that all on its own. And holding your pee can do more harm than good, so opt for staying well-hydrated and use the bathroom when you need to.
Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board.