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What are the health risks of heavy drinking for men?

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

Alcohol can ravage critical areas of a man’s health. We’re talking about liver damage, cardiovascular issues, muscle atrophy, hormonal imbalances, and impaired reproductive function. 

Looking to kick the drinking habit and get your health on track? Reach out to the team at Ardu. Our alcohol treatment center is waiting to lend a hand and help you reclaim your health, strength, and confidence. 

Table of Contents

Regardless of gender, alcohol is detrimental to your health, both from a physical as well as a mental standpoint. Excessive drinking can cause a myriad of very real issues—from liver issues and heart failure to depression and anxiety. This article focuses on men, but you can also read about the health risks of too much drinking for women.

You don’t have to take on the struggles of alcohol addiction alone. Our drug and alcohol rehab center welcomes anyone who struggles with addiction.

How does alcohol affect the male body?

Excessive drinking takes a major toll over time, disrupting critical bodily functions, hormones, and overall health in men. The reason behind that lies in ethanol, alcohol’s main active constituent. When the body metabolizes ethanol, it generates toxic byproducts such as acetaldehyde and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that trigger inflammation, damage DNA, and exert other detrimental effects on tissues throughout the body.

Alcohol metabolism and toxicity can negatively impact men’s health in the following ways:

  1. Alcohol triggers widespread inflammation that contributes to liver disease, heart, disease, brain damage, and other health issues.
  2. Toxic metabolites of alcohol directly damage neurons in the brain and nerves throughout the body, impairing cognition, movement, and coordination. Read more about alcohol’s neurotoxicity.
  3. Alcohol acts as a diuretic causing water and electrolyte loss. Alcohol-induced dehydration can severely impact every major organ in a man’s body and cause problems with muscles and bones.
  4. Heavy drinking depletes you of nutrients and impairs the absorption of vitamins, minerals, and other essential substances. 
  5. Alcohol may initially help you fall asleep, but chronic heavy drinking reduces restorative REM sleep and overall sleep quality. 
  6. Heavy drinking can reduce testosterone significantly raising estrogen levels in men. Lowered testosterone impairs protein synthesis crucial for muscle and bone growth. 
  7. Regular alcohol consumption in men correlates with lower sperm counts, decreased motility, and overall reduced fertility.
  8. By depressing nerve signals needed for erections, alcohol can inflame blood vessels and permanently damage nerves resulting in erectile dysfunction and impotency.
  9. Alcohol’s toxic effects can damage testicular cells that produce testosterone leading to shrinkage, hormone declines, and a heightened risk of testicular cancers.

That’s a lot of reasons to steer clear of booze. It may be easier said than done, but Ardu can help you break the cycle of alcohol dependence. Alcohol detox is the first important step, and we help you detox from alcohol safely.

How does alcohol interfere with male hormones?

Alcohol is metabolized primarily in the liver, which converts ethanol into acetaldehyde before eliminating it from the body. Alcohol’s metabolic byproducts are toxic to the liver and impair its function. 

Apart from detoxifying your body, the liver regulates the production, activation, and metabolic clearance of hormones. When the liver is damaged or disrupted, hormonal balance is also disrupted. The liver and endocrine system are closely linked, which explains why liver dysfunction from alcohol misuse alters hormone levels in men.

Sure, your liver can recover once you stop drinking, but why risk it?

Alcohol reduces testosterone levels

Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone responsible for male characteristics and reproductive function. It plays pivotal roles in muscle mass, bone density, fat distribution, energy, mood, sex drive, and cognitive function.

While acute alcohol intake may briefly increase testosterone levels for a few hours, this spike quickly returns to baseline. Sarkola and Eriksson found that acute alcohol consumption briefly increases testosterone by altering liver metabolism and delaying hormonal breakdown. 

Ultimately, alcohol reduces testosterone production, outweighing any fleeting initial spike. Steiner, et. al. revealed that a single dose of alcohol in healthy male rats significantly reduced testosterone levels and that the reduction lasted for up to 96 hours.

Low testosterone can lead to:

  1. Reduced muscle mass and strength
  2. Increased body fat
  3. Loss of energy
  4. Depressed mood
  5. Low libido
  6. Erectile dysfunction
  7. Decreased fertility
  8. Poor motivation
  9. Increased risk of long-term disease

Heavy drinking increases estrogen

Estrogen is considered the primary female sex hormone that develops female characteristics, governing reproductive development and function. Men also produce small yet essential amounts of estrogen to help regulate bone density, brain function, fat storage, and cardiovascular health. 

As alcohol decreases testosterone, estrogen levels in men rise. Higher estrogen can lead to the growth of breast tissue (gynecomastia) and female fat storage patterns, which can interfere with signals between the brain and gonads.

Alcohol suppresses the release of luteinizing hormone

Luteinizing hormone (LH) is a hormone released from the pituitary gland that signals the testes to produce testosterone. Rachdaoui and Sarkar found that the “resulting [hypothalamic– pituitary–gonadal] dysfunction observed in people with AUD can be associated with diverse outcomes, including a decreased libido, infertility, and gonadal atrophy.”

Alcohol suppresses the release of LH, making the testes receive fewer signals to manufacture testosterone. Naturally, this results in lower T production and increased estrogen. 

Acute alcohol intake decreased the circulating levels of LH and testosterone as a result of diminished release of hypothalamic [luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone]. In contrast, chronic alcohol consumption significantly increased FSH, LH, and estrogen levels but decreased testosterone and progesterone levels in men with AUD compared with men without AUD. 

Alcohol has negative effects on your endocrine function, regardless of gender or the amount you consume. If you prefer gender-focused treatment, you may find solace in the company of fellow men in our men’s detox center

The longer you stay in treatment, the higher your chance of avoiding relapse and living that alcohol-free life you truly deserve. 

How does alcohol affect men sexually?

A drink or two might spice things up in the moment by lowering inhibitions and increasing libido. However, going overboard can wreck sexual health and function in men.

Here are some of the main ways alcohol can negatively impact male sexual function:

  1. Erectile dysfunction. Chronic heavy drinking is a common cause of impotence and an inability to get or maintain an erection. Alcohol can damage nerves, cardiovascular health, and blood vessels, all of which can impact the ability to get an erection.
  2. Premature ejaculation. Alcohol reduces control over ejaculation, resulting in rapid or premature orgasms before desired. Salari, et. al. found that “alcohol is a depressant that impairs sensory input and reduces sensitivity to touch, resulting in decreased libido, arousal, and intensity. Alcohol can also cause delays in achieving orgasm and reduce blood flow to the genital area.”
  3. Decreased libido. Because heavy alcohol use depresses testosterone, sex drive is consequently reduced. 
  4. Infertility. Alcohol abuse lowers sperm count, motility, and quality. These factors are vital for healthy reproduction.
  5. Unsafe sex. Intoxication fuels risky behaviors in men. Without the presence of contraception methods, this raises the odds of STIs and unwanted pregnancy.
  6. Genital shrinkage. Chronic alcoholic damage causes the literal shrinking of male genitalia over time. A 1998 study found that “alcohol abuse in men can cause impaired testosterone production and shrinkage of the testes (i.e., testicular atrophy).” This can result in impotence, infertility, and suppressed male secondary sexual characteristics.
  7. Gynecomastia. Alcohol’s effect on hormones and the liver may cause enlargement of breast tissue and fat in men. 
  8. Relationship issues. Men who drink heavily often experience domestic issues. Alcohol addiction can sabotage intimacy and damage relationships, exacerbating sexual and mental health.

A thriving sex life nurtures well-being for men. The way alcohol derails intimacy and masculine confidence can cause a variety of issues for relationships and overall health. Our family therapy program provides a great way to help you restore relationships and sexual vigor ruined by addictive drinking. You can choose health starting today.

Can alcohol cause permanent erectile dysfunction?

Ethanol is toxic to erectile tissue and the nervous system that controls arousal and erection quality. Over many years of alcohol abuse, it can inflict lasting damage by permanently scarring penile tissue and arteries, disrupting signaling between the brain, spinal cord, and penis.

72% of male subjects in a 2007 study had one or more sexual dysfunctions. The most common were premature ejaculation, low libido, and erectile dysfunction. Heavier alcohol intake resulted in a higher risk of sexual dysfunction.

Acetaldehyde, which is a byproduct of ethanol, also triggers inflammation and free radical injury which builds gradually, destroying critical endothelium. Nerves that allow for sexual touch sensation can eventually die off. Once enough nerve cell death happens over years of heavy drinking, the damage can become irreversible. 

Indian researchers discovered that abstinence from alcohol shows improvement in erectile dysfunction. 88.5% of subjects tested showed improvement after three months of abstinence. They concluded that “the absence of alcoholic liver disease, younger age, shorter duration of drinking, lesser number of standard drink per day had a significant influence in the improvement of ED with alcohol abstinence.”

Does heavy drinking cause prostate problems?

Chronic heavy drinking negatively affects prostate health in men. Here are some of the links between alcohol dependence and the deterioration of prostate health:

  • Alcohol and its metabolites contribute to prostate inflammation and hormonal dysfunction. Testosterone plays a vital protective, anti-inflammatory role in prostate health. Low testosterone levels pave the way for unrestrained tissue proliferation resulting in enlargement of the prostate.
  • Large amounts of alcohol can worsen the symptoms of an enlarged prostate, also known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). This causes urinary and bladder issues as the urethra becomes compressed and blocked.
  • DNA damage from alcohol metabolism also accumulates over time in prostate tissue, augmenting the risk of cancer mutations. Macke and Petrosyan found that heavy alcohol and binge drinking are positively associated with an increased risk of developing prostate cancer. They found that chronic consumption of alcohol accelerates the growth of existing prostate tumors and progression to metastatic disease.

Alcohol is a known carcinogen. A 2015 meta-analysis found that heavy alcohol consumption significantly increases the risk of breast cancer, prostate cancer, oral cavity cancer, pancreatic cancer, liver carcinoma, and colorectal cancer.

The key step to reducing carcinogenic risks from alcohol consumption is to abstain completely. Our medically supervised detox, counseling, and holistic rehab therapies can help you break the cycle of alcohol addiction and reclaim wellness. 

Does alcohol cause big bellies in men?

Beer bellies are not a myth. They refer to excess abdominal fat accumulation often caused by heavy beer intake. Alcohol in general contains a lot of calories that get stored as belly fat when consumed in surplus. According to the UK National Health Services, one gram of alcohol contains approximately 7 calories. With most alcoholic drinks clocking in around 100 calories per serving, they all provide nutrition-void calories.

Combined with poor nutrition and lack of physical activity, heavy drinkers often get protruding stomachs. According to a 2017 study, more than 90% of adult males in developed countries (including the U.S.) were sporting a beer belly. 

Don’t assume that swapping beer for other types of alcoholic beverages will prevent belly fat. Beyond beer’s carbs, wine, spirits, and cocktails bombard the liver with alcohol and fructose, disrupting proper fat metabolism and depositing fat in the midsection.

Does alcohol affect muscle growth?

Alcohol does affect muscle growth—which is bad news if you’re trying to bulk up. Ethanol’s toxicity disrupts hormones, proteins, and cellular processes vital for gaining mass and sculpting a shredded physique. Don’t forget that booze also depletes your testosterone, which is the key anabolic hormone necessary for building lean muscle mass and strength.

A 2014 study found that alcohol consumption reduces rates of muscle protein synthesis and the anabolic response in skeletal muscle following intensive exercise in men. Alcohol ingestion suppressed muscle protein synthesis by 24% when consumed with whey protein and 37% when consumed with carbohydrates, compared to protein intake alone. 

Researchers at the University of Palermo confirmed this and revealed that alcohol consumption after resistance exercise reduces testosterone levels and rates of muscle protein synthesis while increasing stress hormones in men. 

Through sobriety and strategic nutrition, your muscles will thrive without booze dragging them down. Our healthcare team provides a residential treatment that includes counseling on nutrition and lifestyle changes and improvement of overall health.

What are the symptoms of drinking too much?

Even occasional, moderate alcohol consumption can have negative health effects. Heavy, regular alcohol consumption can have severe repercussions. 

Here’s how to know you’re drinking way more than you should:

  • You experience memory loss, confusion, and blackouts.
  • You slur your speech and lack coordination.
  • You have problems with your liver. 
  • You have problems with your stomach—diarrhea, cramps, abdominal pain.
  • You have trouble sleeping.
  • You have trouble focusing.
  • Your work, education, or relationships suffer.

Pay close attention to these common signs of alcoholism. They may indicate the need to seek professional help and make major lifestyle changes to avoid further deterioration. 

How much alcohol is bad for men?

The amount of alcohol consumption that typically causes health risks to emerge in men differs based on individual factors such as family history, lifestyle, exercise habits, medical status, and others. 

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), heavy drinking for men is consuming five or more drinks on any day or 15 or more drinks per week. 

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 recommend that adult men should drink up to two drinks per day. Anything above these recommendations increases the risk of developing alcohol use disorder, cardiovascular diseases, liver diseases, cancer, and other medical conditions. Four alcoholic drinks or more per occasion is considered binge drinking and poses exponentially higher health hazards.

Read more about how much alcohol is really too much for men and women.

Why do men drink more alcohol than women?

Men tend to drink more than women due to a combination of factors. 

  • Historically, drinking has been more acceptable for men. It is often associated with masculinity, power, and sexual behavior. 
  • Socially and culturally, alcohol has been used to symbolize and regulate gender roles, with men more likely to engage in heavy alcohol consumption in certain social contexts or to avoid responsibilities. 
  • Biologically, men and women metabolize alcohol differently because of the difference in body composition. Men generally have a higher percentage of water in their bodies, allowing them to dilute ethanol more effectively than women, which leads to lower blood alcohol concentrations for the same amount of alcohol consumed. 

However, there are arguments against these socio-cultural characteristics. South Korean researchers discovered that the vast majority of gender differences in harmful regular drinking are attributable to inherent tendency factors rather than external socio-economic characteristics. They suggest that intervention strategies should account for intrinsic male-female differences in alcohol use risks rather than solely targeting modifiable social factors.

In recent years, this gender gap in alcohol consumption has been narrowing, particularly among younger adults and in more developed countries. Research shows that societal norms are changing to accept the increase in female drinking.

Despite these changes, men still consume more alcohol and experience more alcohol-related issues than women. 

What is the average life expectancy of a male alcoholic?

The average life expectancy of a male alcoholic will typically vary depending on the severity of his alcohol addiction, the presence of alcohol-related diseases, and whether he seeks treatment. 

Men diagnosed with liver cirrhosis have an expected lifespan of up to 12 years after diagnosis. A 2014 study found that men hospitalized for alcohol use disorder have a life expectancy of just 47-53 years. They tend to die 24-28 years earlier on average than men without alcohol issues.

These figures are averages. Individual life expectancy for men with alcoholism varies and can rise with sobriety and lifestyle changes. 

Alcohol is a drug and poses significant risks specific to men and women everywhere. Get help if you can’t put down the bottle. 

Ardu Recovery Center can help

Recovery is a deeply personal journey. Rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach, we at Ardu Recovery Center develop customized treatment plans tailored to your specific needs and goals. 

Inpatient treatment at our residential facilities surrounds you with 24/7 support. Outpatient treatment programs, such as partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, offer flexible solutions to maintain your home and work routines or receive treatment while in a sober living facility.

We use proven forms of psychotherapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, experiential therapies, and family therapy. With these treatment modalities, you learn healthy coping skills so you aren’t compelled to rely on alcohol. A variety of therapeutic approaches allow you to find the modality that resonates best with you and your needs.

If you have a co-occurring mental health disorder—such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder—our dual diagnosis treatment program can help you heal from alcohol addiction while addressing other mental health issues.

Brandon Okey

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

Alcohol health risks for men FAQ

What are the side effects of alcohol on men?

Booze unleashes a bombardment of health hazards targeting men. Excessive drinking sabotages testosterone, interferes with reproduction, and can cause erectile dysfunction as well as genital shrinkage over time. It also has significant effects on the heart through blood pressure spikes, electrical shorts in heart rhythms, and the development of vascular disease. 

The liver also suffers, as it works hard trying to detoxify the body when alcohol is introduced. Muscle cells waste away as critical protein synthesis processes are interrupted. Weight gain, sleep disruption, accelerated aging, and suppressed immunity are other common side effects of alcohol experienced by men. 

Socially, intoxication fuels violence, accidental injuries, and the gradual erosion of cognition and communication abilities.

Does alcohol affect testosterone?

Alcohol significantly drags down testosterone. Booze suppresses luteinizing hormone production in the brain, a key signal that tells the testes to manufacture testosterone. It also accelerates enzymatic activity that converts testosterone directly into estrogen as levels plummet. Alcohol’s toxic inflammation and liver damage hamper hormonal and glandular function. Over time, men will become drained of vital testosterone, replaced by surging estrogen and related disorders.

Does alcohol make a man last longer in bed?

Alcohol doesn’t make you last longer; quite the opposite. Alcohol acts as a depressant, slowing sensations and neurological coordination. Premature climaxes or outright erectile dysfunction result as intoxication disrupts arousal. Months or years of progressive nerve toxicity and plummeting testosterone ensure sexual troubles outlive any party. 

Why risk relationships and fertility for temporary disinhibition that backfires on timing and performance? Beyond intercourse itself, intoxication impairs emotional intimacy despite aspects of “social lubrication”.

Will my erectile dysfunction go away if I stop drinking alcohol?

Quitting alcohol can be a transformative step towards resolving erectile dysfunction. As you bid farewell to excessive drinking, your body gets the chance to heal. Improved blood flow, regenerated nerves, and hormonal balance are potential outcomes. This positive change is not just about saying no to alcohol; it’s a commitment to revitalizing your sexual health. For men navigating these concerns, understanding the link between sobriety and sexual well-being is crucial.

Is alcohol worse for men?

While men and women metabolize alcohol differently, men tend to engage in risky drinking behaviors more often than women, which poses significant health risks. The misconception that men handle alcohol better than women can lead to a disregard for potential consequences. Acknowledging that alcohol-related issues impact everyone is crucial, emphasizing the importance of responsible drinking for both men and women. Balancing the enjoyment of alcohol with an awareness of its potential harm ensures a healthier lifestyle.

Does alcohol increase masculinity?

The belief that alcohol enhances masculinity is a misguided notion. Masculinity is not measured by the contents of a glass but by qualities such as responsibility, strength of character, and self-awareness. Associating alcohol with masculinity perpetuates stereotypes that can be detrimental to mental and physical health. 

Do drinkers have strong sperm?

Contrary to common belief, excessive alcohol consumption does not contribute to strong sperm. Heavy drinking can negatively impact sperm quality, affecting reproductive health. Alcohol-induced hormonal imbalances and oxidative stress can lead to damaged sperm DNA, potentially resulting in genetic issues. For those aspiring to enter fatherhood, recognizing the impact of alcohol on fertility underscores the importance of moderating drinking habits.

Why do men need more alcohol?

The notion that men need more alcohol is often rooted in differences in metabolism and body composition. However, needing more does not equate to benefiting more. While men may process alcohol differently, the risks associated with excessive alcohol consumption, including liver damage, alcoholic hepatitis, several types of cancer, and impaired judgment, are universal. It’s crucial for both men and women to prioritize drinking at moderate levels, recognizing that responsible drinking enhances well-being and reduces the likelihood of alcohol-related health issues.

Does alcohol affect erections?

Alcohol severely impairs essential blood flow by inflaming penile arteries and deadening arousal-inducing nerves as levels of alcohol consumption escalate over time. Months of excessive drinking causes permanent scarring and progressive cell injury which will increasingly interfere with physical and mental triggers for erectile stimulation. 

Alcohol also disrupts vascular dynamics, nerve conduction, and the structural integrity necessary for firm erections with proper function. The risks of irreversible harm from alcohol are preventable through education and prevention as early as possible.

What cancer risks arise from drinking?

Alcohol consumption has conclusively demonstrated direct links to the increased incidence and aggressiveness of various digestive system cancers. This occurs in both laboratory and population-based research, through repeated cellular damage caused by carcinogenic byproducts of intestinal ethanol metabolism. 

Dose-response elevation for oropharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, colon, and rectal malignancies appear across studies controlling for smoking and inheritance factors, with the risk of cancer increasing substantially beyond moderate drinking thresholds for these gastrointestinal sites. 

Alcohol likely also exacerbates numerous other cancer types by suppressing immunity, inflaming tissues chronically plus interfering with nutritional absorption.


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