Break the seal

Chances are you’ve been in a situation where you’ve been out having a few drinks with friends, and someone finally gets up to use the restroom. At that point, he or she is admonished as being the first person to “break the seal.” After that first bathroom trip, said individual will be back and forth to the bathroom all night. The “seal” has been broken. There is no turning back. But is there even such a thing as breaking the seal? Or is this simply an urban legend that has no basis in reality?

It’s true that after going to the bathroom for the first time while drinking, your trips to the toilet will become more frequent if you continue to drink. But this has nothing to do with breaking the seal. Instead, it has to do with the antidiuretic hormone ADH, and alcohol’s inhibition of that hormone.

ADH, also known as arginine vasopressin, is a hormone made in our hypothalamus and stored in our pituitary gland at the base of the brain. Its job is pretty simple — it conserves the water inside our bodies by ensuring that all of the liquid we need doesn’t get peed out. Basically if ADH wasn’t around to bind to the receptors in our kidneys and produce water reabsorption, a ton of the water that our bodies should be saving would be sent to our bladders instead, which means we’d pee a lot more.

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When we drink, that’s exactly what happens. You’re not peeing more because you finally broke the seal, you’re peeing more because the more alcohol you consume, the more your ADH is suppressed. And that means with every drink your bladder is likely to fill up quicker and quicker with water that your kidneys should be conserving.

But alcohol takes a little while to have an impact on your ADH, which is why at the beginning of the night it can seem like you have control of your bladder, only to lose it after breaking the seal following that second or third drink. As you continue imbibing, your kidneys are working overtime to process all that liquid. But thanks to alcohol’s muting of your ADH, the water is heading straight to your bladder, which means you’re going to have to pee. And pee, and pee.

To make matters worse, on top of your ADH suppression, alcohol can also act as a bladder irritant – especially as you drink more – creating the sensation of having to pee even when your bladder isn’t completely filled. And you know what that means? You’re going to be headed back and forth to the bathroom all night long. But not because you broke the seal.

Header image via flickr/dorothyhess-pictures