“I’ve been told by my friends that if you’re drinking alcohol, you must try and stop yourself going to the toilet early in the night for as long as you can, if you don’t you’ll ‘break the seal’. Is that true? Once I’ve gone to the toilet during the night is that it – won’t I be able to stop?”
Over the years I’ve heard a number of different definitions of ‘breaking the seal’. It’s usually the belief that you ‘break the seal’ the first time you urinate after drinking alcohol. As a result, this will result in you having to keep going to the toilet over and over again at very short intervals. There’s also the belief amongst a core group of high-risk drinking young men that it has to do with vomiting during a drinking game or the like. Once again, the idea behind the phrase is that once you’ve started, whether it be urinating or vomiting, you’ll be unable to stop. Your friends are talking about the ‘urinating issue’, so takes a closer look at the truth behind that idea …
Due to the dehydrating effects of alcohol, it doesn’t take too long after having your first drink to find yourself busting to use the bathroom. It’s almost like the alcohol is ‘pushing’ fluid out of you. As much as this situation can be highly annoying (many people who drink alcohol are doing so in a social situation and the last thing they want to do is to go to the toilet every 5 minutes!), it’s important to understand that when your body tells you to urinate, it’s doing it for a reason. Trying to stop yourself is not only foolish, it could also be dangerous.
So why are you able to hold the first few drinks with little problem and after that experience so much difficulty? Have you done something to your bladder, have you broken some ‘magical’ seal?
Quite the contrary. Essentially, it has to do with the rising level of alcohol in your blood stream. After the first couple of drinks your blood alcohol level is still relatively low. After that, however, it starts to rise steeply, particularly if you are drinking quickly. Alcohol is a diuretic and affects the hormone that helps your body hold onto water. As a result, the amount of urine you produce increases out of proportion to the amount you drink, and your bladder fills up faster and faster. This is why you can become dehydrated despite the fact that you are continuing to take in fluids.
So there’s no magical seal … and when you really think about it, that’s a pretty strange concept!
Just because you’ve urinated once doesn’t cause subsequent visits to the bathroom. Put really simply, if you’re drinking alcohol your body is less able to hold onto water and you produce more urine. It’s important to listen to your body and go with it – it’s most probably telling you to do something for a good reason.
First published: May 2015
Reviewed and updated: September 2023