How Are Kidneys Affected By Drinking?

Addressing the frequently asked questions dealing with addiction.

Question:

My father died a few years ago from alcoholism. The death certificate read: “Hepatorenal failure, secondary to chronic alcoholism.” This is the only reference I’ve ever read about the kidneys being affected by drinking. Can you comment on this? P.S. I am a moderate drinker. I am aware that alcoholism runs in some families, particularly among male members. I have two sons, so I am concerned whenever I read anything about alcoholism.

Answer:

First, take a good look at your drinking. Alcoholism is especially hereditary from father to son to grandson. Also, your kids think that if you can drink, it is OK for them to drink eventually and it will not hurt them. The odds are high that your dad’s death certificate could be replicated.

Now, about the kidneys and alcohol. Excessive alcohol consumption can have profound negative effects on the kidneys and their function in maintaining the body’s fluid, electrolyte, and acid-base balance. This leaves alcohols vulnerable to many kidney-related health problems. Hepatorenal failure refers to the most frequent and gravest condition in which the kidneys are damaged. It occurs in a person who has cirrhosis of the liver from long-term heavy alcohol consumption. It can appear after severe gastrointestinal bleeding, or occasionally, for no identifiable reason. The kidneys gradually fail to produce urine and, within a short time, the patient expires.

"Sober Days" ran in the Palm Springs daily newspaper, the Desert Sun, for several years in the 1990s-2000s. The popular Q&A column was written by Dr. James West, the Betty Ford Center’s first medical director. He remained with the Betty Ford Center until 2007, when he retired at age 93.

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