Why Does Alcohol Dehydrate You? Tips to Minimize Dehydration and How to Rehydrate Quickly
Nov 03, 2023
In This Article
Drinking alcohol has many effects on the body. One of those effects is dehydration.
Alcohol increases fluid loss, leading to dehydration. But how exactly does alcohol dehydrate you? Is there anything you can do to offset or prevent problems caused by dehydration from drinking alcohol? Here we answer these and other questions.
It’s hard to overestimate the importance of water to the body. Having the right balance of fluid in your system is essential for your body to carry out basic functions.
When you lose too much water without properly replacing it, you become dehydrated. Dehydration can cause mild symptoms like headache, dry mouth, dizziness, and fatigue, or severe issues like damage to the brain, heart, kidneys, and even death (1).
Dehydration is also a big part of why you get a hangover after drinking too much.
Alcohol dehydration occurs because alcohol causes you to lose too much fluid from your body.
A diuretic is a substance that causes the body to produce more urine. You’ve no doubt noticed that when you drink, you have to pee more. This is alcohol’s diuretic effect at work.
Alcohol works as a diuretic largely because it suppresses the release of a hormone called vasopressin, which is also known as antidiuretic hormone. With less vasopressin in your system, the body excretes more water, which in turn causes you to pee more (2).
When you don’t adequately replace this excess loss of fluids, you become dehydrated.
Heavy drinking may cause vomiting and diarrhea, which also leads to excess fluid loss and contributes to dehydration.
Any alcoholic drink, whether beer, wine, vodka, whiskey, rum, gin, or tequila, will inhibit the body’s production of vasopressin, which will cause you to pee more and increase your chances of becoming dehydrated.
That said, the higher a drink’s alcohol content, the more of a diuretic it’s believed to be.
The average alcohol content in a standard-size U.S. drink is as follows (3):
- 12 ounces of beer: 5% alcohol
- 5 ounces of wine: 12% alcohol
- 1.5 ounces of a distilled spirit: 40% alcohol
Because it contains less alcohol, beer is less dehydrating than wine or liquor, and wine is less dehydrating than spirits, with one important caveat: how much of each you consume.
One glass of liquor drunk slowly over the course of an evening will be less dehydrating than having several beers or glasses of wine during the same time frame.
Mixed drinks are a bit more complicated. It’s probable that a cocktail such as a vodka and soda is less dehydrating than a straight shot of vodka.
The addition of soda water means you’re likely to take longer to consume the alcohol in the cocktail compared with the shot, so the alcohol in the cocktail enters your system more slowly and thus has less of a diuretic effect.
Alcohol’s diuretic effects mean it’s difficult to avoid experiencing some level of dehydration from drinking. However, you may be able to minimize its severity by following a few simple tips.
While the amount of alcohol you consume is the main determinant of how dehydrated you’ll eventually become, you’re better off starting a drinking session well hydrated as opposed to already dehydrated.
A good way to limit your overall alcohol consumption, and thus limit alcohol’s dehydrating effects, is to alternate alcoholic drinks with glasses of water.
When you have food in your stomach, alcohol is absorbed more slowly into your system. This in turn slows down alcohol’s dehydrating effects. It’s best to drink while eating or just after, and to snack as you continue to drink.
A lower-alcohol beer, if you don’t drink too many, will be less dehydrating than wine or hard liquor, since beer generally has a lower alcohol content. No matter what you choose to drink, drinking slowly and savoring your drink is a good way to moderate your total alcohol consumption and minimize alcohol’s dehydrating effects.
If you’ve been drinking and are experiencing alcohol dehydration symptoms, you need to restore your body’s fluid balance. Here’s how to rehydrate properly and recover from alcohol dehydration.
If you have mild dehydration symptoms (e.g., thirst, dry mouth, dark yellow urine, headache), simply drinking an ample amount of plain water will likely sufficiently restore your fluid balance.
If you don’t feel better from drinking plain water, try adding an electrolyte mix to water or drinking a low-sugar sports drink that contains electrolytes.
Excessive urination from drinking alcohol causes your body to lose electrolytes, which are important minerals involved in many bodily functions, including nervous system function (4).
You don’t have to just drink your fluids. You can eat them too (5). The following water-rich foods can help restore your body’s fluid balance:
- Cucumber (including pickles)
- Iceberg lettuce
These foods also have the bonus of being easy on the digestive system if yours is upset from drinking too much alcohol.
Alcohol is a diuretic because it suppresses the release of vasopressin, also known as antidiuretic hormone. When vasopressin is suppressed, you lose fluids by peeing more, which leads to dehydration.
Alcohol causes you to lose fluids by making you pee more. When your body becomes dehydrated, you get thirsty.
Yes. Alcohol suppresses the hormone vasopressin, which governs how much you urinate. When the body has less vasopressin, you pee more.
While it depends on a variety of factors relating to how much you drink, your metabolism, genetics and more, alcohol can stay in your system a long time - and be detectable for weeks or months depending on the test.
It can’t hurt. Drinking water while you’re still drunk isn’t going to prevent you from becoming dehydrated, but it may help lessen the degree to which you’re dehydrated.
Drink plenty of plain water, an electrolyte drink or sports drink, and eat water-rich, easily digestible foods.
There are a variety of approaches to curbing alcohol intake, ranging from natural approaches like managing internal and external triggers and taking certain supplements, to taking a medication like naltrexone which has been shown in clinical trials to reduce cravings.
About The Author
Ian Landau is a journalist who's written extensively about health and wellness since 2010. He is also the author of The Hypochondriac's Handbook (Skyhorse, 2010).