Although attitudes are changing and a higher proportion of millennials are choosing to go tee-total, most of us still consume alcohol socially with friends and family.
On a Friday and Saturday, alcohol takes a prominent role, whether it’s during a night in watching Netflix, or out and about at the pub or restaurant.
The virtues of alcohol are clear. It’s a social lubricant which, at least for a while, puts us at ease, lowers our social inhibitions and makes us more confident.
Drinking makes us laugh easier. It can even make us sentimental, especially when a well-timed tune from our school days gets played.
Alcohol is often seen as an aphrodisiac, “a substance that increases sexual desire, sexual pleasure, or sexual behaviour."
However, this is far from the full story as alcohol and erections don’t mix well.
For all of its merits, alcohol is actually a depressant. This means the more you consume, the more the body slows down. Ultimately, this suppressing effect inhibits sexual performance.
Alcohol is a depressant of the central nervous system. When you consume alcohol, it has a slowing effect on your brain and has significant effects on most other organs which include the penis. Side effects include slower reaction times, difficulty in focusing or concentrating and reduced coordination.
Alcohol also decreases sexual desire making it difficult to get or maintain an erection or reach an orgasm. This is thought to happen because drinking too much 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.
Excessive alcohol consumption can cause both short-term and long-term erectile dysfunction.
Long-term alcohol abuse can cause damage to the nervous system which is responsible for triggering the signals that cause an erection. Studies have shown that prolonged abuse can cause irreversible damage to the nerves in the penis.
The good news is that multiple studies have shown that moderate alcohol-induced sexual dysfunction is reversible. When the body is free of alcohol, the adverse signs and symptoms no longer contribute to poor sexual performance.
Remember that erectile dysfunction is common for many men, especially as we age, and there is plenty you can do to improve your erectile function.
With respect to alcohol, the NHS guidelines suggest drinking no more than 14 units a week - which is roughly equivalent to 5 beers (at 5%) or a bottle and a half of wine – and to spread this over a number of days rather than binge all at once.
In addition to following the guidance on alcohol consumption, it's recommended that you improve your cardiovascular health (more exercise, better diet, less/no smoking), improve your quality of sleep, and increase your sexual frequency.
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