Does Alcohol Cause Kidney Stones? Risks and Prevention

Jun 30, 2024 | 6 min read

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While alcohol itself doesn’t cause kidney stones, it can lead to conditions like dehydration and high uric acid that do. Understanding how alcohol consumption and other factors contribute to kidney stones can help prevent them and maintain optimal kidney health.

does alcohol cause kidney stones

What Are Kidney Stones?

Kidney stones are hard deposits that form inside your kidneys. These stones are composed of minerals and salts that come together and crystallize. They vary in size, from as small as a grain of sand to as large as a golf ball. While small stones can pass through your urinary tract without causing much discomfort, larger stones can be extremely painful and may require medical intervention.

According to the UF Department of Urology publication, throughout their lifetime, 1 in 8 men (most commonly between the ages of 40 and 60) and 1 in 16 women (most commonly between the ages of 20 and 50) will develop kidney stones, highlighting the importance of understanding this condition.

Types of Kidney Stones

There are four main types of kidney stones, each with different causes and characteristics:

  • Calcium Stones: The most common type, often formed from calcium oxalate. They can also be made of calcium phosphate.
  • Struvite Stones: Formed in response to a urinary tract infection. These stones can grow quickly and become quite large.
  • Uric Acid Stones: Occur in people who lose too much fluid or eat a high-protein diet. They can also be caused by gout.
  • Cystine Stones: Form in people with a hereditary disorder called cystinuria, which causes the kidneys to excrete too much cystine.

Symptoms of Kidney Stones

Kidney stones can cause a variety of symptoms, especially when they move around within the kidney or pass into the ureter. Common symptoms include:

  • Severe pain in the side and back, below the ribs
  • Pain that radiates to the lower abdomen and groin
  • Pain that comes in waves and fluctuates in intensity
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blood in the urine, which may appear pink, red, or brown
  • Cloudy or foul-smelling urine
  • Persistent need to urinate
  • Urinating more often than usual
  • Fever and chills, if an infection is present

For a better understanding of your symptoms, you can use our Symptom Checker. Remember, online tools are not a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with a healthcare provider before taking any action.

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Causes and Risk Factors of Kidney Stones

Primary Causes

Kidney stones form when the balance of water, minerals, and salts in your urine is disrupted. Normally, urine contains chemicals that prevent or inhibit the formation of crystals. However, if your urine becomes concentrated—due to dehydration, for example—these chemicals are unable to dissolve. 

Several factors can cause kidney stones, including:

  • Dehydration: Not drinking enough water can lead to concentrated urine, which increases the risk of stone formation. As Jamal Nabhani, MD, a urologist at Keck Medicine of USC, mentioned: “Water intake is the single most important dietary risk factor for kidney stone formation. Not drinking enough water is estimated to play a role in 50% of kidney stones. We recommend patients drink enough water to make 2.5 liters (about 10.5 cups) of urine per day, or try to keep their urine clear to very pale yellow”.
  • Diet: Consuming a diet high in salt, sugar, and protein can increase the likelihood of kidney stones. Foods rich in oxalates, such as spinach and nuts, can also contribute.
  • Genetics: A family history of kidney stones can increase your risk.
  • Medical Conditions: Certain conditions like diabetes, gout, and inflammatory bowel disease can elevate the risk of developing kidney stones.

Risk Factors

Lifestyle choices and other factors can influence the risk of developing kidney stones:

  • Obesity: Excess body weight can alter the chemical composition of your urine, making stones more likely.
  • Certain Diets: High-protein, high-sodium, and high-sugar diets can increase the risk of some types of kidney stones.
  • Lack of Physical Activity: Regular exercise helps maintain a healthy weight and proper functioning of your kidneys.
  • Digestive Diseases and Surgery: Conditions like Crohn's disease or surgeries such as gastric bypass can affect your body's ability to absorb calcium and water, increasing the risk of stones.
  • Stress: Chronic stress can lead to behaviors and physiological changes that increase the risk of kidney stones, such as dehydration and dietary changes, as well as potentially affecting the balance of minerals and electrolytes in the body.

Can Alcohol Cause Kidney Stones?

Alcohol itself does not directly cause kidney stones, but it can contribute to conditions that increase the risk of developing them. Here’s how:


Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it increases urine production. This can lead to dehydration, a significant risk factor for kidney stones. When the body is dehydrated, urine becomes more concentrated, allowing minerals and salts to crystallize and form stones.

Impact on Nutrient Absorption:

Heavy alcohol consumption can affect the absorption of essential nutrients and minerals. This imbalance can lead to higher levels of stone-forming substances like calcium, oxalate, and uric acid in the urine.

Changes in Urine Composition:

Alcohol metabolism in the body produces certain chemicals that can alter the pH balance of urine, creating an environment conducive to stone formation.

Dietary Choices:

Alcohol consumption is often associated with unhealthy dietary choices, such as high intake of purine-rich foods (e.g., red meat, seafood), which can lead to higher uric acid levels and increase the risk of uric acid stones.

Weight Gain:

Alcoholic beverages are high in calories and can contribute to weight gain. Obesity is a known risk factor for kidney stones. Excess body weight can affect the balance of minerals in your urine, increasing the risk of stone formation. Managing your weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise is essential for kidney health.

Preventive Measures

While moderate alcohol consumption might not significantly impact kidney stone formation, it's essential to adopt certain preventive measures to lower the risk:

  1. Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water throughout the day to ensure that urine remains diluted. Aim for at least 2-3 liters of water daily.
  2. Monitor Alcohol Intake: Limit alcohol consumption to moderate levels as defined by health guidelines (e.g., up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men).
  3. Balanced Diet: Maintain a diet low in sodium, sugar, and oxalate-rich foods (e.g., spinach, nuts). Increase the intake of fruits and vegetables to promote a balanced urinary pH.
  4. Regular Check-ups: Regular medical check-ups can help monitor kidney health and detect any early signs of kidney stones.

Treatment of Kidney Stones

  • Increased Water Intake: Drinking plenty of fluids helps to dilute the substances in urine that lead to stones. It also aids in flushing out smaller stones from the urinary tract. 
  • Pain Relievers: Over-the-counter medications can help manage the severe pain often associated with kidney stones. In some cases, doctors may prescribe stronger pain relievers to provide relief.
  • Medical Therapy: Certain medications can be prescribed to help pass kidney stones more quickly and with less pain. These may include alpha-blockers, which relax the muscles in the ureter, making it easier for stones to pass.
  • Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL): This non-invasive procedure uses high-energy sound waves to break kidney stones into smaller, more manageable pieces that can be passed naturally in the urine. It is often used for stones that are too large to pass on their own.
  • Ureteroscopy: A thin, flexible scope is inserted through the urethra and bladder to reach the stone. Once located, the stone can be broken up with laser energy or removed with special tools. This method is typically used for stones located in the ureter or kidney.
  • Percutaneous Nephrolithotomy: This surgical procedure involves making a small incision in the back to access and remove large or complex kidney stones directly from the kidney. It is usually reserved for stones that are too large or irregularly shaped to be treated with other methods.
  • Parathyroid Surgery: For patients whose kidney stones are caused by an overactive parathyroid gland (hyperparathyroidism), surgical removal of the gland may be necessary. This condition leads to excessive production of calcium, which can contribute to the formation of calcium-based stones.

Each treatment option is chosen based on the size, type, and location of the kidney stones, as well as the patient's overall health and medical history. Always consult with a healthcare provider to determine the best treatment plan for your specific condition.

Frequently Asked Questions

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While alcohol does not directly cause kidney stones, its effects on hydration and urine composition can contribute to the risk. By staying hydrated, monitoring alcohol intake, and maintaining a balanced diet, you can reduce the likelihood of developing kidney stones. If you have concerns about kidney stones or your drinking habits, consult a healthcare professional for personalized advice and recommendations.

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