We asked a doctor if "breaking the seal" is a real thing 4 years ago

We asked a doctor if "breaking the seal" is a real thing

Picture the scene: It's a Friday night You've just been paid and you're enjoying yourself with your mates.

You're four pints deep and head off to toilet to drain the snake.

Then, you have another pint, but find yourself having to go to the loo immediately after that.

You've had some beer, but know you've gone to the toilet once, you have to go for every pint after that.

You my friend, have broken the seal.

But why does it happen? How can you drink four or five pints of alcohol like its nothing, and then have to go to the loo every time come the sixth or seventh? Is it something to do with what's in beer? Is it all in your head?

Forrest Gump Pee

via Paramount Pictures

We at JOE wanted to find out why our bladders get so temperamental after a few drinks, so we enlisted the help of Mr Marc Laniado (MD FEBU FRCS (Urol), a consultant urologist at Nuada Urology in Harley Street, London. (that's a doctor specialising with the bladder, kidneys and urinary system to you and me), to teach us why this happens.

Because it turns out there's science behind breaking the seal.

As Marc explains, there is a threefold effect of alcohol on your bladder that makes breaking the seal more than pub myth. "The first thing to understand is that alcohol is a diuretic, which makes you want to urinate more."

Alcohol works on your kidneys in a such a manner than you have to pee more than you take in. According to statistics presented on the Drinkaware website, for every gram of alcohol drunk, your need to wee increases by 10ml.

So alcohol makes you want to pee more, but as Marc tells us there's something else in the science behind breaking the seal. "Drinking alcohol suppresses a hormone called vasopressin which is an anti-diuretic hormone or an ADH. ADH is what tells your kidneys to work harder to reabsorb water. After a time lag, the lack of ADH in your body would cause you to go to to the toilet more frequently."

And what would make that time lag to kick in and make you want to go to the toilet more frequently? Well, roughly the amount of space it takes you to drink three or four pints. When you break the seal, you reach a tipping point and your body has to get rid of all that liquid.


Looking at numbers reported on ABC, lack of ADH causes you to produce more wee, more often so for every 200ml of beer you enjoy, you produce 320 in urine. Every shot you drink makes 120 millilitres of urine on top of the normal 60–80 millilitres per hour.

Add to that, Marc tells us that "alcohol makes your bladder more sensitive". So not only does alcohol increase your need to pee while suppressing the thing you need to hold your pee, it's also making you more aware of the fact you need to go to the toilet.

So what can you do to slow down the effect of breaking the seal? Can drinking water help?

"Most probably not", according to Marc. "Obviously it's a good idea to drink water when you're on a night out, as alcohol's diuretic effects leave you dehydrated. That's why you wake up with a bad hangover after nights drinking, you need water. Drinking water is a good way to replenish and help the kidneys, but you are still drinking liquid".  So drink a pint of water while on nights out, but don't expect it to make you need the loo less.

Fox/Simpsons World

What about holding your wee in? Can we train our bladders to take in more?

"It is possible to train your bladders to carry more fluid, but that can occasionally run the risk of urinary retention, which is a sensation where you are completely unable to urinate. It's a very painful process which often requires surgery and the insertion of a uretic catheter to allow the subject to relive themselves." Marc does tell us that urinary retention happens rarely, but still, if the option of a toilet is there, we'd advise you to use it rather than try a "man over matter" attempt at holding it in. No one wants their kidneys to explode like Grandpa Simpson.

So it turns out breaking the seal is a lot more complicated than a one and done magical thing your bladder has. It's infact the point at which your bladder and kidneys decide to get rid off all that alcohol quicker.

So now you know. And knowing is half the battle.