Here's What Happens When You "Break The Seal"

Photo: Getty Images.
There is FOMO, and then there is I-have-to-pee-but-I-don't-want-to-leave-and-miss-something FOMO. Unfortunately, you are going to have to pee at some point during happy hour. But if you go to the bathroom once, will you "break the seal" and end up peeing in perpetuity? Not really — though it does feel like it.
Your body doesn't literally have a urinary "seal" that could be broken, says Aleece Fosnight, MSPAS, PA-C, a urology physician assistant. But you definitely do have to pee more frequently when you're drinking alcohol.
Why? Alcohol suppresses vasopressin, an anti-diuretic hormone in your brain, Fosnight says. Normally, this hormone helps your kidneys reabsorb water in your body so you're not peeing constantly. But without as much vasopressin, your kidneys don't know what to do, and they end up dumping out water, rather than reabsorbing it. "This produces a lot more water-diluted urine, which, in turn, fills up the bladder faster, making you urinate more often," she explains.
But that doesn't happen immediately. In fact, alcohol can take up to 20 minutes to block vasopressin. So, by the time you decide to actually go pee, "the alcohol is in full swing and blocking a significant amount of that hormone," she says. After that, you just keep drinking and the effect snowballs: "More alcohol, more blockage, more pee," Fosnight says.
All of that makes it seem like you could just stop the whole pee snowball from happening by simply not "breaking the seal." But this is just how the human body works — and there's not a whole lot you can do to stop it. Of course, drinking any liquid will inevitably make you pee, and most of us are fine to hold our urine for up to five hours. But some drinks — including alcohol, coffee, tomato juice, and acidic fruit juices — can also irritate your bladder. (Depending on your favorite cocktails, you may be drinking a few of these irritating drinks all night.) That irritation makes you feel like you need to pee more frequently, even if your bladder isn't totally full, Fosnight says.
On top of that, it's hard work for your kidneys to filter booze out of your body, Fosnight says. And drinking alcohol on a regular basis could contribute to kidney damage down the line. "Alcohol changes the function of the kidneys and makes them less able to filter blood," she says. "[Over time], that can cause an imbalance in electrolytes, leading to organ damage as well as high blood pressure." But even one night of binge drinking could cause a short-term kidney injury, she says, which is one reason why you feel so dehydrated and hungover the next day. This is usually not a huge deal, but it's definitely not a great habit to get into.
However, you can help protect your kidneys and bladder while you're drinking. To start, if you do have to pee mid-marg, you should seriously just go pee, Fosnight says, because holding it in isn't going to accomplish anything other than making you uncomfortable. And remember to stay hydrated (even though it might seem like it's contributing to the peeing problem). Drinking a glass of water for every glass of alcohol you consume will help your kidneys do their job and possibly prevent a hangover.
The next time you're at happy hour, be the most responsible version of you: Use the bathroom and drink plenty of water. You may miss out on a few inside joke opportunities while you're away from the table, but hey — you just might meet some new friends while you're in line.

More from Body

R29 Original Series