What Does Consuming Alcohol Do To ED?

Erectile dysfunction,¹ or ED, is a condition that affects a man’s ability to achieve an erection or sustain it for long enough to engage in sexual activity. There are many known causes of ED, and it’s a common condition.

ED causes anxiety for a lot of men, but it’s nothing to feel embarrassed about, and through a combination of medical treatments and lifestyle changes, you can lessen the impact ED has on your life. Reducing alcohol consumption is one such lifestyle change.

Keep reading to learn more about the effects alcohol can have on erectile functioning. 

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How can alcohol cause erectile dysfunction?

Alcohol-induced ED is a temporary ED that occurs when you drink too much. Alcohol is a depressant, so it slows activity in your central nervous system (CNS). Your CNS is composed of your brain and spinal cord, acting as your body’s information highway or information processing center.

When you touch something hot, for example, your body uses your CNS to transmit that sensation to the appropriate part of your brain, where the information is interpreted, and an appropriate reaction is triggered. 

Alcohol, even in small amounts, can hinder your body’s ability to transmit information through the CNS, affecting your reaction time, ability to think and reason, and coordination.  

Every part of your body, including the penis, sends and receives information through the CNS, so it makes sense that alcohol can affect erectile functioning. Beyond that, alcohol is a diuretic — it speeds up the clearing of urine from your body, which can lead to dehydration. When you’re dehydrated, your body produces more angiotensin — a hormone that reduces blood flow throughout the body, and reduced blood flow to the penis is linked to ED.

Research² shows that sexual dysfunction is especially common among men with alcohol dependence.

If you drink significant amounts of alcohol often or feel you need alcohol to function, your risk of developing new or worsening ED symptoms is significantly higher than someone who drinks in moderation or abstains entirely. 

How much alcohol is too much?

People tolerate alcohol differently. How much alcohol your body can handle without suffering lasting negative effects depends on a range of factors, including your age, genetics, and drinking habits.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism³ (NIAAA) suggests that typically, men should limit their consumption to two or fewer drinks per day, and women should aim for one or fewer — they define these as the limits of drinking in moderation. 

It’s worth noting that “one drink” isn’t necessarily one glass or bottle of your favorite alcoholic beverage. Different brands and varieties of alcohol can have different alcohol contents. Beer usually sits at 5% alcohol by volume (ABV), while wine and spirits typically land around 12% and 40%, respectively.

To put that into perspective, a 500ml serving of beer will contain around 25ml of alcohol, while a 500ml serving of wine will contain approximately 60ml — more than double the alcohol.

According to the NIAAA, one standard drink⁴ may be:

  • 12oz of beer

  • 5oz of wine

  • 1.5oz of distilled spirits

For most people, enjoying one or two alcoholic drinks per day will not lead to negative health outcomes. That said, if your drinking disrupts your life or makes you feel lousy, the guidelines don’t matter — any amount of alcohol that negatively affects your quality of life is too much. 

Binge drinking

Binge drinking is when you consume enough alcohol in a short enough period to raise your blood alcohol content (BAC) to 0.08% or higher. Most men reach this level when they consume five or more drinks within two hours, and most women when they consume four or more drinks within the same period.

Heavy drinking

There are a few different situations that may qualify as heavy drinking, including:

  • Consuming more than four (men) or three (women) drinks per day

  • Consuming more than 14 (men) or seven (women) drinks per week

  • Binge drinking five or more days in one month

And, of course, some people should avoid alcohol altogether, including:

  • Those under 21 years old

  • Women who are pregnant or may become pregnant

  • Those who take some prescription medications

  • Those who have some medical conditions 

Consult your healthcare provider if you’re unsure if your medications are compatible with alcohol or if you have a medical condition that may affect your body’s response to alcohol.

When to see a doctor

Schedule an appointment to speak with your doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms of ED regularly, especially if your symptoms are having a negative effect on your life. ED and alcohol use are sensitive subjects, but it’s essential to be honest with your doctor so they can determine which therapy and treatment options are best suited to meet your needs. 

It can be challenging to ask for help when you realize that alcohol is negatively impacting your life, but your doctor may be able to help you get a better handle on it.

The lowdown

Alcohol can have a major impact on your ability to achieve or maintain an erection. Alcohol misuse can cause ED, and it can make existing ED worse. Cutting down on your alcohol consumption may help alleviate your ED symptoms and will almost certainly improve your quality of life.

  1. Definition & facts for erectile dysfunction | NIH: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

  2. Prevalence of sexual dysfunction in male subjects with alcohol dependence (2007)

  3. Drinking levels defined | NIH: National Institute of Alcohol Abuse of Alcoholism

  4. What is a standard drink? | NIH: National Institute of Alcohol Abuse of Alcoholism

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