Yes, alcohol can dehydrate you.
If you don’t drink enough water with alcohol, you can become dehydrated quickly.
Here are some ways that alcohol affects your body, and some reasons you may become dehydrated more quickly:
You’re drinking on an empty stomach
After you take a drink, both the liquid and alcohol contents of the beverage pass through your stomach lining and small intestine into the bloodstream.
If you drink on an empty stomach, alcohol can be absorbed into the bloodstream within minutes. But if you drink water or eat while you consume alcohol, it may take much longer.
Alcohol begins to build up in your bloodstream
After it enters your bloodstream, alcohol can travel anywhere in your body. This includes your brain, which is why you feel loopy and your judgement is impaired when you’re buzzed or drunk.
Alcohol can even get into the lungs and be released when you exhale. This is why breathalyzers are often used to check if someone’s driving while intoxicated. This test measures blood alcohol concentration (BAC), or the amount of alcohol in your blood.
Alcohol slowly gets metabolized by the body
Your body’s metabolism can turn some components of alcohol into nutrients and energy. This happens at a rate of about one beer, a small glass of wine, or one shot of liquor per hour.
Alcohol is converted in the liver and begins acting as a diuretic
When its processed by enzymes in the liver, alcohol is converted into a large amount of acetaldehyde. This common substance can become toxic in high doses. In order to break this substance down and remove it from the body, your liver does most of the work of turning it into acetate.
Alcohol also reduces how much
The action of suppressing this hormone exacerbates the diuretic effect and leads to dehydration.
Alcohol’s components are flushed from the body
Acetate and other waste products are then removed from the body as carbon dioxide and water, primarily through lungs. Although the kidneys remove waste products, most of the water loss is due to the effect of vasopressin.
Water is flushed out much faster than alcohol is processed. This can increase your BAC significantly if you don’t replenish your body’s supply with a few sips of water as you drink.
If you consume more alcohol while your body is still processing your previous drinks, your BAC can rise quickly.
Curious what’s going on in your body when you’re dehydrated by alcohol? Here’s a brief overview of what’s happening:
- Your skin can develop acne from changing hormone levels and oxidative stress due to alcohol consumption, according to a 2013 study.
- Your muscles can become stiff or cramped and even lose mass with drinking too much alcohol over time. This is known as
- Your liver can become damaged by excessive fat and protein build-up, as well as scarring, which can lead to liver disease and cirrhosis.
- Your kidneys can be harmed by high blood pressure and toxins as they process alcohol components into urine.
- Your brain can lose some of its main cognitive functions, such as making choices and responding to your environment, according to a 2013 study.
Here are some science-backed tips for what to do if you’re already dehydrated or hungover from consuming too much alcohol:
- Eat some food. Not only can food keep your blood sugar up, it can reduce the pain and discomfort of a hangover headache. Opt for protein-rich, vitamin-dense foods like eggs, nuts, and spinach.
- Drink electrolyte-fortified water or sports drinks. These can help you rehydrate more quickly than just plain water.
- Take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). NSAIDs like ibuprofen
limit the production of enzymesthat contribute to migraine and headaches. So, taking an NSAID like ibuprofen may help prevent a hangover headache.
- Exercise. Doing some light exercise can boost your metabolism and help your body get rid of alcohol more quickly.
- Get some sleep. Allow your body to rest.
- Don’t consume alcohol the next morning. This can make your hangover worse.
- Sip coffee or tea. These can help you wake up, but be sure to drink plenty of water, too, since they’re both diuretics.
Before you go out for a night of drinking, here are some best practices for preventing the effects of dehydration while you’re consuming alcohol:
- Pad your stomach with vitamin-rich food. Consuming healthy foods can help balance the vitamins you may lose when you drink.
- Drink plenty of water. Have at least one 16-ounce glass of water with every 12-ounce beer or 4 to 6 ounces of liquor, for example. Water can replenish your fluids and help you stay hydrated.
- Stick with light-colored drinks. Dark, distilled liquors like whiskey and brandy contain high amounts of congeners, such as tannins and acetaldehyde. Congeners can dehydrate you more quickly and make a hangover feel worse, according to a
- Know yourself. Everyone processes alcohol differently, so drink at the rate you feel comfortable. If you start to feel dizzy, nauseous, or weak, switch to water or consume healthy foods.
- Take it slow. Sip one drink per hour so your body has time to process the alcohol and lower your BAC.
- Limit your daily intake. The Mayo Clinic suggests one drink a day for women of all ages, and two for men under 65.
The key to avoiding dehydration is to pay attention to how your body responds to alcohol.
Some people can tolerate a drink or two, or possibly more after consuming food or water. But others may start feeling the effects of alcohol after one drink or less. Many factors play a role in how your body processes alcohol, including:
Follow drinking behaviors that are best for you, not what everyone else is doing. And above all, limiting your alcohol consumption in general is the best way to avoid dehydration.
Having a few drinks can be fun, but feeling dehydrated or hungover is not. It’s up to you to decide if the pleasures of alcohol are worth the potential next-day effects.