Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Kidneys – Kidneys are vital organs that filter toxins from the blood and play other important roles, and generally, require little attention until they begin to fail. But every time a person consumes alcohol, he or she is putting our kidneys, liver, pancreas, and other parts of the body in jeopardy.
The Role of Kidneys
According to the National Kidney Foundation, kidneys have several essential responsibilities and functions, such as the following:
- Filter blood to remove wastes and toxins
- Keep blood pressure balanced and under control
- Release a hormone that governs the body’s production of red blood cells
- Regulate the volume and concentration of bodily fluids
- Activate vitamin D, which is vital for healthy bones
- Maintain a balance of blood minerals, such as potassium, sodium, and phosphorus
Each person is born with two kidneys, but most people can survive with only one.
How Alcohol Affects Kidneys
Alcohol is one of the toxins that kidneys filter from the blood. While a drink or two on occasion is not going to be problematic, binge drinking and excessive, chronic drinking is likely to wreak havoc on the kidneys. Alcohol interferes with the kidneys’ toxin-filtering capability, thereby setting the stage for damage and an increased risk of health complications.
In addition to the kidneys’ ability to filter toxins, they also help maintain the right amount of fluid in the body. Alcohol has a dehydrating effect, one that markedly impairs the kidneys’ capacity to maintain fluid balance.
Another adverse effect of alcohol consumption on the kidneys is related to blood pressure. Drinking alcohol in excess can result in an increase in blood pressure both temporarily and over time. Alcoholics are more likely to have hypertension than those who drink moderately or not at all. Eventually, this can lead to chronically elevated blood pressure and is one of the most common causes of kidney disease.
It’s well-known that there’s also a risk of developing liver disease as a result of chronic drinking. The kidneys need adequate blood flow maintained at a certain level to filter the blood properly. Among alcoholics and persons with liver disease, the delicate balance of blood flow and blood filtering by the kidneys is disturbed.
While there are several other possible causes of chronic kidney disease, including diabetes, infections, inflammation, etc., damage to kidneys from and chronic alcohol use has been known to contribute to a considerable decline in overall health and quality of life. A five-year study of Australian adults self-reported as moderate or heavy drinkers concluded that, in particular, excessive drinking was “a significant modifiable risk factor for the development of albuminuria.”
Albumin is a protein commonly found in the blood and is an essential nutrient that helps build muscle, repair tissue, and resist infection. When a person has albumin in their urine, it is called “albuminuria” or sometimes “proteinuria.” When kidneys are healthy, there should be very little to no protein in the urine.
But if kidneys are damaged, protein can “leak” out of the kidneys into the urine and can be an early indicator of kidney disease. However, researchers also noted that the biological mechanism by which alcohol causes kidney damage is not clearly understood and warrants further research. Once chronic kidney disease develops, it can impact nearly every part of the body.
Potential complications from chronic kidney disease include the following:
- Bone weakness and fractures
- Central nervous system damage, which can cause breathing problems, changes in personality, and seizures
- Heart and cardiovascular disease
- End-stage kidney disease, requiring either dialysis or transplant
- Immune response decrease, increasing the risk of infection
- Retention of fluid, which can lead to edema in feet, legs, and arms, hypertension, or fluid buildup in the lungs
- Hyperkalemia, or high blood potassium levels, which can impair the heart’s ability to function and is life-threatening
- Pericarditis, an inflammation of two thin layers of a tissue that surround the heart
- Sexual problems, including decreased libido, reduced fertility, and erectile dysfunction
Getting Treatment for Alcoholism
The simple solution to protect kidneys and other organs from the damaging effect of chronic alcohol consumption is to stop drinking. Excessive drinkers and those who have been diagnosed as having an alcohol use disorder are encouraged to change their lifestyle by seeking professional treatment and learn to live alcohol-free.
Recovery By The Sea offers comprehensive treatment for alcoholism in both partial-hospitalization and outpatient formats. The cornerstones of our program are psychotherapy and counseling, two services that are clinically proven to be essential to the process of recovery.
We employ highly-specialized addiction professionals who deliver services to our clients with skill and compassion. We are dedicated to providing clients with the knowledge and support they need to achieve a full recovery and enjoy long-lasting wellness.
If you or someone you know is suffering from alcohol abuse, contact us today. Discover how we help people free themselves from the chains of addiction so they can foster happy and fulfilling lives!