While drinking may seem normal to many people, most aren’t entirely aware of how alcohol affects the body, including organs like their bladder. In addition to adding empty calories to your diet and spiking your insulin levels, alcohol affects the esophagus, heart, liver, kidneys, and unsurprisingly, the bladder. Not only does alcohol affect the bladder immediately, but it can also produce long-term effects, especially in cases of alcohol abuse. If you’re an avid drinker and have experienced pain or loss of bladder control after drinking alcohol, then this is for you.
What Is the Function of the Bladder?
The bladder is a triangular, hollow organ located in the lower abdomen. The bladder’s walls relax and expand to store urine and contract and flatten to empty urine through the urethra. The bladder of a healthy adult can store up to two cups of urine for two to five hours.1
The kidneys (a pair of purplish-brown bean-shaped organs) and the bladder work together to eliminate waste from the body. The kidneys are in charge of removing waste products and drugs from the body, balancing bodily fluids, releasing hormones to regulate blood pressure, and controlling the production of red blood cells.1
The kidneys remove urea from the blood through tiny filters called nephrons. Each nephron contains a ball of small blood capillaries called a glomerulus and a small tube called a renal tube. Urea, together with water and other waste, forms the urine as it’s passed through nephrons and down the renal tubules of the kidney.1
Normal, healthy urine is a pale yellow or transparent yellow color, and honey-colored or dark yellow urine is a sign that you need more water. Brownish-colored urine may indicate a liver problem or severe dehydration, while pink or red urine may contain blood. If you’re noticing any of the latter urine problems, reach out to your doctor immediately.1
What Does Alcohol Do to Your Bladder?
Alcohol does affect the bladder in various ways. Because it’s a diuretic, alcohol forces the kidney to release more sodium into your urine, which fills the bladder up quicker and increases the frequency of urination. People with extra sodium in their urine may take diuretic medications or water pills to help get rid of sodium in the body.
These medications help remove water from the blood and decrease the amount of fluid flowing through the veins and arteries. So basically, the more alcohol you drink, the more you’ll urinate, not just because it’s a liquid but also because it’s a diuretic.
While this may be a mildly inconvenient side effect to casual or irregular drinkers, alcohol can have a much more sinister impact on the bladder in people who binge drink, drink heavily, or abuse alcohol. Additionally, taking high doses of diuretic medications – or in this case, drinking too much alcohol – can lead to dehydration and more concentrated urine, which can be irritating to the bladder.
As a result, alcohol can cause bladder infection and inflame the lining of the bladder, causing it to swell and stretch to a dangerous size. If the bladder swells, it can block flow to the kidneys, which would cause renal failure.
Overall, some common short and long-term effects of alcohol on the bladder include:
- Irritation and swelling
- Painful urination
- Difficulty urinating
- Urinating frequently
- Fluid retention, causing swelling in the legs, ankles, or feet
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Irregular heartbeat
- Heart attack
- Liver failure
People who tend to experience alcohol and bladder-related problems also struggle with kidney problems. Considering how connected these organs are in terms of function, any alcohol-related bladder damage can have a domino effect, starting with the kidneys. If you’re a heavy drinker and your bladder hurts after drinking alcohol, or you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above, seek medical attention immediately.
Alcohol and Bladder Cancer
The relation between alcohol and bladder problems was investigated to determine whether cancer could be a possible outcome of chronic drinking. According to a case-control study conducted between 1985 and 1992 that included 727 people with bladder cancer, there was no significant association between alcohol consumption and bladder cancer.2
In a more recent study conducted in 2021, however, researchers found that while consuming alcohol from drinks like beer was not linked to bladder cancer, the risk of bladder cancer increased when alcohol was consumed from liquor or spirits, especially in males. Specifically, having an alcoholic drink every day (of spirits or liquor) could elevate the risk of bladder cancer by 9%.3
So although there’s nothing to say that heavy drinking causes bladder cancer directly, considering alcohol’s effects on the bladder, it’s safe to say that it’s best to avoid drinking if you have a history of bladder cancer in the family or suffer from any underlying bladder-related problems. But wait, can you drink alcohol if you have bladder cancer?
Again, alcohol is more of a catalyst or contributing factor to bladder cancer rather than a direct cause. Nonetheless, it’s safest to avoid alcohol consumption if you have bladder cancer, especially heavy drinking. Considering that alcohol can significantly irritate the bladder, this could worsen symptoms.
Help for Alcohol Abuse
If you experience bladder problems after drinking alcohol, you might have a more serious issue with drinking than you think. Additionally, if you struggle to control how much you drink, you might have a substance use disorder. This is where our alcohol rehab in Illinois comes in.
We offer medical alcohol detox to address the physical aspects of recovery, such as withdrawals, as well as one-on-one and group therapy options to help patients realize the source of their addictions and develop sober skills they can practice daily outside of rehab. We equip patients with the tools they need to remain sober for the rest of their lives.
In cases where relapse occurs, we also offer a stabilization program in which clients can begin treatment again and get back to a good place in their recovery. No matter how severe your addiction is, our Banyan rehab in Gilman, Illinois, can help.