The kidneys help filter the blood, including by filtering out harmful substances such as alcohol. Moderate drinking should not cause kidney pain, but binge drinking or frequent drinking may cause kidney problems.
Kidney pain usually appears in the back, on either side of the spine, just under the ribs. A person who experiences this type of pain, especially if it intensifies over hours or days, may have a serious illness and should speak to a doctor.
In this article, learn more about the causes of kidney pain and how they might be related to drinking alcohol.
Moderate alcohol consumption should not cause kidney pain. However, excess alcohol consumption may injure the kidneys or increase the risk of chronic kidney disease.
Kidney pain after drinking alcohol may be a sign of these conditions.
Acute kidney injury
Excessive alcohol consumption can injure the kidneys.
Binge drinking, or drinking numerous drinks in just a few hours, can cause an acute kidney injury.
An acute kidney injury can occur when waste accumulates in the blood at a faster rate than the kidneys can filter it out.
In addition to kidney pain, a person with an acute kidney injury may also notice the following symptoms:
- decreased urination
- swollen legs, ankles, or face
- difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- nausea or vomiting
- chest pressure or pain
Without treatment, a person with an acute kidney injury may have a seizure or go into a coma.
Urinary tract infection
Alcohol may indirectly increase the risk of developing a urinary tract infection (UTI). UTIs that spread to the bladder may cause kidney pain.
Alcohol increases the acidity of urine and can irritate the lining of the bladder. A person who drinks alcohol can become dehydrated, increasing the risk of a UTI.
In addition to kidney pain, some symptoms of a UTI include:
- pain when urinating
- a strong urge to urinate, even when little urine comes out
- dark or smelly urine
- blood in the urine
- stomach or back pain
- a fever
- a frequent urge to urinate
Chronic kidney disease
Over time, drinking may also increase the risk of kidney disease by forcing the kidneys to work harder and damaging the liver.
Over time, drinking too much can cause kidney pain and other symptoms of kidney dysfunction, such as high blood pressure.
Chronic kidney disease is a serious and potentially life threatening condition that requires ongoing treatment. Some people with kidney disease may need dialysis or a kidney transplant.
Kidney issues unrelated to alcohol
Drinking does not cause all types of kidney pain. The timing of the pain could be a coincidence, or the alcohol could have intensified an existing problem.
Kidney stones are another possible cause of pain. A person may feel intense back pain or pain in their genitals or stomach as the body attempts to pass the stone. Some people also develop a fever. If the body does not pass the stone, a person can develop a severe infection or blockage.
Sustaining a physical injury to the kidneys, such as by falling from a height, may also cause kidney pain.
It is important to see a doctor for any and all kidney pain, whether it is related to alcohol consumption or not.
Gout, which can cause swelling in the feet, is a possible complication of kidney disease.
A person is at risk of different complications depending on the underlying cause of the kidney pain.
For example, a person with a UTI that spreads to the kidneys can develop sepsis, a dangerous infection of the blood.
The possible complications of uncontrolled or untreated kidney disease include:
- gout, a type of arthritis that occurs when uric acid accumulates in the blood
- anemia, which develops when the body does not have enough red blood cells
- high levels of phosphorous, which may cause bone conditions such as osteoporosis
- dangerously high potassium levels
- high blood pressure
- heart disease
- fluid buildup and swelling in the body
- failure of other organs, such as the liver
When to see a doctor
The kidneys are the body’s primary tool for filtering out dangerous substances, so issues affecting the kidneys can quickly affect the rest of the body, potentially causing problems in multiple organs.
Contact a doctor for:
- pain in the kidneys
- symptoms of a UTI
- a recent blow to the back that causes pain in the kidneys
- a fever along with kidney pain
- decreased urination, even when drinking enough water
Go to the emergency room or urgent care for:
- signs of acute kidney injury after drinking
- intense pain in the back or kidneys
- a high fever and kidney pain
- high blood pressure and kidney pain
- loss of consciousness, blurred vision, or changes in awareness
- a seizure
The right treatment option for kidney pain related to alcohol depends on the cause.
Some treatment options may include:
- antibiotics for a UTI
- pain medication
- electrolytes or intravenous fluids to manage dehydration
- short term dialysis to remove accumulated toxins from acute kidney injury
- dietary and lifestyle changes to manage chronic kidney disease
- medication to lower blood pressure and treat other symptoms
- long term dialysis to support failing kidneys
- a kidney transplant
Regular exercise may help prevent alcohol-related kidney disease.
Reducing alcohol intake can lessen the risk of alcohol-related kidney disease.
Avoid binge drinking, and drink plenty of water if drinking alcohol. People with chronic kidney disease should not drink alcohol at all, and they can speak to a doctor for help with quitting if they are finding it challenging.
Some strategies that can improve kidney health and reduce the risk of kidney disease include:
- avoiding tobacco
- not drinking alcohol
- adopting a healthful, balanced diet
- drinking plenty of water
- exercising regularly
- maintaining a healthy body weight
- treating any other medical conditions, such as diabetes
Not all forms of kidney disease are preventable, but adopting a healthful lifestyle may reduce the risk of complications, even in people with genetic kidney disorders.
Kidney pain can be intense. It is the body’s way of warning of a potentially serious medical condition, so it is best not to ignore it.
Seeing a doctor as soon as possible helps ensure appropriate treatment and can reduce the risk of complications.