As many of us know, drinking alcohol on a night out can involve a lot of bathroom breaks. It’s common knowledge that drinking alcohol and peeing too much go hand in hand. You’ve probably even heard a friend joke, “Don’t break the seal!” as you head for your first restroom trip of the evening.
So, what exactly is “breaking the seal”? And why the frequent urination after drinking alcohol? We’ll break it down in this post.
What Is “Breaking the Seal”?
The expression “breaking the seal” suggests that if you pee after drinking alcohol, you’re opening the floodgates for excessive urination. The implication is that there’s some kind of “seal” that’s broken the first time you urinate after drinking. If you wait it out, so the logic goes, you won’t have such a pressing need to use the restroom later.
It is true that you pee more than usual when drinking alcohol. However, the “seal” is nonexistent—it’s simply a creative figure of speech. Holding your urine won’t cause your body to make less of it, or change how much you need to pee after drinking.
How the Urinary Tract Works
The urinary tract is made up of your kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. It’s the system responsible for urination.
Your two kidneys produce urine, which travels through thin tubes called ureters into the bladder. The bladder holds about 1.5 to two cups of urine. When your bladder is full, it sends a signal to your brain telling you it’s time to go to the bathroom. Once you’re there, urine exits the body via the urethra (a tube at the bottom of the bladder), and your bladder is ready to fill up once again1.
While it’s possible to hold your urine, there is no actual “seal” involved in your urinary tract—it’s all psychological. It’s possible that once you start going to the bathroom, you’ll begin thinking about peeing more, leading to more frequent trips. But the exact opposite could be true, too. By thinking, “Don’t break the seal, ” you might ironically end up more focused on your need to pee.
Do You Really Need To Avoid “Breaking the Seal”?
Ultimately, there’s no real benefit to holding it in. In fact, doctors don’t recommend holding your urine unless it’s really necessary. It can lead to issues like leakage, urinary tract infections, and additional bladder problems with age2. So, go ahead and break the seal when you get the urge to urinate after drinking. It won’t make a difference.
Why Does Alcohol Make You Pee More?
Of course, the “breaking the seal” myth is only part of the story. You’re probably still wondering: “Why do I pee so much when I drink alcohol?” This time, it’s not your imagination: Alcohol does have a diuretic effect, meaning it increases your production of urine (and frequency of urination)3.
One reason for this is that alcohol suppresses the release of vasopressin, which regulates the kidneys’ rate of fluid absorption and urine production4. When vasopressin is disrupted, the kidneys can produce excess urine. As a result, you’ll visit the restroom more frequently than usual.
Does It Matter What Type of Alcohol You Drink?
While beer might seem like the main culprit, with its higher liquid content, switching to liquor wont put you in the clear. Since alcohol itself has a diuretic effect, higher proof beverages may actually boost your urine production even further. Caffeine can be a mild diuretic too5, so drinks like rum and coke might multiply your bathroom trips.
Caffeine can also make your bladder muscle contract, causing you to feel like you need to pee before your bladder is actually full6. If you’re a fan of energy drinks mixed with alcohol, for example, you may be peeing even more often.
Finally, you may consume alcoholic drinks faster than you would normally consume water. If you’re rotating alcoholic beverages with water as well, you’re also just putting more liquid in your body than usual, which naturally makes you have to pee more.
Can Alcohol Irritate Your Bladder?
Sometimes, frequent urination after drinking alcohol is also the result of bladder irritation. Certain foods and drinks—including alcohol—make urine more acidic, irritating the lining of the bladder7.
Additionally, the dehydration that can occur after a night of drinking tends to increase the concentration of your urine, giving it a darker color. More concentrated urine can also cause bladder irritation and increase the likelihood of developing a urinary tract infection (UTI).
Bladder irritation from alcohol can be worse among people already dealing with issues like UTIs, incontinence, bladder pain, or interstitial cystitis8. Drinking alcohol can aggravate these conditions and intensify irritation.
Tips for Staying Hydrated When Drinking
Alcohol’s diuretic effects can also lead to dehydration and hangovers. Stay hydrated while drinking, no matter how many bathroom breaks you take, with the following tips:
- Drink water before, during, and after consuming alcohol.
- Follow each alcoholic beverage with a glass of water (although this may lead to even more toilet trips).
- Avoid using caffeinated drinks as a mixer, since this could increase your dehydration.
- Eat fruits and vegetables, instead of snacking on salty and greasy foods.
- Boost your electrolytes with Pedialyte or a sports drink.
Of course, the only foolproof way to pee less on a night out—and limit bladder irritation, dehydration, and hangovers—is to drink less alcohol.
If you’d like to cut back on how much you drink when out with friends, try these seven tips for keeping party drinking under control. And if it’s hard to cut back on your own, there are new ways of getting help online—without having to identify as an alcoholic. Ria Health offers support from a convenient smartphone app to help you regain control over how much you drink. Learn more about how it works.