Alcohol in any form -- beer, wine or hard liquor -- can cause fluid retention in your hands and feet, also known as peripheral or dependent edema. Fluid tends to accumulate in your hands and feet because fluid travels downhill. Alcohol initially acts as a diuretic, which can lead to dehydration. When you're dehydrated, your body hangs on to fluid to conserve it. The salty snack you might consume while drinking can also contribute to swollen hands.
When alcohol accumulates in your bloodstream, it inhibits the release of a hormone called antidiuretic hormone, or ADH, which concentrates urine. Without the infuence of ADH, your kidneys pass dilute urine without the normal amounts of sodium in it. As alcohol levels fall, your body begins to conserve fluids again. Since the water your kidneys eliminated while your alcohol levels rose did not contain sodium, your sodium stores increase. You have an imbalance in the ratio of sodium to fluid. Since sodium retains fluid, edema develops.
It may seem logical to avoid drinking any fluids when you have edema in your hands, but this can make the swelling worse. Instead, you can try increasing your fluid intake -- but drinking fluids low in sodium, such as plain water, since you already have plenty of sodium. Drinking fluids helps balance out the the excess sodium and the excess fluid.
Edema of the Abdomen and Hands
If you drink heavily for a long time, you might develop a much more serious type of fluid retention called "ascites," caused by cirrhosis of the liver. While ascitic fluid normally develops in your abdomen, it can also cause swelling in your legs and feet too. Hand edema can also develop from dehydration caused by chronic alcohol use. If you have a swollen abdomen in addition to swollen hands and you drink heavily, see your doctor for a liver evaluation.
Some people have a greater tendency to retain fluid when drinking alcohol than others. Women tend to retain fluid more easily than men. Eating salty snacks while drinking, which increases your sodium intake, can also increase your tendency to develop swollen hands. If your hands remain significantly swollen for more than a day after drinking alcohol, see your doctor. Other factors besides alcohol can cause swelling in your hands.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism; Alcohol’s Impact on Kidney Function; Murray Epstein, M.D.; 1997
- Aclohol Health and Research World; Effects of Alcohol on Electrolytes and Minerals; Luis Marsano, et al.; Summer 1989
- Patient UK; Ascites; March 2009
- West Virginia University Student Center: Get a Six Pack, Not a Keg