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Can alcohol make you fat?

Mina Draskovic, B.Psy., reviewed this content for accuracy on December 6, 2023

While an occasional drink may not do much harm to your figure, regular heavy drinking can lead to significant weight gain.

Research suggests that “light to moderate alcohol consumption does not seem to be associated with obesity risk. Heavy drinking and binge drinking, however, are more likely to carry such an association with excess body weight.” 

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Table of Contents

Beyond the negative impact on your waistline, alcohol has a myriad of adverse health effects that you may want to avoid. It’s not easy to say no to that second glass of wine or additional beer, especially when cravings kick in.

If you feel powerless against addiction, our alcohol rehab center at Ardu Recovery Center offers individualized treatment and compassionate support to help build a fulfilling alcohol-free life. You don’t have to face addiction alone. 

I recently had the good fortune to receive treatment at Ardu, and am so grateful for everyone there. All of the employees from the administration to the counselors, nurses and techs were awesome. I received the very latest in medical treatment, along with in-depth counseling and behavioral therapy, that allowed me to begin my recovery in a loving and supportive environment… thanks to Ardu Recovery Center!

Susan H


Does alcohol make you gain weight?

Alcohol consumption can be a major cause of weight gain. As already mentioned, light to moderate amounts of alcohol don’t seem to be a risk factor for obesity. Regular heavy drinking, on the other hand, is more likely to lead to weight gain.

An Irish study found a positive relationship between frequent binge drinking and obesity markers such as high body mass index (BMI) and large waist circumference (WC).

Harmful alcohol consumption was associated with obesity (high BMI, large WC)… Frequent binge drinkers were more likely to have a large WC, while frequent alcohol consumers were less likely to have obesity.

Here are the main reasons why heavy drinking can lead to obesity:

  1. Alcohol contains empty calories. 
  2. It impacts metabolism and how effectively calories are processed.
  3. Heavy drinking facilitates fat storage.
  4. The more you drink, the more you feel like drinking and eating.
  5. Heavy drinking depletes nutrition.
  6. Heavy drinking affects hormones that regulate hunger and satiety. 

Before we go into detail, remember that many negative health effects of alcohol are reversible. Ditch the bottle and choose something healthier to sip on to protect your health.

Alcohol and empty calories

Calories are a big part of alcohol’s ability to increase body mass. Alcohol provides empty, excess calories that have no nutritional value yet contribute significantly to positive energy balance (when energy intake exceeds expenditure). 

According to the UK National Health Services, one gram of alcohol contains approximately 7 kcal/g of energy. Most alcoholic drinks clock in at around 100 calories per serving, but they all provide nutrition-void calories. 

Based on the numbers, if you drink four bottles of 12% strength wine in one month, you’re consuming up to 32,400 additional calories per year. Five drinks per week of 5.2% strength lager add up to 57,720 extra calories in a year.

Shelton and Knott found a link between calories from alcohol and obesity rates in men and women. They looked at a health survey data set of 8,864 people and calculated the odds of obesity in association with alcohol-derived calories. 

Mean alcohol calorie consumption was 27% of the recommended daily calorie intake in men and 19% in women…with a positive association between alcohol calories and obesity. Alcohol calories may be a significant contributor to the rise in obesity.

These liquid calories add to your daily food intake, so over weeks and months of regular binge drinking, all of those unnecessary surplus calories can tip the scales and lead to obesity.

How does alcohol affect calorie metabolism?

Alcohol directly interferes with your body’s ability to metabolize and efficiently burn calories for energy. Over time and with regular excessive consumption, this can cause excess weight gain and the accumulation of body fat. 

Ethanol, alcohol’s main compound, is processed by the liver. Your liver normally plays a major role in regulating carbohydrate, protein, lipid, and nutrient metabolism. When heavy drinking is involved, these metabolic functions are impaired. As a result, the oxidation of lipids is reduced and hormone signals related to hunger, satiety, and fat storage are disrupted. 

This causes an imbalance as more calories are directed to fat production as opposed to energy expenditure and fat loss. Over weeks and months of sustained heavy drinking, these metabolic disruptions compound and result in excess weight gain and body fat percentage increases.

Your liver is the MVP of your metabolism, but it suffers immensely from heavy drinking. Find out more about the negative effects of alcohol on your liver.

Why does alcohol make your body store fat?

Booze stuffs more calories into your fat cells instead of burning them for energy. The way alcohol impairs metabolism has a lot to do with why your body stores more fat than it needs and how this increases the risk of weight gain 

Remember how lipid oxidation is reduced when alcohol disrupts normal metabolic processes? Lipids are fatty molecules that your body uses to stockpile energy for later. During lipid oxidation, your body breaks down fats to be used for energy; less lipid oxidation means more fat storage.

When you drink, the body prioritizes metabolizing alcohol over other nutrients, including fats. This leads to an accumulation of fat in the body, which eventually contributes to weight gain. Researchers at Cambridge concluded that “alcohol has a fat-sparing effect similar to that of carbohydrate and will only cause fat gain when consumed in excess of normal energy needs.”

Before you know it, you’ve gained ten pounds from all those calories being redirected to pad fat cells instead of fueling your energy needs. 

Liquid calories from alcohol are easier to over-consume

Alcohol is often referred to as “liquid calories”. You drink them instead of eating, which is a much easier way to increase your caloric intake in one sitting. Here’s why:

  • Alcohol consumption leads to increased energy intake because it adds to the energy obtained from other dietary sources. Traversy and Chaput reveal that “increased energy intake with alcohol use can certainly promote a positive energy balance and ultimately weight gain.” 
  • Unlike solid food, alcohol is consumed faster and at higher volumes. This allows for faster consumption with less oral processing time, which enables rapid and excessive intake.
  • Alcohol calories do not trigger feelings of fullness or satiation the way solid food does. According to a 2021 study, this has something to do with faster gastric transit times, less oral processing, and lower cognitive perception of anticipated satiety.
  • Alcohol lowers inhibitions and self-control, making it easier to mindlessly consume more calories without realizing how much you’ve had. Heavy drinking impairs the prefrontal cortex region of the brain which is responsible for judgment, rational thinking, and impulse control. (This is just one of the ways booze is detrimental to your brain function.)
  • Alcohol stimulates appetite and activates reward pathways, promoting cravings and overeating while intoxicated. A study published at the Cambridge University Press found that “a combination of increased appetite and poor compensation of energy from alcohol could contribute to the impact on energy intake in regular consumers of alcoholic beverages.”

Those liquid calories often tend to go unaccounted for in calorie counts. Many people neglect those few glasses of wine or cocktails over the weekend when tracking their diet and nutrition intake, but the overlooked calories count. Not only does alcohol provide empty excess calories, but drinking often displaces healthier foods and drinks in the diet, depleting nutrition.

How does alcohol deplete nutrition?

Heavy drinkers are often devoid of any beneficial vitamins, protein, fiber, minerals, and other nutrients their bodies need. 

There are a few reasons why alcohol actively interferes with diet.

  1. Alcohol impairs nutrient absorption. Chronic heavy drinking can damage digestive organs such as the stomach, intestines, liver, and pancreas. A team of researchers with UC San Diego reveals that alcohol “inhibits the absorption and usage of vital nutrients such as thiamin (vitamin B1), vitamin B12, folic acid, and zinc.” 
  2. UCSD researchers also show that heavy drinking can disrupt the water balance in muscle cells, altering their ability to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is the building block of your muscles’ energy source. Read more about the dehydrating effects of ethanol.
  3. Alcohol calories lack nutrients. It’s the talk about empty calories all over again. Unlike food, which contains macros and micronutrients, alcohol provides no vitamins, minerals, fiber, or protein that your body needs. 
  4. An alcoholic beverage may replace more nutritious choices. Because you’re full of calories from alcohol, instead of eating healthy, you’re more likely to skip the meal altogether. 
  5. Poor food choices. On those days that you do feel hungry enough not to skip a meal, your dietary choices may be less than healthy. People who drink heavily often have a higher intake of salty, sugary, fatty, and other processed convenience foods. 

If you want to have a lean, toned body, you better limit your intake or quit booze entirely. We can help you make that first and often most difficult step—kicking the habit and managing withdrawal symptoms. At Ardu, we employ medical detox or holistic detox to help you overcome addiction and cleanse your body of toxins. 

Once you’re done with alcohol detox, it’s time for healing. Our holistic treatment programs help rebuild healthy body composition and reverse previous alcohol-related damage with the help of medications, exercise therapy, nutrition therapy, and yoga.

Alcohol leads to hormone imbalance

Heavy alcohol drinking throws critical appetite and weight-regulating hormones out of balance, wreaking havoc across the systems that control hunger, satiety, and fat production. 

Here’s how alcohol affects the hormones involved in hunger and fat production:

  • Adiponectin. Alcohol suppresses the function of this hormone that normally sends signals to slow fat production and ramp up fat-burning processes.
  • Insulin. When you drink, insulin levels spike abnormally in response to the inflammatory stress of alcohol exposure and metabolization. Among other things, insulin regulates hunger cues, fat production, and metabolic balance between consuming, burning, and storing calories as body fat. Higher insulin levels drive fat storage.
  • Cortisol. This stress hormone shares the responsibilities of regulating hunger, fat production, and fat storage with insulin. The more you drink, the more cortisol increases fat accumulation and promotes overeating behaviors.
  • Ghrelin. The “hunger hormone” stimulates appetite and food intake. Alcohol suppresses ghrelin production and disrupts normal cyclic patterns of ghrelin signaling, leading to imbalances in hunger regulation that promote overeating and weight gain. Research shows that ghrelin increases alcohol self-administration in heavy drinkers with alcohol dependence. 

If you are worried about the adverse effects that too much booze can have on your endocrine system, it’s time to get help. Contact Ardu Recovery Center and discuss your options with our knowledgeable and caring specialists. 

We have talked a lot about how long-term alcohol consumption can lead to obesity, but what about short-term implications? Did you know that a night of heavy drinking may register as several pounds of weight gain? 

How do you temporarily gain weight after drinking?

Have you ever noticed a noticeable jump in weight when you step on the scale after a  night of heavy drinking? Alcohol has acute, rapid impacts on your weight and can make you look and feel heavier in the short term. Here’s how:

  1. Booze makes you retain water. Ethanol has powerful dehydrating effects, yes, but it also disrupts electrolyte levels (especially potassium and sodium), causing your body to retain extra water in its tissues. 
  2. Alcohol triggers inflammation in the tissues. It increases the levels of pro-inflammatory molecules such as cytokines, causing swelling, puffiness, and weight gain. It’s your body’s way to dilute alcohol-related irritation by holding onto more water.
  3. Alcohol also irritates the digestive system. It can prompt looser stools, vomiting, and diarrhea which trigger temporary dehydration. Paradoxically, this makes the body retain even more water, again increasing weight.
  4. Remember how alcohol lowers inhibitions and leads to increased calorie intake from high-fat, salty, or sugary foods? This extra fuel is stored as carbohydrates, fat, or glycogen, and it also adds bulk and weight.

Don’t worry, the temporary bloating and water weight should normalize naturally as your body releases the excess water over the following 48-72 hours. With that said, it proves the dramatic influence that alcohol has on your weight, even from one night of hitting it hard.

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. 

Does alcohol cause weight gain in the stomach?

You may have heard of it—many people believe it’s a myth—but beer belly is a real thing. Beer belly is the bloated, enlarged stomach protruding over your pants. While genetics, personal lifestyle, the lack of physical activity, and aging play supporting roles, alcohol belly is directly influenced by your brew-drinking habits.

Aside from being calorie-dense, research indicates that booze is also high in polyphenols and sugars. Those specific compounds seem to directly stimulate belly fat cell growth and belly flab storage more than other nutrients. Beer, some types of wine, and other alcoholic beverages promote fat deposition in the abdominal region by disrupting metabolic regulation, suppressing lipid oxidation, and redirecting calories toward visceral fat storage around organs in the midsection. 

Beer bellies aren’t just an aesthetic issue. They can directly contribute to fat buildup around your internal organs and increase the chances of chronic diseases like:

Heavy drinking and weight gain in men

Men may be more susceptible to weight gain from heavy alcohol consumption than women, according to research. A British cohort study found that heavy drinking in men in their thirties and forties may lead to a higher body mass index than in women. 

A 2003 study revealed that “heavy alcohol intake (≥ 30 g/d) contributes directly to weight gain and obesity [in middle-aged men], irrespective of the type of alcohol consumed.”

Here’s why men seem to be more susceptible to alcohol obesity than women:

  • On average, men tend to drink more heavily and frequently than women. They consume more drinks and take in more empty booze calories.
  • Alcohol metabolism rates differ between biological sexes: men break down alcohol slower, so calories are stored longer as fat.
  • Men genetically store fat deposits more centrally around organs rather than peripherally under the skin. 
  • Hormonal differences suggest that alcohol impacts hunger and satiety regulation pathways more severely in men, promoting overeating behaviors.
  • Heavy drinking may also lower testosterone and contribute to the loss of muscle mass in men. 

While both men and women can gain weight from drinking, evidence suggests that biological and behavioral risk factors for weight gain and fat accumulation are greater in men. 

Here are more ways heavy drinking negatively affects gentlemen.

Heavy drinking and weight gain in women

The research on alcohol obesity and women shows a slightly more complicated picture. 

  • Women generally drink less and consume less liquid calories than men. This limits excess energy intake. 
  • Women’s bodies metabolize alcohol quickly. Mumenthaler, et. al. reveal that, while both men and women eliminate roughly the same total amount of alcohol per unit of body weight per hour, it seems that women “eliminate significantly more alcohol per unit of lean body mass per hour than men.”
  • Estrogen fluctuations throughout menstrual cycles can make booze pack on more flab for some women. Ethanol already messes with all the signals that tell your body to store fat or burn it. The estrogen flux during monthly cycles gives alcohol more power to amplify those fat-storing signals.
  • During menopause, a lack of estrogen appears to drive weight gain in the midsection, particularly for female drinkers. A 2012 study revealed that postmenopausal women who drink moderately and maintain a healthy weight have a reduced risk of becoming overweight or obese over time. However, the researchers found the relationship between alcohol intake and weight gain to be complex and influenced by many different factors. 

A few drinks here and there may not necessarily lead to obesity, but, ladies, if you are drinking excessively, you may interfere with the metabolic and hormonal processes that protect you from alcohol calorie buildup. 

We have good news, ladies and gentlemen. Ardu offers both women’s detox and men’s detox programs, so you can reclaim your health and break free from alcohol dependence. 

If you were wondering how much time you may spend recovering from the negative effects of drinking, check out this helpful guide on how long it takes to detox from alcohol

What is the life expectancy of obese alcoholics?

A 2011 Dutch study revealed that heavy drinkers who consume more than 14 drinks a week have a life expectancy that is 1.3 years shorter than light drinkers. The study compared the effects of obesity, smoking, and alcohol consumption on life expectancy with disability in older adults. The results also showed that obese people with disabilities can expect to live 5.9 years longer than obese people who drink regularly. 

A 2021 study investigated the combined effect of alcohol consumption and obesity on all-cause and liver disease mortality in the U.S. population. Here are the key results:

  • Obese adult men who drink more than 60 grams of alcohol and obese adult women who drink more than 40 grams were at a significantly higher risk of all-cause and liver disease mortality.
  • For obese heavy drinkers, higher BMI was associated with greater all-cause mortality risk: each 5 kg/m2 increase in BMI corresponded to a 12-27% higher mortality rate.
  • There was evidence that the combination of obesity and heavy alcohol drinking causes an increase in mortality risk, especially for men.

A Scandinavian study showed that men and women alcoholics on average have a life expectancy that is between 24 and 28 shorter than the general population. If we add in the factors of obesity and unhealthy lifestyle, it is reasonable to infer that obese alcoholics likely have an even greater lifespan reduction compared to the general public. 

Although concrete mortality statistics are lacking, the compounding health risks of obesity and alcohol abuse suggest a particularly high possibility of early death for people with high BMI and alcoholism issues.

We understand that it is difficult to control your urges if you are struggling with addiction. With the right help, you can regain control and make the decision to improve your health. 

Ardu Recovery Center

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 alcohol 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 alcohol addiction. These are all important steps towards developing effective coping mechanisms and getting healthy.

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.

Read our admissions process page for additional information.

Alcohol and obesity FAQ

Can I drink alcohol and still lose weight?

Moderate drinkers may still lose weight, as long as they account for those liquid calories and remain in an overall caloric deficit. The key is moderation. One to two drinks per day of lower calorie options such as liquor with diet mixers likely won’t sabotage weight loss goals if your total daily calories still fall below your needs. 

Heavy drinking provides excess empty calories that promote fat storage without feelings of fullness. It also disrupts metabolism, hormone signals, nutrition, and healthy behaviors, ultimately sabotaging weight loss.

Will 2 beers a night make me fat?

Two beers per night can lead to fat gain and obesity over time. Beer uniquely drives abdominal obesity compared to other drinks. Regular beer consumption provides excess calories without nutrition while reducing fat burning. Two 12 oz regular beers contain over 300 calories, which presents a substantial calorie content if you continue routinely without accounting for these liquid calories elsewhere in your diet or through more activity. 

Will 4 beers a day make me fat?

Four or more beers per day will very likely lead to obesity and substantial fat gain over time. Four beers per day translate into over 1,000 excess liquid calories with no nutritional value. Combining this with impaired metabolism, fat burning, and muscle synthesis from heavy regular alcohol intake generally results in escalating weight gain and fat accumulation without compensation. Even light beer with lower alcohol content packs nearly 200 calories per can. 

Do you lose weight if you stop drinking?

When you quit heavy drinking, you are more likely to lose weight because the lack of alcohol in your body eliminates a major source of excess daily calories. It also helps restore healthier eating habits, portion control, and hydration levels while improving metabolism, hormonal regulation, nutrition absorption, and daily calorie expenditure—all drivers of weight loss when alcohol is removed. 

What is the lowest calorie alcohol?

Vodka, gin, tequila, and other 80-100 proof distilled spirits mixed with zero-calorie sodas, tonics, or mineral waters are among the lowest-calorie alcohol options. These mixed drinks range from 65 to 100 calories per standard drink serving. 

White wines typically provide 100-125 calories per 5 oz glass. Light beers with 4% alcohol contain slightly fewer calories and carbs than regular beers. Skip high-sugar mixers, juices, and liqueurs to keep alcohol calories down.

Does alcohol make your face puffy?

Alcohol causes temporary facial puffiness, bloating, and flushing from inflammation triggered after repeated heavy drinking episodes. Alcohol disrupts electrolyte balance, promotes water retention under the skin tissue, and irritates blood vessels, resulting in a swollen “booze face.” Your skin may appear puffy, red, and inflamed after drinking. Chronic long-term swelling can also occur in the abdomen and limbs from liver or nutrition issues.

Here’s why alcohol makes your skin red and inflamed

How does alcohol stop fat burning?

Alcohol suppresses lipid oxidation and disrupts the body’s ability to break down fats for energy. It also reduces muscle nutrient availability and alters hormone signals, tricking your body into conserving fat while losing muscle. These metabolic effects decrease daily calorie expenditure while preferentially storing incoming calories as fat, which translates into escalating obesity. Alcohol sabotages your metabolism’s ability to burn fat, promotes weight gain pathways, and stops signals that trigger fat loss.

Does alcohol make you gain weight more easily after 40?

Research indicates that alcohol impacts weight more adversely after 40, especially in women. A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that higher alcohol consumption was generally associated with more weight gain in middle-aged and older women. As estrogen levels fluctuate and then decline in perimenopause and menopause, alcohol’s influence on fat storing and hunger signals strengthens while metabolism slows. Age-related muscle loss and lifestyle changes also promote weight gain. Heavy drinking after 40 can accelerate weight accumulation compared to younger years. 

Does alcohol make you gain weight more easily after 50?

Alcohol tends to have an even greater effect on weight after 50, compared to younger ages. With menopause, aging muscle loss, lifestyle changes, and metabolism slowing, alcohol’s disruption of hunger and fat hormones and calorie burning are compounded, making weight gain acceleration more likely from heavy drinking. 

Less muscle mass and lipid metabolism while using alcohol regularly after 50 makes it easier to gain hip, belly, and overall weight. Your body struggles to regulate signals that maintain a healthy equilibrium between consuming, burning, and storing incoming calories.

Is beer belly really caused by drinking beer?

“Beer belly,” also referred to as “alcohol belly,” is the abdominal weight gain that directly correlates with frequent drinking. Genetics, low physical activity levels, and aging also play important parts in developing a beer belly. Despite the moniker, excess belly fat develops from routinely consuming any type of drink, not just beer. Ingredients such as barley, hops, wheat, and gluten found in beer may uniquely boost bloating and metabolic dysregulation.

Alcohol is preferentially stored as visceral fat around organs rather than under the skin. Regular beer drinking leads to the highest waist-to-hip ratios. Men seem to be more prone as testosterone drops help cause beer bellies, but post-menopausal middle-aged women also gain hard-to-lose abdominal girth if drinking escalates. 

While spirits or wine contribute as well, something about hops and malt may be the reason that beer is more likely to stimulate lipogenesis around the organs. Don’t rely on exercise alone; limited alcohol intake remains crucial to deflating beer bellies as we age. Moderation and vigilance with nutrition help defy the beer belly trajectory.


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Further reading

Is alcohol a drug?

Am I addicted to alcohol or am I just drinking too much?

Why is alcohol toxic for the brain?

Can alcohol help me sleep better?

What are the tell-tale physical symptoms of alcoholism?

How does frequent alcohol consumption affect GABA?

Is the alcoholic personality a myth?

Why does alcohol trigger skin redness?

How to avoid booze during the holidays

10 signs it may be time to hit rehab