Does Alcohol Count as Fluid?

The research on alcohol shows that drinking even moderate amounts can be unhealthy, but does the occasional beer or glass of wine help you meet your hydration goals anyway? Read on to see what experts say about alcohol and hydration.

Medically Reviewed
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See how alcohol compares with other beverages when it comes to hydration.Canva

There’s been a push in recent years, especially among millennials, to cut back on alcohol. In fact, a recent poll by market research firm Morning Consult estimated that 19 percent of adults report participating in “Dry January,” in which they abstain from alcohol for the first month of the year. Despite this trend, a survey study published in September 2020 the Journal of the American Medical Association found that there was a 54 percent increase in alcohol consumption in the United States at the end of March 2020 compared with the previous year.

For many adults, the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic has affected how much and how often they drink alcohol. Nearly 1 in 4 adults (23 percent) said that they increased their alcohol consumption during the pandemic, according to a 2021 report from the American Psychological Association.

While there has been some past research showing that moderate drinking may have certain health benefits, those findings have been contradicted, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The overwhelming amount of research on alcohol consumption shows that the harms can outweigh any benefits. Alcohol consumption has been linked to increased risk of chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. A study published in January 2022 in Cancer Genetics and Epigenetics found that the risk of certain cancers was elevated with increased alcohol consumption, particularly for individuals with a genetic predisposition for the disease. Additionally, a study published in December 2021 in Clinical Nutrition found an association between drinking most types of alcohol (excluding wine) and an increase in heart disease — even when drinking less than the recommended amount.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), that amount is one drink or less for women and two drinks or less for men each day, with one drink being equivalent to 12 ounces (oz) of beer, 5 oz of wine, or 1.5 oz of hard spirits.

Still, if you’re going to kick back enjoy booze even occasionally, does alcohol count toward your daily hydration goal the way other beverages do?

Hydration, you may have heard, is critical to good health. Maintaining proper fluid balance helps eliminate waste, protect body tissues, and keep energy levels up, according to Mayo Clinic. And while it may sound easy, a lot of people struggle with chugging enough H20 in a day to keep their bodies functioning optimally.

That precise amount varies by gender, activity level, and even the climate where you live, so there is no official recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for fluids. But the most accurate measure comes from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, which recommends that women get about 2.7 liters (L) of fluid per day and men get about 3.7 L per day. After deducting the roughly 20 percent of that amount that comes from the food we eat, that leaves approximately nine 8-oz cups of liquids a day for women and 13 8-oz cups a day for men. (To get an estimate of how much fluid you need to drink per day, you can use a hydration calculator.)

Water is obviously the best source of fluid, but realistically, do other beverages, including alcohol, count toward your daily quota, and if so, how much? Here is everything you need to know about alcohol and hydration.

Water vs. Alcohol: How Do They Compare?

When it comes to hydration, there really is no comparing alcohol and water. Water is the ultimate calorie-free hydrator and the absolute best way to meet your daily hydration goal. Alcohol is on the other end of the spectrum: dehydrating and a source of empty calories that provides no significant nutritional benefit. As Mayo Clinic states, alcohol is a diuretic, meaning that it causes you to lose more water through urination. The resulting dehydration is part of what contributes to a hangover after a night of drinking. While it’s perfectly acceptable to imbibe in moderation, it won’t get you any closer to meeting your body’s hydration needs and, in fact, may actually have a dehydrating effect.

Nutrition Facts of Alcohol

Pure alcohol contains 7 calories per gram (g), which makes it the second most calorie-dense macronutrient (just behind fat). And, that’s just the calories from the alcohol itself. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), an average beer tends to contain 5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) while the average glass of wine is 12 percent ABV. That means that about 97 calories in a 12-oz beer and 109 calories in a 5-oz glass of wine come from the alcohol, with the rest of the calories coming from carbohydrates. Mixed drinks may contain soda, juice, or other sugar-sweetened beverages as well. As MedlinePlus points out, calories from alcoholic beverages can add up quickly. Unfortunately, alcohol isn’t a significant source of any micronutrients, which means you won’t get any health benefits to go with all of these calories. Nutritionally speaking, it’s best to limit alcohol consumption as much as possible.

What About Alcohol Makes It Dehydrating?

If you’re looking for a hydrating beverage, alcohol won’t make the grade. Alcohol functions as a diuretic, meaning it makes you urinate more, leaving less fluid in your blood and potentially leading to dehydration. Drinking alcohol decreases the amount of vasopressin (an anti-diuretic hormone that helps the kidneys hold onto water) made in the body. As a result, you will lose water from your body after drinking alcohol. While the dehydrating effects of alcohol are mild, the effects are cumulative, meaning the more you drink, the more dehydrated you may become.

Types of Alcohol: How Dehydrating Are They?

There are three main categories of alcohol: beer, wine, and spirits. Each contains different amounts of alcohol, which is why they vary somewhat is their ability to provide hydration. With the lowest concentration of alcohol, beer can seem somewhat thirst-quenching after a long hike or on a hot day. That’s generally because beer contains more water and less alcohol than wine or shots.

A standard alcoholic drink is said to contain about 14 g of pure alcohol, which is equivalent to about 12 oz of beer, 5 oz of wine, or 1.5 oz of spirits, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). But those amounts are based on specific concentrations of alcohol by volume, or ABV. ABV varies a lot, and therefore so does a drink’s potential for hydration. A 12-oz beer with 5 percent ABV is going to be far less dehydrating than the same size beer with 12 percent ABV, for instance.

The NIAA standards are based on beers that are 5 percent ABV, wine that is 12 percent ABV, and hard spirits that are 40 percent ABV. But it’s important to note that many alcoholic beverages exceed those concentrations. Craft beers can be particularly misleading because while they have an ABV closer to that of wine, they’re generally served in much larger portions. (The current record for the strongest craft beer is held by a Scottish brewery that makes one with a head-spinning 67.5 percent ABV, stronger than most spirits.) Canned cocktails and mixed drinks can also have surprisingly high ABVs, so it’s wise to check the label. The higher the ABV, the less hydrating a drink will be.

Health Benefits of Alcohol Beyond Hydration

By now you know that alcohol does not have hydrating properties. There are, however, some studies to suggest that alcohol may have some other health benefits when enjoyed in moderation. For example, one study, published in July 2021 in BMC, Medicine found that moderate consumption of any type of alcohol decreased risk of death in those with preexisting heart disease. Additionally, red wine is well known to contain resveratrol, an antioxidant that Mayo Clinic points out may decrease inflammation and play a role in decreasing the risk of heart disease.

Moderation and frequency of consumption is also important. The American Heart Association recommends limiting alcohol intake to an average of one drink or less per day for women and two drinks or less per day for men (remember, one drink equals 12 oz beer, 5 oz wine, and 1.5 oz spirits). But it’s best if these drinks are spread out over the week rather than enjoyed all in one sitting. Key findings from the Nurses’ Health Study suggest that those who drank an average of seven drinks per week spread out over four or more days had lower risk of death from all causes as compared with those who drank the same amount of alcohol in one or two days.

However, preliminary evidence from a large cohort study suggests that there may be no safe level of alcohol consumption when it comes to brain health. And drinking any amount of alcohol raises your risk for at least six different types of cancer, according to the CDC. While there may be some health benefits associated with drinking moderate amounts of alcohol, more research is needed, and no one should start drinking or increase the amount they drink in an attempt to gain health benefits.

Tips for Enjoying Alcohol While Maximizing Hydration

No alcoholic beverage will help you be more hydrated. However, you can certainly choose a beverage that will minimize the dehydrating effects of the alcohol it contains. Two major factors affect how dehydrating an alcoholic beverage will be: what the alcohol is mixed with and alcohol by volume. To choose the least dehydrating alcoholic beverage, opt for low ABV, consider a spritzer (wine mixed with carbonated water), and limit drinks that are mixed with loads of added sugar, to minimize your fluid losses when imbibing. Out for a night with friends? Maximize your hydration by having a glass of water between drinks. This will slow your pace while also getting you more of the valuable water your body needs and can also decrease the risk of having a hangover.

Should You Drink Alcohol to Stay Hydrated?

No. While you can enjoy alcohol in moderation and make other lifestyle choices that will maintain your hydration, alcohol will never contribute to your hydration goal. If being well-hydrated is one of your personal health goals, water is your best bet.