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How does alcohol affect hormones?

Written by Brandon Okey. Mina Draskovic, B.Psy., reviewed this content for accuracy.

Alcohol impairs your body’s ability to produce and regulate key hormones by interrupting pathways in the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and gonads. This disrupts your body’s hormonal balance. 

A 2013 study showed that chronic alcohol consumption disturbs the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems’ communication, leading to significant hormonal imbalances.

The study found that 50% of women who drink moderately and 60% of those who abuse alcohol experienced reproductive hormone and menstrual cycle issues. 

Men’s hormones aren’t safe either, as heavy alcohol consumption can lower testosterone levels, leading to erectile dysfunction and infertility. 

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If you are struggling with alcohol abuse, our alcohol addiction treatment program in Utah can help you get sober and limit damage to your endocrine system and other vital systems.

What does the endocrine system do?

The endocrine system is a complex network of glands and hormones within the human body that regulates nearly every aspect of our body’s functioning. Similar to the nervous system, which communicates through electrical signals, the endocrine system uses chemical messengers called hormones to transmit information and maintain homeostasis. 

Here are some of the main functions of the endocrine system:

  1. Maintains homeostasis and stable internal conditions
  2. Directs growth and development
  3. Governs reproduction
  4. Regulates metabolism and energy balance
  5. Controls stress response
  6. Influences immune function
  7. Maintains fluid and electrolyte balance
  8. Regulates blood pressure
  9. Controls water balance
  10. Regulates body temperature and metabolic rate
  11. Regulates sleep and circadian cycles
  12. Influences mood and behavior
  13. Stimulates red blood cell production
  14. Controls appetite and body weight
  15. Maintains bone health
  16. Supports tissue repair and healing

The endocrine system operates through several hormonal axes, each consisting of interconnected glands and organs that work together to regulate specific physiological functions. Here are some of the key endocrine axes:

  1. Hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis:
    • The hypothalamus, located in the brain, releases corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH).
    • CRH stimulates the pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH).
    • ACTH signals the adrenal glands to produce cortisol and other stress-related hormones.
    • This axis controls the body’s response to stress, regulates metabolism, and influences immune function.
  2. Hypothalamus-pituitary-thyroid (HPT) axis:
    • The hypothalamus releases thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH).
    • TRH prompts the pituitary gland to release thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH).
    • TSH stimulates the thyroid gland in the neck to produce thyroid hormones (T3 and T4).
    • This axis regulates metabolism, body temperature, and energy expenditure.
  3. Hypothalamus-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis:
    • The hypothalamus releases gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH).
    • GnRH signals the pituitary gland to release follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH).
    • FSH and LH stimulate the ovaries (in females) or testes (in males) to produce sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone).
    • This axis controls reproductive function, sexual development, and fertility.
  4. Hypothalamus-pituitary-growth hormone axis, also known as the hypothalamic–pituitary–somatotropic (HPS) axis:
    • The hypothalamus releases growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH).
    • GHRH prompts the pituitary gland to release growth hormone (GH).
    • GH stimulates growth, cell repair, and regeneration in different tissues throughout life.
  5. Hypothalamus-pituitary-anterior pituitary axis:
    • The hypothalamus produces releasing hormones (e.g., TRH, CRH, GnRH, GHRH).
    • They signal the anterior pituitary gland to release specific hormones (TSH, ACTH, FSH, LH, GH).
    • The anterior pituitary hormones regulate other endocrine glands and their hormone production.
  6. Renin-angiotensin-aldosterone axis:
    • The renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system primarily regulates blood pressure and electrolyte balance.
    • Renin is released by the kidneys in response to low blood pressure or low blood sodium.
    • Renin triggers a cascade, ultimately leading to the adrenal glands’ production and release of aldosterone.
Endocrine system
Source: https://asapeducate.com/science_notes/endocrine-system/

These organs and glands work together to maintain homeostasis. When the function of the axes is disrupted, it can lead to health issues and imbalances. Alcohol is one of the major factors that can throw a wrench into the finely tuned workings of your endocrine system, disrupting hormone production and regulation.

Heavy drinking affects many aspects of your health—from impairing cognitive function and increasing the risk of cancer to damaging the liver, heart, and digestive system. The key is to quit drinking while you’re ahead. 

Our alcohol addiction rehab center is here to help you through recovery with comprehensive treatment and support.

What are the symptoms of alcohol-related hormonal imbalance?

By disrupting the delicate balance of hormones in men and women, alcohol may cause overt symptoms associated with hormonal imbalance. The effects of alcohol on hormones can manifest in ways similar to other causes of hormonal imbalance, though potentially more severe. 

Common symptoms of hormonal imbalance caused by alcohol include:

  • Sudden weight gain or loss
  • Mood changes
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Skin changes
  • Body temperature dysregulation

How does alcohol affect the endocrine system?

Whether you’re binge drinking or you’re addicted, alcohol exposure can induce hormonal disturbances. That means your body is having a hard time maintaining homeostasis, paving the way for a wide range of health issues such as cardiovascular diseases, reproductive deficits, immune dysfunction, cancer, and psychological and behavioral disorders. 

According to researchers at Rutgers University, alcohol impairs the functions of hormonal axes within the endocrine system.

Alcohol abuse disrupts all of these systems and causes hormonal disturbances that may result in various disorders, such as stress intolerance, reproductive dysfunction, thyroid problems, immune abnormalities, and psychological and behavioral disorders.

Alcohol’s effects on the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis and the stress response.
Alcohol’s effects on the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis and the stress response. Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5513689/

We found that both heavy drinking and moderate alcohol consumption interfere with ten major hormones.

  1. Cortisol
  2. Testosterone
  3. Estrogen
  4. Gonadotropins
  5. Antidiuretic hormone (ADH)
  6. Growth hormone
  7. Insulin
  8. Leptin and ghrelin
  9. Endorphin

Alcohol consumption can spike cortisol levels 

Excessive alcohol consumption can elevate levels of cortisol and other stress hormones. When you drink, alcohol triggers the HPA axis, releasing cortisol. Higher cortisol levels can lead to increased anxiety, weakened immune function, and premature aging

In heavy drinkers, “tolerance may develop to alcohol’s HPA axis-activating effects” (Spencer and Hutchison). 

Cortisol can interact with the brain’s reward system and influence cognitive processes. A 2012 study suggests that this can potentially promote habit formation and increase vulnerability to relapse in people addicted to alcohol.

Excessive drinking lowers testosterone

Alcohol can lower testosterone production, affecting sexual function, muscle mass, and mood in men. One of the primary ways alcohol exerts its effects is by damaging the testicular cells responsible for producing testosterone and sperm maturation. 

Researchers at Loyola University show that alcohol has “deleterious effects on the testosterone-producing Leydig cells, the Sertoli cells, and even on the offspring of alcohol-ingesting males.”

Steiner, et. al. found that a single dose of alcohol in healthy male rats significantly reduced testosterone levels and that the reduction lasted for up to 96 hours.

Beyond lowering testosterone, alcohol poses many health risks for men. If you’re finding yourself unable to stop drinking despite the negative health effects, our men’s rehab program offers a personalized approach and ongoing care to help you achieve sustainable, long-term sobriety.

Alcohol disrupts estrogen levels

One of the major ways alcohol damages women’s health is by impairing the production and function of estrogen. Women produce excess estrogen that their livers break down and excrete. When there’s alcohol involved—especially larger amounts—the liver prioritizes metabolizing alcohol and its toxins over other substances, including estrogen. This increases blood estrogen levels.

According to the Medical Council on Alcohol, heavy drinking can also influence the activity of enzymes involved in estrogen metabolism, which converts testosterone to estrogen, potentially leading to higher estrogen levels.

All of these changes can increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer, causing irregular periods, menstrual issues, and problems with bone density. 

Speak to the experts at Ardu’s women’s rehab program and discover a path to recovery designed with women’s unique needs in mind.

Alcohol suppresses gonadotropin and impairs reproduction

Gonadotropins or gonadotropin-releasing hormones (LHRH) stimulate the gonads (ovaries and testes) and regulate reproductive function in both sexes. Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) are specific types of gonadotropins. FSH promotes the growth of ovarian follicles in females and stimulates sperm production in males. LH triggers ovulation in females and stimulates the production of testosterone in males. 

Alcohol’s impact on the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis often results in decreased libido and fertility issues. In people with alcohol use disorder (AUD), the release of gonadotropins is hindered, impairing reproductive function in men and women. 

The resulting HPG dysfunction observed in people with AUD can be associated with diverse outcomes, including a decreased libido, infertility, and gonadal atrophy…these deleterious effects are not limited to adult drinkers but may also affect adolescents in puberty who begin to consume alcohol. (Rachadaoui and Sarkar)

Research shows that alcohol can lead to irregular menstrual cycles in women by interfering with the release of sex hormones, mainly estrogen and gonadotropins. In men, alcohol consumption has been linked to “reduced gonadotropin release, testicular atrophy, and decreased testosterone and sperm production.”

Alcohol’s effects on the hypothalamic–pituitary–gonadal (HPG) axis.
Alcohol’s effects on the hypothalamic–pituitary–gonadal (HPG) axis. Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5513689/

Heavy drinking inhibits the antidiuretic hormone

Alcohol acts as a diuretic primarily by inhibiting the secretion of antidiuretic hormone, also known as vasopressin. ADH normally helps the kidneys manage the amount of water in the body. When its function is suppressed, the kidneys don’t reabsorb as much water, leading to increased urine production and subsequent dehydration.

This diuretic effect can cause an imbalance in electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium, which are essential for nerve and muscle function, hydration status, and blood pressure regulation. Epstein, M.D. argues that “although increased serum electrolyte concentration normally activates the secretion of ADH so that fluid balance can be restored, a rising blood alcohol level disrupts this regulatory response by suppressing ADH secretion into the blood.” 

Alcohol suppresses growth hormone

Growth hormone (GH) is produced by the pituitary gland and plays a crucial role in stimulating growth, cell reproduction, and regeneration in humans. Alcohol can inhibit GH release.

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that acute alcohol intake significantly alters slow-wave sleep and suppresses plasma growth hormone levels. This can result in decreased circulating levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), a hormone that mediates many of the effects of GH, including growth and repair of tissues.

These effects appear to normalize during alcohol withdrawal.

Alcohol withdrawal can be challenging and uncomfortable, often accompanied by symptoms such as tremors, anxiety, and even seizures in severe cases.

Ardu Recovery Center provides comprehensive support and medical supervision to help you navigate withdrawal. Our comprehensive treatment for alcohol addiction includes medically monitored detox, counseling, group support, and aftercare planning. 

Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to insulin resistance

Insulin is produced by the pancreas. It helps control blood sugar levels by moving glucose from the blood into cells, where it’s used for energy or stored for later. Excessive alcohol consumption can disrupt the body’s insulin function, leading to insulin resistance. This condition makes it harder for cells to take up glucose in response to insulin, potentially causing blood sugar imbalances and increasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. 

A 2015 study found that both acute intoxication and chronic alcohol consumption impair insulin-stimulated glucose uptake and induce insulin resistance, particularly in skeletal muscle and the liver.

Read more about alcohol’s detrimental effects on the liver.

Alcohol causes imbalances in leptin and ghrelin 

Leptin, often referred to as the “satiety hormone”, sends signals to our brain to stop eating when we’ve had enough. Ghrelin is known as the “hunger hormone” because it stimulates appetite. Alcohol can inhibit the secretion of leptin, making you feel less full and potentially leading to overeating. At the same time, research has shown that alcohol can increase ghrelin levels, further stimulating your appetite. 

The imbalance between decreased leptin and increased ghrelin caused by alcohol consumption can persist even when you stop drinking, leading to long-term dysregulation of appetite control and metabolic processes that may contribute to weight gain and obesity.

Alcohol desensitizes endorphins and contributes to dependence

Endorphins are hormones that interact with the opiate receptors in the brain to reduce pain and create feelings of pleasure and well-being. Initially, alcohol boosts endorphin levels, making you feel relaxed and happy. Over time, regular alcohol consumption can desensitize the brain to endorphins—you require more alcohol to achieve the same euphoric effect. 

A 2005 study revealed that habitual drinking leads to beta-endorphin deficiency, increasing susceptibility to alcohol abuse.

If you or someone you care about needs help managing alcohol consumption, Ardu specializes in helping people overcome alcohol addiction or abuse through evidence-based treatment plans tailored to their needs.

Do hormones influence alcohol intolerance?

Hormones do influence alcohol intolerance. Estrogen, in particular, can affect how quickly alcohol is metabolized in the body. An article published by Experience Life suggests that higher estrogen levels are associated with slower alcohol metabolism. This means that tolerance can vary throughout the menstrual cycle, typically peaking around menstruation when estrogen levels drop, and bottoming out around ovulation when estrogen levels are higher. 

A 2019 study found that higher follicle-stimulating hormone levels were associated with an increased risk of alcohol dependence in men, while lower FSH levels correlated with a greater tendency to drink when experiencing negative emotions.

The study also showed that higher progesterone levels correlated with more intense alcohol cravings, and higher testosterone levels correlated with greater temptation to drink in alcohol-dependent men.

Does alcohol affect hormone blood tests?

Hormone blood tests measure the levels of specific hormones in the bloodstream. Doctors typically order these tests if patients report symptoms associated with hormone imbalances to determine if hormone concentrations are too high or low. Even the smallest amounts of alcohol may have significant impacts on the results of hormone blood tests.

When you drink, alcohol can lower the levels of some hormones and increase the levels of others. If you have a blood test to measure them, the results may not be accurate if you were drinking. 

According to Healthians, the ethanol in alcoholic beverages causes short-lived mood boosts, self-assurance, and sociability, so they may easily alter the results of the hormone blood test.

If you’re going to have a hormone blood test, it’s a good idea to avoid alcohol for a while before the test to make sure the results are as accurate as possible.

How long does it take for hormones to balance after quitting alcohol?

When you decide to quit drinking, your body begins to heal and rebalance its hormone levels immediately. For most moderate drinkers, you’ll start to notice improvements in your hormone balance within a few weeks. If you’ve been a heavy drinker for years, it might take longer for your hormones to fully normalize. 

Swedish researchers discovered that testosterone and sex hormone-binding globulin levels in alcoholic men without severe liver disease decreased during alcohol detoxification and recovered to normal levels after 3 weeks of sobriety. The follicle-stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone showed the opposite pattern.

The findings suggest that endocrine system recovery after chronic alcohol intake is complex and may be long-lasting, with different hormones recovering on different timelines. Everyone’s journey is unique, and the time it takes for your hormones to balance after quitting alcohol may fluctuate. 

Do you need help quitting alcohol?

At Ardu Recovery Center, we provide personalized support and evidence-based treatment to help you overcome alcohol dependence. Our compassionate team of educated specialists can guide you towards sobriety one day at a time, reducing alcohol’s damaging effects, and empowering you to begin healing. 

The recovery process begins with alcohol detox, where we safely and comfortably help you rid your body of toxins. Our medical professionals at our detox center closely monitor your progress to ensure a smooth and safe detox experience

But detox is just the beginning. We believe in a comprehensive approach to recovery, addressing not only the physical aspects but also the psychological and emotional aspects of addiction. Through evidence-based group therapy and individual therapy, we delve into the underlying factors that contribute to your drinking problem. 

To enroll in an Ardu alcohol rehab program, contact Ardu Recovery Center online or via phone (801-810-1234). We will work with you to find a recovery path that works best for you and your specific needs.

Brandon Okey

Brandon Okey is the co-founder of Ardu Recovery Center and is dedicated to empowering people on their journey to sobriety.

Alcohol and hormones FAQ

Does quitting alcohol lower cortisol?

When you quit alcohol, it can indeed lead to a reduction in cortisol levels over time. Chronic alcohol consumption often disrupts cortisol regulation, resulting in elevated levels of this stress hormone. By abstaining from alcohol, individuals allow their bodies to gradually return to a more balanced hormonal state. This normalization of cortisol levels is essential for overall health, as prolonged elevation of cortisol can have negative effects on various bodily functions, including metabolism, immune response, and mental well-being.

Does alcohol raise cortisol?

Alcohol consumption can raise cortisol levels. When alcohol enters the bloodstream, it triggers the body’s stress response, leading to the release of cortisol from the adrenal glands. This elevation in cortisol is part of the body’s natural reaction to stressors and is intended to mobilize energy and resources to cope with the perceived threat. However, chronic or excessive alcohol consumption can lead to dysregulation of cortisol levels, potentially contributing to long-term health problems such as anxiety, depression, and metabolic disorders.

What hormone is released when drunk?

When a person becomes intoxicated, various hormones are released in the body, including cortisol, which is the primary stress hormone. Alcohol consumption can influence the release of other hormones such as endorphins and dopamine. Endorphins are neurotransmitters that act as natural painkillers and can induce feelings of euphoria and relaxation, while dopamine is associated with pleasure and reward. These hormonal changes contribute to the altered mood and behavior commonly experienced while intoxicated.

Does 1 beer increase testosterone?

Consuming one beer may increase testosterone levels, although the effect is likely modest and short-lived. Some studies have shown a temporary rise in testosterone levels following mild alcohol consumption, possibly due to the inhibition of enzymes involved in testosterone metabolism. The increase is minimal and may not have significant physiological effects. It’s important to note that chronic alcohol consumption can lead to long-term disruptions in testosterone levels, potentially contributing to sexual dysfunction and other health issues.

Does coffee lower testosterone?

Coffee may lower testosterone levels, although the effect appears to be modest and may vary depending on individual factors such as caffeine dosage and frequency of consumption. Caffeine has been shown to increase cortisol levels, which can indirectly affect testosterone production. Additionally, caffeine may interfere with the production of testosterone precursors in the body. 

How do you balance hormones after drinking alcohol?

Balancing hormones after drinking alcohol involves adopting a holistic approach to health and wellness. This includes prioritizing regular exercise, maintaining a balanced diet rich in nutrients, and getting enough sleep. When you reduce alcohol consumption or abstain from drinking altogether, it can help restore hormonal balance over time. It’s also essential to manage stress levels effectively, as chronic stress can disrupt hormone production and regulation. If you’re experiencing persistent hormonal imbalances, it’s best to consult a healthcare professional or hormone specialist.

Does alcohol affect serotonin?

Alcohol consumption can affect serotonin levels in the brain, leading to mood changes and potentially contributing to symptoms of depression or anxiety. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in regulating mood, appetite, and sleep, among other functions. Alcohol has been shown to increase serotonin release initially, leading to feelings of relaxation and euphoria. However, prolonged alcohol consumption can disrupt serotonin production and signaling in the brain, ultimately contributing to mood disorders and other mental health issues.

Does alcohol impact reproductive health in premenopausal women?

Alcohol intake can have negative impacts on reproductive health in premenopausal women, affecting hormone levels and menstrual cycle regularity. Chronic alcohol consumption may disrupt hormone balance, leading to irregularities in the luteal and follicular phases of the menstrual cycle. This can have implications for fertility and overall reproductive health in premenopausal women.

What are the long-term effects of alcohol on bone health in postmenopausal women?

Moderate alcohol intake has been associated with an increased risk of bone diseases, such as osteoporosis, in postmenopausal women. Alcohol consumption can negatively impact bone growth and density, leading to an elevated risk of fractures and other skeletal issues. Alcohol consumption may also interfere with hormone levels and parathyroid hormone function, further exacerbating bone health concerns in postmenopausal women.

Can heavy drinking affect hormone levels and sexual arousal?

Acute alcohol intoxication can influence hormone levels and sexual arousal in healthy women and men, with potential effects on estrogen levels and sexual function. While alcohol may initially increase sexual arousal due to its impact on dopamine release, chronic alcohol consumption can lead to hormonal dysregulation and decreased libido. Alcohol’s effects on liver function and hormone metabolism may also contribute to long-term sexual health concerns in men and women.


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