Alcohol and Kidney Problems: A Detailed Analysis of Kidney Pain and Treatment Options
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Learn how alcohol can affect people with kidney diseases, whether alcohol causes kidney stones, and what research has found about alcohol and kidney failure.
The kidneys are responsible for filtering blood to remove waste products, cellular debris, metabolic byproducts and extra water, which becomes urine. Kidneys play a crucial role in controlling blood pressure and maintaining red blood cell populations and hormone production.
How Does Alcohol Affect Your Kidneys?
Despite its popularity as a recreational drug, alcohol is a potent toxin. The liver will spend about an hour breaking down the alcohol from one drink into less toxic byproducts at the expense of normal metabolic function. Importantly, because the rate of metabolism doesn’t change based on how much alcohol you’ve had, additional drinks build up in your bloodstream, where they remain until the liver can metabolize them.
Chronic alcohol use disorder (AUD) forces the liver to almost constantly detoxify alcohol in the blood. Over time, cells in the liver become damaged and die, leading to scarring in the liver (fibrosis). A consequence of liver damage is the production of chemicals that cause vasoconstriction (constriction of blood vessels), which raises blood pressure. Chronically elevated blood pressure is linked to kidney disease.
While data conclusively shows that chronic AUD is extremely damaging to the liver, data on the effects of alcohol on the kidneys is not quite as clear cut. Even within the same study, the data can conflict. For example, one study evaluated two measures of kidney failure in men who had consumed three or more drinks per day for more than five years. The men were found to have high levels of a protein called albuminuria in their urine, which is indicative of kidney failure. However, they were also found to have improved kidney function compared to non-drinkers as measured by the “estimated glomerular filtration rate” (eGFR) — a standard test used to determine kidney function.
While there is some conflicting data, the common consensus is that alcohol negatively affects your kidneys in several different ways. For many, these effects are not quite as obvious or dramatic as their effects on other organs. They can, however, be very dangerous when they do occur.
Is Alcohol Causing My Kidney Pain?
Although alcohol use has yet to be conclusively linked to kidney pain, a few potential mechanisms may explain kidney pain after a night of drinking:
- When you are dehydrated, a hormone called vasopressin tells the kidneys to stop producing urine to retain water. Alcohol inhibits vasopressin production, so even if you are severely dehydrated, your kidneys work hard to continue producing urine.
- The kidneys regulate pH in the body, and heavy alcohol use can change pH (especially if you vomit). Consequently, the kidneys have to work hard to restore the pH balance.
- Heavy alcohol use increases blood pressure, which forces the kidneys to work harder to filter the blood.
Related Topic: Am I an Alcoholic
Symptoms of Kidney Pain
Kidney pain is often mistaken for lower back pain. It is typically felt in your lower back area on one side of your spine and can radiate into the lower abdomen or groin. The pain can manifest as a sharp, severe discomfort or a dull ache, depending on the underlying cause.
Kidney pain might be intermittent or constant, and its intensity can range from mild to severe. It’s important to differentiate kidney pain from muscular, skeletal or other organ-related pains and to seek medical attention if you suspect the pain is related to your kidneys.
9 Possibilities for Experiencing Kidney Pain After Consuming Alcohol
There are several different ways that using alcohol can lead to the development of kidney pain. Kidney pain caused by alcohol can be due to any of these causes or a combination of multiple kidney conditions.
1. Kidney Stones
Alcohol, especially when consumed in excess, can increase the amount of calcium in the urine, leading to the formation of kidney stones. Kidney stones can cause severe pain when they move or cause blockages in the urinary tract.
2. Kidney Disease
Chronic alcohol consumption can contribute to the development of kidney disease, which can manifest as pain or discomfort in the kidney region. When this condition develops, the kidneys become less efficient at filtering out toxins from the bloodstream, leading to pain and other dangerous symptoms.
3. Kidney Failure
Excessive alcohol intake can directly harm kidney cells, potentially leading to acute or chronic kidney failure. When kidneys aren’t working effectively, waste products build up in the body, resulting in pain and other serious complications.
4. Kidney Infection
Alcohol can suppress the immune system, making the body more susceptible to infections, including kidney infections. Kidney infections can cause pain, fever and urinary symptoms. Kidney infections can also lead to kidney damage or kidney failure if not treated correctly and promptly.
Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it makes you urinate more often. Increased urination can lead to dehydration. This, in turn, can cause kidney pain as the kidneys struggle to filter concentrated urine.
6. Ureteropelvic Junction (UPJ) Obstruction
UPJ obstruction is a blockage at the point where the kidney meets the ureter. While not directly caused by alcohol, if someone has a mild obstruction, dehydration from alcohol can exacerbate pain and symptoms. Other kidney problems, such as kidney stones or infection, can also increase the risk of UPJ.
This condition involves the swelling of a kidney due to a build-up of urine. Alcohol-induced dehydration or blockages in the kidney related to alcohol use can lead to hydronephrosis, resulting in pain.
While gastritis primarily affects the stomach, the pain can sometimes be felt in the back or kidney region. Excessive alcohol consumption irritates the stomach lining, leading to inflammation and pain that can be mistaken for kidney pain.
9. Liver Disease
Chronic alcohol abuse is a leading cause of liver disease. When the liver is damaged, it can enlarge and press on nearby organs, including the kidneys, leading to perceived kidney pain. Liver disease can also indirectly alter kidney function, increasing the risk of other kidney disorders.
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Treatment Options for Kidney Pain
There are many different potential treatments for kidney pain; these primarily depend on the underlying cause of the kidney pain. Treatment approaches are varied and include:
- Prescription pain medications
- Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers
- Intravenous (IV) fluids
- Surgical interventions
- Kidney transplant
Kidney pain treatments are almost always focused on treating the cause of the pain rather than just managing the pain itself. Chronic kidney pain is not normal, even in many of those who have serious kidney issues.
One important method of treating kidney pain is making lifestyle changes that can promote kidney health and alleviate kidney problems. If alcohol is an underlying cause of your kidney problems, then stopping alcohol as soon as possible is recommended to help reduce the risk of further kidney pain.
Preventing Kidney Damage from Alcohol
Alcohol can lead to kidney damage, especially if you binge drink or routinely drink heavily. If you are struggling with alcohol use, you are at risk of developing kidney issues. Taking steps to control your alcohol use and even stop drinking alcohol may help you optimize your kidney health and prevent future kidney problems.
If you struggle with alcohol use, contact The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health today to speak to a representative about how professional addiction treatment can help you achieve a healthier future.
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