Erectile dysfunction (ED) is an inability to achieve or maintain an erection firm enough for sexual activity.

The process of getting an erection is complex and involves your:

  • brain
  • hormones
  • blood vessels
  • nerves

Drinking alcohol can affect all of these parts of your body and can contribute to the development of erectile dysfunction.

Consuming a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time, such as a single evening, can cause changes that make it harder to get an erection. These changes may occur in your:

  • the nervous system
  • hormone levels
  • traffic

Chronic (long-term) overconsumption of alcohol can cause permanent damage to your blood vessels and nerves.

Read on as we take a closer look at how alcohol contributes to erectile dysfunction.

Getting an erection is a complex process, and erectile dysfunction can occur if there is a problem at any stage.

Thoughts of sex or stimulation of the penis activates the parasympathetic nervous system and the release of neurotransmitters from the nerves in the penis. These neurotransmitters relax the muscles of the arteries in the penis, which increases blood flow by 20 to 40 times.

Short-term causes of erectile dysfunction

A temporary inability to have an erection can occur after consuming any type of alcohol.

According to a 2018 study, short-term alcohol consumption depresses your central nervous system and slows the transmission of information between your brain and your penis. This can lead to decreased penile sensitivity.

Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it dehydrates and increases urination. Dehydration can lead to increased levels of the hormone angiotensin, which narrows blood vessels. Angiotensin can restrict blood flow to the penis.

According to the oldest 1998 research and more recent animal studies, alcohol can also lead to lower circulating testosterone levels. A testosterone deficiency limits the production of nitric oxide, which is the key molecule that relaxes the blood vessels in your penis.

Chronic effects of alcohol

Chronic consumption of large amounts of alcohol can damage your nerves, increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, and damage blood vessels, which can impact your ability to get an erection.

A Report on studies 2021 found a significant relationship between regular alcohol consumption and ED.

Nervous system dysfunction

According to a 2020 review, anywhere from 16 to 73 percent of chronic heavy drinkers suffer from a dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system. The most common symptom is erectile dysfunction. Your autonomic nervous system largely controls unconscious functions.

Cardiovascular disease and damage to blood vessels

It is well established that ED is closely linked to cardiovascular disease.

According to a 2018 reviewlight to moderate drinking is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, while heavy drinking is associated with increased cardiovascular mortality.

A study 2018 found that excessive alcohol consumption increases the risk of developing high blood pressure. High blood pressure is a risk factor for sexual dysfunction.

Results of human and animal studies suggest that excessive alcohol consumption is associated with damage to blood vessels.

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome develops when a person who drinks heavily suddenly stops drinking. It has been linked to cardiovascular symptoms such as high blood pressure which could potentially interfere with the ability to get an erection.

Other common withdrawal symptoms include:

Symptoms usually start 6-12 hours after your last drink and are usually more severe after 48-72 hours.

Although reducing your alcohol intake may cause short-term symptoms that contribute to erectile dysfunction, it will likely improve your sexual health in the long term.

In a study 2022 of 104 people with alcohol use disorder and erectile dysfunction, 88.5% showed improvements in erectile dysfunction after 3 months without alcohol consumption.

Alcohol can affect sexual function in people of all genders in various ways.

A study 2021 in India included 100 participants categorized as male with alcohol dependence syndrome. The researchers found that 48 participants had sexual dysfunction. Of these 48:

  • 87.5% said they had less libido
  • 79.1% had sexual arousal dysfunction
  • 58% had erectile dysfunction
  • 54% said they had difficulty reaching orgasm

Alcohol consumption can also:

  • delay ejaculation
  • increase libido with moderate amounts of alcohol, but decrease libido with large amounts of alcohol

In people designated female at birth, alcohol can:

Occasionally experiencing erectile dysfunction is normal and nothing to worry about. This can happen if you have been drinking or feeling stressed or anxious.

However, it’s a good idea to see a doctor if this becomes a regular problem. Sometimes erectile dysfunction can be a sign of an underlying health condition like high blood pressure.

It’s also a good idea to see a doctor if you think you have a problem with alcohol. Signs of alcohol use disorder include:

  • drink alone and in secret
  • loss of interest in activities other than alcohol
  • craving for alcohol
  • experience withdrawal symptoms
  • make alcohol use a priority over other responsibilities
  • drink in the morning
  • inability to control the amount of alcohol you drink
  • alcohol contributing to financial or family problems

Alcohol consumption can contribute to the development of erectile dysfunction by:

  • slow down your central nervous system
  • causing dehydration
  • lower your testosterone levels

Long-term alcohol consumption can damage your blood vessels and nerves.

It’s normal to have erectile dysfunction from time to time, especially when drinking.

If you regularly have trouble maintaining an erection when sober or after only drinking small amounts of alcohol, it’s a good idea to see a doctor to rule out an underlying health condition.