Whether it’s a wedding, a birthday, or a night out to blow off some steam, alcohol is present everywhere. It helps us to relax, kick back, and live a little — something that gets harder and harder to do when you’re trying to keep up in our crazy modern world.

But while alcohol does come with some potential benefits with health and well-being, there’s another side to alcohol that comes with a list of negative side effects. The process that produces the hellacious hangovers we all despise sums up much of them…

Our first few sips of alcohol do cause a release of endorphins and a decrease in blood pressure, but as sips turn into bottles, things begin to shift. Our consumption of alcohol suppresses the production of anti-diuretic hormone within the brain, and this has a direct effect on the kidneys. Their job is to regulate fluids but with ADH levels low, the water that would normally be reabsorbed by the kidneys is instead turned into urine.

Alcohol’s effect on urine production may come as no surprise (ever seen a line at a bar bathroom?), but the result of all that toilet flushing is quite astonishing…

All the water being sent to the bladder takes important electrolytes along with it. Electrolytes are famous among athletes and gym enthusiasts, but their more than a post-workout drink. Electrolytes are a class of minerals which enable necessary electrical currents that enable muscle function and maintain heart rate. They also help to balance out fluid levels so that we’re properly hydrated. So, a night out dancing without any water breaks is clearly going to make for an unpleasant morning.

But there’s more.

Alcohol’s diuretic effect may seem strange and coincidental, but this symptom doesn’t happen by accident. In order for our bodies to metabolize alcohol, it has to turn ethanol (alcohol) into acetate, and that can’t happen without first converting ethanol into acetaldehyde. This compound is up to 30x more toxic than ethanol itself, and it’s definitely not welcome in our bodies.  

Luckily, we have our liver. This fantastic detoxifying organ produces a compound called glutathione which can transform acetaldehyde into acetate. When we drink at a rate around one drink per hour our liver is able to properly metabolize our favorite brews and cocktails. However, when we exceed this our liver’s detoxifying processes are put on hold while glutathione stores are built back up. This means that noxious acetaldehyde is left circulating in our bloodstream.

The sooner we can get the poison out of the body the better, so water reserves are drawn in an effort to help dilute it and flush it out. The brain happens to be more than 70% water, so a few too many drinks will lead to a terrible headache in the morning.

When you do go out, be sure you’re in tune with your body and know your drinking limits. Tolerance levels will vary from person to person, and limits are generally lower for women because of various physiological factors. But man or woman, make sure your drinking includes regular glasses of water.

If you’re drinking cocktails, make prevention a part of your mixology by opting for a variation using fruit like oranges, lemons, strawberries, or kiwis. All are high in vitamin C, and this antioxidant can help speed up the rate at which our liver detoxifies. Don’t forget to ask the bartender for a coconut water cocktail as this smarter drink choice offers electrolytes that will keep the body functional and hydrated.

Founders Note: I don’t personally endorse consumption of alcohol as part of a healthy lifestyle. Although it may be relaxing and may help offset stress in certain circumstances, I believe there are plenty of much healthier alternatives to do so. However, if you do choose to drink alcohol, be aware of the inherent risks and use some of these tips to make it much more friendlier to your body.

Resources:

How Alcohol Works – How Stuff Works
Hangover Hacks You Can Hang Your Hat On – Dr. Mercola
The Water In You – USGS
Female Trouble: How Alcohol Abuse Is Different For Women – Lakeview Health
The Hot List: Coconut Water – Liquor.com