ERECTIONS ∙ 3 minutes read

Erectile dysfunction and alcohol: the sober truth

By Ashton Sheriff

Alcohol and erections don’t mix.

Perhaps you have heard of the terms “whisky dick”, “brewer’s droop”, or “the sambuca sag”.

These crude euphemisms might seem funny at first, but they mask the murky and pretty serious truth about alcohol-induced erectile dysfunction.

While a night of binge drinking may only cause short-term erectile dysfunction, excessive alcohol consumption could lead to longer-term erection problems.

If you need some motivation to trade the Smirnoff for a smoothie before the next Dry January, then here are all the ways alcohol can meddle with your erection.

Short-term effects of alcohol on erections

Painting the town red is not only a sure-fire way to treat yourself to a cracking hangover, but it may also come at an unexpected cost.

As you may have heard from a friend (or perhaps experienced yourself), drinking too much alcohol can make it difficult to get and maintain an erection. This is thought to happen because drinking too much alcohol can cause a drop in blood pressure.

When the body senses your blood pressure is low, it signals the release of a hormone called angiotensin, which constricts your blood vessels, including the ones needed to pump blood into the penis in order to get an erection. This is why you might find it difficult to “perform” after a heavy night.

But that’s just the start of alcohol’s dastardly deeds. It also lowers sexual sensitivity. Alcohol inhibits the parts of your central nervous system that are vital for sexual arousal and orgasm.

Whereas a night of binge drinking may cause erectile dysfunction in the short term, sustained drinking may lead to more severe, long-term complications for you and your erections.

Here’s why.

Long-term effects of alcohol on erections

The UK Chief Medical Officers' (CMO) low risk drinking guidelines suggest drinking no more than 14 units a week - which is roughly equivalent to 6 beers. Anything beyond this is excessive.

Long-term, chronic abuse of alcohol can cause damage to nerve function, which can lead to a more permanent form of erectile dysfunction.

The nerve damage caused by excessive alcohol consumption is known as alcoholic neuropathy.

Alcoholic neuropathy occurs because alcoholism causes vitamin B deficiency. Alcohol  decreases vitamin B absorption in the intestine and reduces the stores of vitamin B found in the liver.

This depletion of vitamin B results in damage to the nerves of the central nervous system (CNS) - which is bad news for your erections, because the CNS is what carries the signal from your brain to the autonomic pathways that trigger an erection.

What’s more, studies have shown that after a certain point, the damage to erectile function caused by chronic alcohol abuse can be irreversible.

But do not despair. If you want to keep your erectile machinery in tip-top condition, the answer is simple.

Ditch the drink. Or at least, drink within the recommended limits.

Go for a run (it’ll improve your circulation and give you stronger erections), meditate, or do some yoga (both of which will improve your erections by making you feel more relaxed).

The bottom line

Excessive alcohol consumption can cause both short-term and long-term erectile dysfunction. Avoid binge drinking, take part in healthy activities that don’t involve alcohol, and be kind to your body. Your penis will thank you for it.   

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