For most guys, alcohol is the king social lubricant, the liquid cheat code for boosting their confidence in the bedroom. A drink or two can help you loosen up, feel confident, and perform better. But too much booze can have the opposite effect: A single night of overdoing it on the sauce can leave you with a case of whiskey dick while regularly overindulging can leave you with long-term erectile dysfunction (just ask Matthew Perry).
While alcohol can make you feel like you’ve got Pete Davidson-level BDE, booze actually sedates you and affects centers in your brain that regulate erections, says urologist Wagner Baptiste, M.D. Over time, drinking too much can also lower your testosterone levels, lead to depression, and mess with your heart—all of which contribute to ED.
Here’s what you need to know about how booze kills your erections, how to prevent it, and how stopping drinking might cure your ED.
What is Whiskey Dick?
Whiskey dick, or alcohol-related erectile dysfunction, is the inability to get it up after having a few drinks. It doesn’t have to be Jim Beam or Jack Daniel’s—any type of alcohol can make it difficult to get hard or leave you with a semi or fast-fading erection.
The number of drinks it takes to affect your member varies based on factors including gender, weight, how much you’ve eaten or drank that day, and your DNA, says Baptiste.
“One to two drinks won’t show much of an effect,” Baptiste says. “Some men can handle three to four drinks [with no impact], but six or more raises your risk of ED.”
How long does whiskey dick last?
Depends on how quickly you metabolize alcohol. Once you’ve sobered up and the booze is out of your system, your erections should go back to normal, says Baptiste.
How Does Alcohol Cause ED?
Alcohol is a depressant and affects the response of your central nervous system. When you’re aroused, nerve signals from your brain trigger blood flow to your penis to cause an erection. Too much alcohol slows down connection and impairs the steady flow of these signals, making it harder to get erect.
Long-term heavy drinking can also impact your erections in other ways.
Your liver is the main clearing site for alcohol. Inside the organ, enzymes metabolize booze into carbon dioxide and water. Drinking too much stops your liver from not only clearing alcohol, but also clearing estrogen—yes, men need estrogen too—which increases the more you drink. And because alcohol slows down your liver, you can’t get rid of that excess estrogen from your body.
“If you can’t clear enough estrogen, it will affect your testosterone levels, lower your libido, and cause problems with erections,” Baptiste says.
Too much alcohol also increases the production of sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) in the liver, says Baptiste. SHBG regulates how sex hormones, like testosterone, are distributed in your body. If you have too much SHBG, it binds to free testosterone, Baptiste says.
Free testosterone gets its name because it’s not bound to proteins like SHBG. This unbound T is free to get to work in your cells to build and maintain muscle mass, and help organs—like your heart—work more efficiently.
If too much of your body’s testosterone supply becomes bound to SHBG, your free T levels tank and you can develop symptoms of low T—including erectile dysfunction. “You can become testosterone deficient by the elevation of SHBG alone,” Baptiste says.
KNOW YOUR T
Gives you a beer gut
Long-term alcohol use causes weight gain (but you knew that). A sugary cocktail or a carb-heavy beer over a long-term period of excess slowly expands your waistline.
Not only does alcohol stop you from burning fat and tack on empty calories, but those junk food cravings keep your fridge stocked with Uber Eats for days.
The more weight you gain, the higher your risk is for low testosterone and obesity, both of which increase your likelihood for erectile dysfunction, Baptiste says.
Causes nerve damage
Your nervous system is a driving force for a rock-hard erection. The nerve signals from your brain trigger the release of nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels so that blood can flow to your penis,” Baptiste says
Chronic alcohol can damage these nerves and cause a condition called alcoholic polyneuropathy.
Around 44 percent of chronic alcohol users experience polyneuropathy symptoms which include pins and needles in the hands and feet, numbness in your arms and legs, and—yep—erectile dysfunction.
The severity of the nerve damage depends on factors like how long you drink and the overall quantity of alcohol you consume, but one still-cited 2011 study suggests drinking around 3.4 ounces of alcohol every day for three years can trigger the condition (1).
Harms your heart
Heart disease is a common cause of ED. And a common cause of heart disease is excessive drinking (see where we’re going?).
A 2018 review found heavy alcohol use increases the risk for heart disease outcomes, including mortality (2).
Another 2018 study found binge drinkers who drank more than two to three times in a month had a 70 percent increased risk of high blood pressure (3). High blood pressure not only leads to heart disease, but men with high blood pressure double their risk of ED compared to men with normal blood pressure.
Tanks your mood
Because alcohol is a sedative, too much can impact your mental health, Baptiste said. “Depression reduces your sex drive and can affect your confidence and ability to have sex,” Baptiste says.
If I Stop Drinking Will My ED Go Away?
It’s possible to reverse erectile dysfunction caused by drinking too much.
If you suspect your drinking is leaving you limp, talk to your doctor. He can assess your sex drive, testosterone levels, and the quality of your erections, Baptiste says.
He may suggest lowering your alcohol consumption—or stopping altogether. If you do this and clean up your diet, exercise, get quality sleep and reduce stress, your erections can return to their former strength within two or three months, says Baptiste.
One caveat: Your erections might get slightly worse before they get better. Withdrawal symptoms from alcohol include anxiety, tremors, fatigue, mood changes, and increased blood pressure—all of which can spur short-term ED. The effect won’t last long: one 2022 study found 92 out of 104 men showed ED improvement after three months of no alcohol (6).
When Should You See a Doctor for Whiskey Dick?
If erectile dysfunction affects your ability to have sex more than 50 percent of the time, book an appointment with your doctor. They’ll assess any underlying conditions, including heart disease, and any effects caused by alcohol if drinking is part of your regular routine.
The Bottom Line
Alcohol can cause whiskey dick and erectile dysfunction. While one or two ED encounters during sex isn’t cause for concern, a regular occurrence warrants a trip to your doctor. They’ll assess your alcohol use and identify any underlying conditions that may be the root cause of erectile dysfunction.