ERECTIONS ∙ 4 minutes read

Alcohol and erectile dysfunction: the sober truth

By Ashton Sheriff | Medically reviewed by Dr Jaskirt Matharu

Alcohol and erections don’t mix.

Perhaps you have heard of the terms “whisky dick”, “brewer’s droop”, or “the sambuca sag” (we’d be surprised if you’d heard of the last one, though, as we made it up). 

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.

Can alcohol cause erectile dysfunction?

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. When this happens, the penis can feel more numb to the touch and sensations that might have previously felt pleasurable may feel duller. 

So, we’ve established that a night of binge drinking may cause erectile dysfunction in the short term. But what about the long term? As you might have guessed, prolonged 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 don’t despair. If you want to keep your Bratwurst in tip-top condition, the answer is simple.

Ditch the drink (or at least, drink within the recommended limits). 

Other things you can do to maintain proper erectile function include:

  • Exercise: running or doing another form of cardiovascular exercise can improve your circulation, which makes it easier to get stronger erections. 
  • Find your inner zen: meditation and yoga can both help to make you feel more relaxed. Relaxation is key to longer-lasting erections, so doing activities that promote tranquillity is likely to be of great benefit.

Can you take erectile dysfunction pills when drinking alcohol?

It’s not unsafe to take erectile dysfunction pills (also known as PDE5 inhibitors) when drinking. However, this doesn’t mean it’s all right to go on a bender fuelled by booze and ED tablets. Quite the contrary. 

Drinking large amounts of alcohol at the same time as taking erectile dysfunction pills (e.g. Viagra, sildenafil, tadalafil, etc.) can cause a sudden decrease in blood pressure. This may result in dizziness, a rapid heartbeat, a headache or even fainting. 

Therefore, it’s best to avoid drinking large quantities of alcohol if you plan to take any erectile dysfunction medication. A small amount of alcohol should be fine, but anything excessive is a no-go. 

The bottom line:

Drinking too much alcohol 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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