Is the story about 'breaking the seal' true?

I've been told by my friends that if you are drinking alcohol, you must try and stop yourself going to the toilet early in the night for as long as you can as you will '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'. For both young men and women (although it is far more likely to be a female who asks this question), it is usually the belief that you 'break the seal' when you first urinate after you have been drinking alcohol, this will cause you to subsequently have to go to the toilet every ten or fifteen minutes thereafter. There is 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 serious drinking session. Once again, the idea behind the phrase is that once you've started you will be unable to stop. This is a particularly frightening concept!

Due to the dehydrating effects of alcohol, it doesn't take too long after having your first drink for the night that you find yourself busting to go to the toilet. It's almost like the alcohol is 'pushing' fluid out of you! As much as this situation can be highly annoying (most people who are drinking 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!), you need to understand that when your body tells you to urinate, it is usually doing it for a reason. Trying to stop yourself is not only foolish, it could 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 your first couple of drinks your blood alcohol level is still relatively low. However, after that 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 how you get dehydrated despite the fact that you are taking in fluids.

So there is no magical seal (when you think about it, that's a pretty strange concept!). Just because you've been to the toilet once does not cause the subsequent visits. If you're drinking alcohol your body is less able to hold onto water and you produce more urine. 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