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Home / Journal / Dehydration From Alcohol: Everything You Need to Know

Dehydration From Alcohol: Everything You Need to Know

Our level of hydration can affect the way we feel and function throughout the day. And that is especially true after a night out of drinking alcohol.Dehydration is very common after excessive alcohol consumption. Classic symptoms after a big night out can include a dry mouth, fatigue and a headache.

As you know, after drinking too much in an evening, we very likely continue to feel the effects of the alcohol on waking up - our well-known "hangover." And that is because alcohol is toxic to the body, and the body is still working to get rid of the toxin.

Many of the symptoms are caused by dehydration, but some chemicals in alcoholic beverages can cause a reaction in the blood vessels and the brain that make symptoms worse.Signs of dehydration include feeling thirsty, dizzy or weak.

To put it simply, alcohol causes dehydration because it is a diuretic, which means it causes the body to pass more liquid through urination. If you are unable to replace these fluids, you may find yourself suffering from dehydration symptoms.

Most people are prone to severe dehydration dehydration under certain circumstances, such as extreme heat exposure or prolonged physical activity. Cases of typical dehydration can be resolved by resting and drinking water. And with alcohol consumption, dehydration is no different.

If you don’t drink enough water with alcohol, you risk becoming dehydrated quickly.

So, what can you do to make sure you don’t get that infamous hangover headache caused by dehydration? Let’s find out and get a little background on why alcohol dehydrates you in the first place.

What is Dehydration?

Water makes up between 55-75% of the human body. It is needed to maintain the health and integrity of every cell in the body and is also necessary for most body functions. There are many ways we lose water on a daily basis. For example, we lose water from our skin through sweating and from urine. The body cannot store water, therefore we need to take in fresh supplies every day to replenish these losses. Dehydration occurs when the water content of the body is too low.

The basic causes of dehydration are not taking in enough water, losing too much water, or a combination of both. Sometimes, it is not possible to consume enough fluids because we are too busy, lack the facilities or strength to drink, or are in an area without potable water (while hiking or camping, for example). 

In addition, research found out that dehydration not only impairs people physically. It can also lead to cognitive decline. According to a recent study from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta1, just a couple of hours of vigorous activity in the heat without drinking fluids or eating can greatly affect concentration.

How Does Dehydration Occur From Alcohol?

Splitting headaches, sickness, dizziness, dehydration: anyone who's ever drunk too much knows the consequences. Excess alcohol consumption can cause dehydration in a variety of ways. 

Firstly, alcohol decreases the body's production of the anti-diuretic hormone called vasopressin2, which is used by the body to reabsorb water. With less anti-diuretic hormone available, your body loses more fluid than normal through increased urination.

In other words, with each drink, we prevent vasopressin from doing its job.

In addition, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can also cause vomiting, which depletes the body of fluids and can cause further dehydration. The effects of alcohol vary from person to person, but in general, the less a person weighs the less alcohol it takes to cause dehydration or vomiting.3

And since alcohol causes more urine production, we’re more likely to develop an electrolyte imbalance. These electrolyte disturbances have been linked to a number of symptoms, including headache, nausea, and aches.

But dehydration isn’t the only cause of an alcohol hangover. Alcohol also induces inflammation4, sleep disturbances, acetaldehyde buildup and drops in blood sugar, which can all prompt or exacerbate hangover symptoms.

How to Prevent Dehydration From Alcohol

There is a lot of misunderstanding around alcohol, dehydration, and hangovers. While alcohol is a diuretic (promoting water loss through the kidneys), this doesn’t mean that all alcoholic drinks inevitably cause dehydration. It all depends on the strength and volume.

For instance, beer takes in far more fluid than is lost through the diuretic action of the alcohol, resulting in a net gain of 300-400ml for every pint drunk according to a recent review by the British Nutrition Foundation5. A single shot of spirits results in a 75ml net loss, so as long as you drink each shot with a mixer you are unlikely to end up dehydrated.

Wine also causes dehydration with the average person producing 350ml of urine for every large (250ml) glass drunk, resulting in a net loss of 100ml per glass – or a third of a liter for every bottle drunk. Make that up with water and you should maintain the status quo.

Tips to Stay Hydrated While Drinking

  1. Alternate alcohol and water. This will give you some extra fluids to stay hydrated and replace any that you may lose, and it can slow down how fast the alcohol content reaches your blood.
  1. Pour smaller portions. can trick you into thinking you're having more drinks when you're actually consuming less alcohol overall.
  1. Choose your beverages wisely. pick beverages that can be sipped over time versus drinks that go down quickly like shots.
  1. Take some electrolytes. A good alternative to drinking water is consuming an electrolyte solution which provides not only the water but valuable electrolytes.

Sources:

1 Dehydration Impairs Cognitive Performance

2Alcohol hangover

3The effect of alcohol on the renal excretion of water and electrolyte

4Effects of alcohol hangover on cytokine production in healthy subjects

5Acute biochemical responses to moderate beer drinking

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