What to Know About Potomania

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on May 27, 2023
4 min read

‌Potomania, also called "beer potomania" or "beer drinker’s hyponatremia," can happen when you drink alcohol excessively in the form of beer and don't eat a proper diet. The word "potomania" comes from “poto,” which means “to drink,” and “mania,” which means “too much.” 

Potomania causes a condition called hyponatremia, which is a lack of sodium in your blood. Your body normally maintains a balance between sodium and water levels. When the sodium level starts to drop, the water in your blood cells and in the surrounding areas starts to increase. Your cells then swell up.

‌This can cause difficulties, depending on how serious the condition is and how fast it develops. When your sodium level falls slowly (to as low as 110 milliequivalents per litre) over several days or weeks, you may experience only mild symptoms. If the same drop in your blood sodium level happens in a much shorter period of time, such as 24 to 48 hours, you could experience serious conditions like severe cerebral edema, coma, or brainstem herniation.

‌The normal level of sodium is 135 to 145 milliequivalents per litre. Hyponatremia occurs when the sodium level is less than 135 milliequivalents per litre.

‌Potomania can cause you to experience the following:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • ‌difficulty concentrating
  • ‌confusion
  • ‌lethargy (feeling weak or having low energy levels)
  • ‌feeling irritable or restless
  • ‌sudden, painful muscle cramps
  • ‌headaches
  • ‌seizures
  • ‌loss of consciousness, coma

If you note signs of potomania, seek medical care as soon as possible. Severe symptoms require emergency medical attention.

Treatment options for beer potomania depend on a number of factors, including what the symptoms are and how serious the condition is. Your condition may be a medical emergency warranting admission to a hospital intensive care unit. In this case your treatment may involve the following:

  • You may not be given food, drink, or anything else to be taken by mouth, except medicines, for 24 hours.‌
  • You will be given IV fluids if needed.
  • Your sodium levels will be monitored regularly while you're treated. If sodium levels increase too quickly, it can cause a condition called osmotic demyelination syndrome, which can permanently affect your nervous system (your brain, spine, and nerves). Your physician will work to increase your sodium levels slowly over a period of days until your condition becomes stable.
  • You will be given oxygen as needed.

Beer potomania is caused by excessive drinking together with a poor diet. You can prevent beer potomania by eating healthy nutritious meals and reducing or avoiding alcohol intake.

Basic guidelines for maintaining a healthy diet. Your diet should include all of the major food groups: fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, lean proteins, and healthy fats.

The number of calories you should eat in a day depends on your age, sex, lifestyle, and daily levels of physical activity. A physician or nutritionist can help you to make a healthy diet plan that suits your lifestyle, budget, and food preferences.  ‌‌Your healthy diet plan should include advice on what to eat, recommended portion sizes for the different food groups, and suggested meal times suitable for your lifestyle.

Managing alcohol addiction or excessive drinking. If you have concerns about managing how much alcohol you drink, speak to your doctor, who can recommend treatment options for you. Beer potomania is just one of many life-threatening conditions that alcohol addiction can cause. Managing your alcohol addiction can help you to become healthier. 

  • Detox and withdrawal program: A medically managed detox and withdrawal program can last from two days to a week. Your physician will work with you to manage symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS), prevent your condition from getting worse, and prepare you for long-term recovery. 
  • Treatment planning: Alcohol addiction treatment specialists will work with you to set up a treatment plan. The plan will include setting goals for yourself, taking steps to change your drinking habits, and getting self-help advice as well as counseling and aftercare. Giving up drinking on its own does not guarantee long-term recovery. Patients also have to learn skills to cope with situations that may make them want to drink again.
  • Psychological counseling: Counseling sessions may be recommended to help you manage your drinking habits. It's common for people who drink too much to have mental health conditions like depression or anxiety. Seeking help for these conditions can help you make long-term lifestyle changes.
  • Medications: You may be given a medication called naltrexone to take orally (by mouth) to help reduce your urge to drink. Monthly injections might also be an option. 
  • Alcohol addiction support groups: Support groups are recommended to help you stick with positive lifestyle changes and to stop you from going back to your old habits.  

If you have a serious alcohol addiction, your doctor may suggest a residential treatment program.