Alcohol and Erections: A Rocky Relationship

Medically approved by
Dr Earim Chaudry
Last updated
11th November 2020

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What’s the link between alcohol and erectile dysfunction (ED)? Unfortunately, research shows that even light to moderate drinking can trigger ED symptoms – and the more you drink, the more likely those symptoms become.

In fact, alcohol consumption and alcohol abuse are leading causes of ED. Studies suggest that up to three quarters of heavy drinking men experience ED – whilst they are much more likely to suffer other sexual dysfunctions too, including less satisfying orgasms, delayed ejaculation, and reduced sexual desire.

Quitting the booze is one of the most powerful ways to give your erections a boost – and your sex life too. 

Alcohol and Erectile Dysfunction

You’d think a few pints or a little tipple would be good for your sex life, right? Any of us who have turned into a veritable Don Juan after a few drinks can attest to that. 

However, your added confidence aside, alcohol is more likely to be holding your sex life back. For example, one study in the International Journal of Impotence Research drew a straight line between alcohol and erectile dysfunction (ED). According to this research, any amount of alcohol, even light to moderate drinking – that’s less than 21 units per week – can trigger ED symptoms, as well as those of other sexual dysfunctions too.

Having said that, the British Society for Sexual Medicine states that consuming less than 14 drinks per week does not appear to have any significant effect on sexual performance or erectile function. So, we may still not be seeing the complete picture of the link between ED and alcohol. 

What no one is denying, however, is that when it comes to alcohol and men’s health, moderation – that most unsexy of words – is key. In this article, we’re looking at why you should think twice before ordering another round.

Why Booze May Be Ruining Your Sex Life: The Evidence

We might think it helps us turn on the charm or get us in the mood. However, the real effects of alcohol on our sexual performance might not be quite what we were expecting. In fact, the evidence suggests that booze is, in fact, preventing us from reaching our full potential. 

For example, one study of men who drink more than 21 units a week found that rates of ED symptoms reached 58.4%. Another put this figure at 72%. Meanwhile, the heavier the drinking, the higher the risk of sexual dysfunction – with higher consumption correlating with an increased number of symptoms.

To make matters worse, alcohol may be the leading cause of ED. According to a medical article published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry: “Episodic erectile failure in alcoholic men is fairly routine, found to be significantly higher in men consuming more than three standard units of alcohol daily”. Meanwhile, studies have shown that ED affects alcohol abusers even when they’re sober.

Generally, it doesn’t look good for erectile dysfunction and alcohol. And in the long term, things are just as concerning. Long-term alcohol use can interfere with testicular function. Plus, it can cause irreversible damage to the nerves in the penis and alter male hormone production, which can also play a role in ED.

Beyond Erectile Dysfunction

The effect of alcohol on your sexual health isn’t limited to your erections, by the way. Rather, it contributes to the likelihood and severity of other sexual problems too. 

According to one piece of research in men with alcohol addiction, 14.6% of men experienced a lack of pleasure at the time of ejaculation, 10.4% had delayed ejaculation and 27% experienced dissatisfaction with frequency of sexual intercourse. Similarly, as much as 25% of those of us who drink alcohol have problems reaching orgasm, according to research.

However, it’s not all about sex, either. You may well know that drinking can lead to other serious health complications. These include high blood pressure, heart disease, liver disease, and digestive problems, as well as cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon. Similarly, mental health problems, including depression and anxiety are a common result of alcohol abuse too. Obviously, all of these things affect your ability to have satisfactory sex. 

Alcohol and Erectile Dysfunction: The Science

Why does all this happen? Dr Chaudry explains: “Alcohol is a depressant and the body’s systems slow down considerably when drinking. The slowing of these systems can severely inhibit sexual performance.” All parts of the body are affected by this slowdown – and, as a result, your respiration, your circulation, and your central nervous system are all impaired. This means, among other things, that you lose sensitivity – including on your penis. 

Yet, there is another element to the relationship between ED and alcohol that might be surprising. “Alcohol causes dehydration, so blood and oxygen flow are also reduced,” Dr Chaudry continues. However, this doesn’t just end up with a dry mouth. Rather, dehydration increases the production of the hormone angiotensin and reduces levels of testosterone, both of which are associated with ED. 

Together, alcohol produces a perfect storm of symptoms. “With the reduction of blood flow, nerve sensitivity, testosterone, and the increase of angiotensin, it can become difficult to achieve or sustain an erection,” Dr Chaudry explains.

Should I Quit the Alcohol?

The case against alcohol can be pretty overwhelming. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to go teetotal. As we mentioned above, the key to balancing alcohol with optimum sexual health lies in that particular virtue, moderation. 

What’s interesting – and perhaps surprising – though, is that it isn’t really a case of alcohol = bad. One recent study actually found that drinking less than 21 units a week can make you less likely to have ED compared to not drinking anything at all. To repeat, though, moderation is the name of the game. 

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Key Takeaways: Alcohol and Erections

So, alcohol and erectile dysfunction – what’s the verdict? Generally, your erections might benefit from reining it in a little. Drinking is so acceptable in our society but that doesn’t mean it’s good for us, or for our sex lives. If you’re worried that you may be drinking too much – or maybe someone in your family is – there’s no shame in going to your doctor. 

At the very least, ensure you have a few nights off a week. It really can turn your sex life around. 

References

  1. Bijil Simon Arackal and Vivek Benegal (2007). Prevalence of sexual dysfunction in male subjects with alcohol dependence: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2917074/

  2. Drinkaware – Alcohol and men: https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/alcohol-facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/alcohol-and-gender/alcohol-and-men/

  3. Shreyas Pendharkar, Surendra K. Mattoo, and Sandeep Grover (2016). Sexual dysfunctions in alcohol-dependent men: A study from north India: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5320845/

  4. International Journal of Advances in Medicine – Prevalence of sexual dysfunction in cases of alcohol dependence syndrome: http://www.ijmedicine.com/index.php/ijam/article/view/389

  5. NHS – Risks -Alcohol misuse: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/alcohol-misuse/risks/

  6. American Addiction Centers – Is Alcohol Wreaking Havoc on Your Sexual Performance?: https://drugabuse.com/is-alcohol-wreaking-havoc-on-your-sexual-performance/

  7. Xiao-Ming Wang, Yun-Jin Bai, Yu-Bo Yang, Jin-Hong Li, Yin Tang, Ping Han (2018). Alcohol intake and risk of erectile dysfunction: a dose-response meta-analysis of observational studies: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30232467/

While we've ensured that everything you read on the Health Centre is medically reviewed and approved, information presented here is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

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