It’s fairly common knowledge that excess alcohol consumption takes a toll on the liver and kidneys. But did you know that many pharmaceutical drugs put a strain on the kidneys, as well?
In this post, we’ll take a look at the toll that prolonged alcohol and/or prescription drug use can have on your kidneys. We will also touch on whether your kidneys can heal if you’re able to put a stop to drinking or prescription drug use.
The Kidneys’ Role in the Body
The kidneys are not only a cornerstone of the urinary system, but they are two of the most vital organs in the body.
Among the kidneys’ many functions in the body, here are five of their primary roles:
- Filtering the blood to remove toxins and waste
- Regulating the volume and concentration of the body’s fluids
- Helping keep the body’s blood pressure balanced and under control
- Releasing a hormone that impacts the body’s production of red blood cells
- Maintaining the right amount of water in the body
How Does Alcohol Affect Your Kidneys?
Even casual alcohol use will put the kidneys to work, filtering the toxins out of the blood and trying to bring the body’s fluid back to normal levels. Alcohol also has a drying effect, which will lower the amount of water in the body, even if the person is sipping water in between alcoholic beverages.
While a drink or two won’t affect a person’s blood pressure in the long term, prolonged heavy drinking can lead to high blood pressure, which usually isn’t an issue among moderate and non-drinkers. More than two drinks per day increase one’s chances of developing high blood pressure. Furthermore, high blood pressure is one of the chief causes of kidney disease.
In the short term, binge drinking does run the risk of causing acute kidney failure, which is when the two organs essentially give up because they can’t keep up with the demand of filtering toxins from the blood. This usually doesn’t have long-lasting effects, so long as person survived the kidney failure, but repeated binge drinking episodes could lead to lasting kidney damage.
It’s worth noting that not only does alcohol use make the kidneys work much harder at the moment, but excessive, prolonged drinking can actually change the chemistry of the kidneys. This means they will no longer perform as efficiently as they did before the person started drinking heavily. The individual will be perpetually dehydrated, malnourished and lethargic if his or her kidneys ever reach that point.
How Do Prescription Drugs Affect the Kidneys?
Certain prescription and even over-the-counter drugs can make the kidneys work overtime. In some cases, it’s the active ingredient that comes into conflict with the kidneys, in other cases, it’s the additives in pharmaceutical drugs that pose a problem.
In fact, medications play a role in up to 25 percent of acute kidney injuries. Some doctors will even warn patients with kidney issues not to take certain over-the-counter medications.
According to GoodRx.com, these are some of the worst medications for your kidneys:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, naproxen, Motrin, Advil, etc.)
- Vancomycin (an antibiotic that treats MRSA)
- Diuretics (aka water pills, which help the body release excess salt and water)
- Iodinated radiocontrast (a dye used in CT scans with contrast)
- Jardiance (a newer diabetes medication)
- HIV medications (antiretrovirals)
- Zoledronate (aka zoledronic acid, used to treat osteoporosis)
Opioid painkillers are also known to be hard on the kidneys, especially ones like Vicodin and Percocet, which contain acetaminophen. Just as Motrin and Advil cause issues in the kidneys, acetaminophen-based medications like Tylenol can be nearly as damaging. Long-term use of drugs with acetaminophen can lead to renal failure or chronic kidney failure. If the condition gets severe enough, the person may have to undergo dialysis and, eventually, a kidney transplant.
Prescription opioid abuse can break down muscles and tissues in the body, releasing proteins into the blood. One of those proteins in myoglobin, which can cause obstruction and kidney damage. Excessive protein buildup in the organs and tissues can lead to kidney failure.
Can Alcohol Cause Kidney Stones?
Kidney stones are hard deposits of minerals and salts inside the kidneys. As you’ve probably heard, or may know firsthand, passing a kidney stone is incredibly painful. Sometimes these stones can get stuck in the urinary tract, which could cause infections and require surgery.
Those who don’t drink enough water or who sweat a lot are at a higher risk for kidney stones. A diet high in salt and sugar can also increase one’s risk of stones. And if you’ve already had a kidney stone, you’re at risk of getting more of them.
So, can alcohol cause kidney stones? Quite possibly, but there’s not a clear answer. First of all, medical experts still aren’t 100 percent sure of many of the causes of kidney stones. They have only identified a few scenarios that seem to put people more at risk.
An Indirect Connection Between Alcohol and Kidney Stones
To be clear, drinking alcohol is not directly tied to kidney stones, at least at this time. However, alcohol may put several processes in motion that could lead to the development of kidney deposits. As mentioned earlier, alcohol dries out the body. And as you just read, not enough water in the body can be a precursor to a kidney stone.
People who drink a lot of alcohol may try to drink large amounts of water concurrently to try to avoid dehydration, but this is rarely the case. Alcohol is going to deplete the water level in the body regardless, so getting back to a normal hydration level is going to entail refraining from alcohol for a while. It’s also true that alcoholics tend to make poor dietary choices, and this often means sugary and salty foods, which can make kidney stones more likely.
And finally, it’s worth noting that beverages such as beer and spirits with grain alcohol have a heavy purine count. Purines are chemical compounds that have been tied to uric acid kidney stones. A high purine count in the body can lead to the accumulation of uric acid, which may result in a kidney stone.
What to Do If You’re Addicted to Alcohol or Prescription Drugs
If you’ve had kidney problems and become dependent or alcohol or a certain pharmaceutical drug, then it’s time to seek help to learn to abstain from the damaging substance. Especially if you’ve already had a kidney stone, then you’re at risk for developing and passing another. Stopping your alcohol or prescription drug use will help immensely.
The good news is that, like the liver, you kidneys can regenerate themselves to a degree – so long as you haven’t reached the point of kidney disease or other permanent damage. If you’re able to abstain from the substance you’ve been abusing, improved kidney health is possible.
Entering a professional rehab program will not only help you learn to let go of substance use, but many programs have nutritional counseling and therapy services to help you make wiser dietary decisions. Following their advice and staying sober will improve your health comprehensively, kidneys and otherwise.
Fight Addiction Now can help you find the right recovery program for your needs, no matter where you are in the United States. Contact us for expert guidance in your search for treatment.
Take the ‘Am I Addicted to My Meds?’