How Does Alcohol Affect Our Hormonal Health?

The endocrine system is home to the body’s network of hormones that regulate and support all the functions that keep us alive and healthy. Anything that can alter hormone production can have a detrimental effect on our well-being. One thing that can have a significant impact on endocrine and hormonal health is alcohol. 

Drinking interferes with many hormones, both directly and indirectly. The changes it makes can have long-lasting effects that can change how your body looks, performs, and feels. In some cases, the effects are cumulative, increasing with alcohol consumption. These changes could be irreversible in some cases. 

The effects of alcohol consumption can impact men and women of all ages, going well-beyond short-term problems such as a headache and hangovers. Alcohol abuse can lead to infertility, life-altering accidents, and many dire health conditions.

In many cases, alcohol’s impact on the body results from the effects on the endocrine hormones. Even one hormone out of balance can signal a cascading effect that alters other hormones. 

No two people experience alcohol’s effects the same as body tolerance, and alcohol’s impact can vary significantly. However, just because you have a high tolerance for alcohol and do not get drunk easily does not mean it is healthy for you to have multiple drinks each night. You may not realize the damage you do to organs such as your liver until much later in life – when it becomes too late to make any positive changes. 

Why should you worry about alcohol’s effects on your hormones?

The reason is simple: any hormone affected by alcohol cannot properly perform its function. The area of the body associated with that function will suffer. Maintaining a healthy hormonal balance is crucial for optimum well-being as you age. 

Short/Long-Term Effects of Alcohol On Hormones

While some of the effects of alcohol on your hormones last only a short time, others initiate long-term changes to your health. Testosterone is one of the most essential hormones in a man’s body, not just for sexual performance. The androgen hormone also helps maintain healthy bones, muscles, circulation, heart health, brain functions, metabolism, and more. 

Alcohol has a detrimental effect on testosterone production as it disrupts the actions of the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and testes. Each of these endocrine glands is crucial for testosterone synthesis. 

It takes only 30 minutes after consuming alcohol for your body’s testosterone levels to decline. That decrease significantly affects fertility, as testosterone stimulates sperm cell maturation (spermatogenesis). Alcohol directly impedes the Sertoli cells in the testes in their role in spermatogenesis. A condition called spermatogenic arrest, interrupted sperm development resulting in low sperm cell concentration has been found in 50 percent of heavy drinkers compared to only 20 percent in men who do not drink excessively regularly. 

Some short-term effects of alcohol on the endocrine system include:

  • Increasing insulin secretion which can cause temporary low blood sugar levels
  • Impair the body’s response to low blood sugar levels
  • Interfere with glucose production as the body metabolizes the alcohol instead
  • Temporary boosting of serotonin levels
  • Increased dopamine release can lead to addiction desiring more feel-good hormones
  • Increased anxiety disorders and depression

Some long-term effects of alcohol on the endocrine system include:

  • Cause high and low blood sugar episodes
  • Impair the body’s responses to insulin, increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Interfere with the effectiveness of insulin medications for diabetes
  • Cause infertility and long-lasting damage to the reproductive organs – especially dangerous in younger men
  • Increased blood pressure and heart disease risks
  • Decreased serotonin production that leads to anxiety disorders
  • Brain addiction to dopamine high and ongoing substance abuse
  • Frontal lobe brain shrinkage
  • Increased cortisol levels keep the body on high alert while causing a decline in testosterone and human growth hormone (HGH) production

Direct Effects of Alcohol on the Endocrine Pathways

Alcohol usage can lead to many problems, including changes in the musculoskeletal system, metabolism, immunity, cognitive functions, heart health, appearance, and more – all stemming from its effects on your hormones. Endocrine pathways guide the signaling of hormones along a line of actions, such as a hormone from the hypothalamus triggering the production of another by the pituitary gland, which leads to a hormone, such as testosterone, from the gonads.

Because alcohol permeates the tissues and organs of the body, it results in numerous abnormalities of functions. These effects are seen in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid (HPT) axis, hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis, hypothalamic-posterior pituitary (HPP) axis, and hypothalamic-pituitary-growth hormone/insulin growth factor 1 (GH/IGF-1) axis. Each pathway leads to a spiraling effect as one alcohol-influenced hormone impacts others down its axis. The effects move beyond these points to tissues and vital hormone-producing organs. 

The HPA axis is highly sensitive to alcohol effects, regulating immune, metabolic, cardiovascular, and other functions. Alcohol puts undue stress on the body, creating changes in hormone production to deal with that stress. Some of the hormones affected in the HPA axis include but are not limited to corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), corticosteroid, arginine vasopressin (AVP), cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine.

The HPG axis regulates sex hormones, including testosterone, progesterone, luteinizing hormone (LH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), and estrogen. That is why excessive drinking often leads to reduced libido, infertility, erectile dysfunction, and gonadal atrophy. 

The HPT axis maintains thyroid hormone balance, and alcohol abuse often presents a reduced response to crucial thyroid hormones, including thyroid-releasing hormone (TRH), thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), triiodothyronine (T3), and thyroxin (T4). As a result, there could be decreased thyroid volume and increased thyroid fibrosis.

The GH/IGF-1 axis is another area of significant worry due to the critical functions of growth hormone in the body. GH stimulates cellular regeneration, essential for maintaining healthy muscles, bones, skin, hair, nails, and organs. It is the body’s master hormone because it influences metabolism, immunity, brain functions, and heart health. Some vital hormones affected by alcohol in this pathway include growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH), growth hormone, and IGF-1. Chronic alcohol abuse can lower these hormones and decrease insulin sensitivity.

The HPP axis produces oxytocin and antidiuretic hormone (ADH), also called arginine vasopressin (AVP). AVP keeps the body’s water balanced, and alcohol consumption can alter that balance. Memory deficits associated with alcohol abuse may occur due to the AVP’s effect on cognitive function.  

Common Effects of Alcohol on Hormonal Health

Each feedback axis suffers from the effects of alcohol. Here are some of the more common effects of alcohol on hormonal health:

  • Reduce testosterone levels and increase estrogen 

The body converts excess free testosterone into estradiol (estrogen). Drinking causes a decline in testosterone, offsetting the testosterone-to-estrogen balance. Too much estrogen in a male’s body can lead to erectile dysfunction, infertility, obesity, and gynecomastia. Learn more about gynecomastia causes and how to prevent or treat it.

  • Altered cortisol levels 

Elevated cortisol inhibits sleep and the production of other essential hormones. Fatigue during the day causes overeating and increased sugar and caffeine consumption, leading to weight gain and health-related issues. Long-term alcohol abuse can have the opposite effect, stunting cortisol production and making it difficult for the body to respond to stressful situations.

  • Raise blood sugar levels and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes

Impaired glucose metabolism due to alcohol consumption increases the risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Because the body cannot use the glucose in the bloodstream, it stores away as body fat. 

  • Interfering with vitamin D metabolism and bone density

Vitamin D is crucial for regulating calcium and keeping the body’s bones strong and healthy. Alcohol alters testosterone and GH levels, affecting bone metabolism and increasing the risk of osteoporosis and fractures. 

  • Effects on the pancreas

Pancreatic inflammation, damaged islet cells, and increased risk of pancreatic cancer are possible due to alcohol abuse.

  • Immunity and inflammation

Alcohol can increase inflammation directly and indirectly, leading to cell damage, changes in gut bacterial flora, and altering cytokine levels in tissues that help with immunity. 

Other issues stemming from hormonal interference due to alcohol abuse include:

  • Poor temperature regulation
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss or thinning
  • Aging skin
  • Skin dehydration can lead to psoriasis and skin infections
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Anxiety 

Of course, these issues are in addition to other problems from drinking, including kidney damage, gastritis, fatty liver, acid reflux, double vision, heart attacks, high blood pressure, stroke, and brain damage. 

How Long Does It Take for Your Hormones to Balance After Quitting Alcohol?

Much of the damage done to the body by alcohol can be reversed, but some of it is permanent. The extent depends on how long you have been drinking and how much you consume daily. 

In most cases, it will likely take many months for your body to see improvements after you stop drinking if you are a heavy drinker. Some areas may require years of repair. 

You can help the process along by practicing good lifestyle choices, such as:

  • Exercise: physical activity helps support hormone production, decreases fat storage, boosts dopamine, and reduces cortisol levels. 
  • Choose healthier foods: ensuring you eat a well-balanced diet is crucial. Include plenty of fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats, and fiber. 
  • Get more sleep: your body needs 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep each night to optimize your hormone production and usage. 
  • Reduce stress: cortisol is the enemy of testosterone and growth hormone, and it inhibits sleep. Find healthy ways to reduce stress – not alcohol. Try yoga, meditation, massages, Epsom salt baths, and long walks. 
  • Stop bad habits: quit drinking alcohol, smoking, and illicit drugs to provide your body with the best possible health. 


Hormonal balance is crucial for you to age in the healthiest way possible. Declining or unbalanced hormones can lead to many health issues, some of which can decrease morbidity and mortality.

Taking steps to stop drinking is crucial if you think that alcohol is affecting your hormone levels. Your doctor can help you take those steps. A hormone specialist may be able to help you restore balance to damaged hormone levels.