What electrolytes does alcohol deplete? It's a surprisingly common question and one that doesn't exactly have a straightforward answer.

There's a lot of interest in electrolytes for health at the moment, especially when it comes to hydration.

In fact, electrolytes are involved in most essential processes in your body.

So, can drinking alcohol deplete electrolytes?

If so, what electrolytes does alcohol deplete?

That's what we're going to take a closer look at in this article. We'll see how alcohol affects your water and electrolyte balance and what you can do to counteract it.

What are electrolytes?

First things first, what actually are electrolytes? 

“Electrolyte” is an umbrella term for particles that are negatively or positively charged in a solution. 

In nutrition, the term refers to essential minerals found in every cell of your body which are involved in every metabolic process. 

For this reason, electrolyte levels are kept within a strict range in your body.  

That means it's highly unusual to be "deficient" in electrolytes because small deviations outside the normal range result in very serious health problems. 

Electrolytes found in your body include:

  • Sodium
  • Potassium
  • Chloride
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphate
  • Bicarbonate

So, now that we've got some of the basics out the way, let's take a closer look at whether drinking alcohol affects electrolyte levels.

Alcohol and electrolytes

Alcohol is a diuretic. This means it makes your kidneys flush out water. 

It does so by blocking the release of a hormone from your pituitary gland (in your brain) called vasopressin. 

Vasopressin is a chemical messenger that tells your kidneys to reabsorb water. Therefore, preventing water loss.

Therefore, when alcohol blocks the release of vasopressin, your kidneys flush out extra water. That's why drinking too much alcohol can cause dehydration

Your kidneys are responsible for regulating your body's water levels. Aside from this, they're also responsible for electrolyte balance. 

The kidneys control electrolyte levels by fine-tuning how much of is lost in your urine vs how much is held back in your bloodstream. 

That's why alcohol can disrupt electrolyte balance by interfering with the normal functioning of the kidneys. 

What electrolytes does alcohol deplete?

Now on to the all-important question, what electrolytes does alcohol deplete?

The answer depends on the level of alcohol consumption.

Drinking within the recommended guidelines is unlikely to deplete electrolyte levels. 

That's because your kidney is extremely adept at adjusting to external pressures in order to keep electrolyte levels within certain limits. 

In fact, even if drinking over your usual limits, your electrolyte levels won't be depleted by alcohol. 

On the other hand, chronic alcohol use can deplete certain electrolytes. These include magnesium, zinc and sodium.(1)(2)

With that said, it doesn't mean replacing electrolytes will solve the problem. Next up, we'll explore why this is in more detail.  more in the next section.

How to prevent electrolyte depletion

In chronic alcohol use, it's not as simple as just replacing depleted electrolytes. 

That's because the mechanism behind electrolyte loss differs between individual electrolytes. By that we mean, the cause for the loss of sodium is completely different from the reasons why chronic alcohol use depletes magnesium.

Without getting too technical and scientific, the best way to prevent or restore electrolyte loss is first, by drinking less alcohol. 

We mentioned before that your body is capable of restoring the electrolyte balance by itself without supplementation. 

Anything else to consider?

The important thing to realize is that electrolyte levels are not going to be affected by having a few drinks. Even if you've had a few too many at happy hour, it's still highly unlikely to deplete electrolytes. 

 With that said, if you're dehydrated, electrolyte-rich solutions and drinks can help with hydration. 

That's why oral rehydration salts are used for things such as dehydration caused by diarrhea.(3)

Alcohol starts to affect electrolyte levels in chronic alcohol abuse. And it's a sign that the amount of alcohol being consumed is having profound effects on the normal functioning cells. 

Alcohol and depletion of electrolytes - Final words

That brings us to the end of our look into what electrolytes alcohol depletes.

It can be hard to talk about "electrolyes" as there are many of them and all have different functions in your body. 

Your body keeps all electrolyte levels within strict boundaries because deviations from the norm have a profound negative impact on the normal metabolic functions of your body. 

The answer to the question is that social drinking within recommended guidelines will have no negative impact on electrolyte levels. 

Problems normally arise in long term chronic alcohol use and electrolyte depletion is a serious sign.