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How many times have you had a drink or two to get in the mood? Alcohol has a reputation as a sexual performance enabler and enhancer. Unfortunately, this has led many of us to overindulge, leading to the only thing worse than a hangover: whiskey dick.
What is “whiskey dick”?
“Whiskey dick” is a real thing; it is better known as alcohol-related erectile dysfunction (ED). Essentially, whiskey dick is the inability to get a sufficient erection after consuming alcohol. You might not be able to get an erection at all or get one that’s weaker or doesn’t last as long as you like.
How many drinks does that take? It’s not an easy question to answer. Alcohol tolerance varies widely, depending on your body chemistry and factors such as how much you drink and how often, and so does the body’s reaction to it—including any side effects in sexual function.
How does alcohol cause ED?
Alcohol acts as a depressant on the central nervous system (CNS)—meaning, it has a sedating effect on the brain and body. Think of alcohol’s typical effects: the pleasant effects like relaxation and a feeling of warmth. Alcohol also comes with some negative effects, though, like lack of inhibition, a decline in motor skills, and—you guessed it—whiskey dick (Mathew, 2021).
- During sexual arousal, the brain sends messages to the penis, telling it to become erect. The intoxicating effects of alcohol may slow the signals between the brain and body, resulting in ED.
- Drinking alcohol causes dehydration, which lowers blood volume and reduces circulation. Since erections rely on healthy blood flow, this may lead to erectile problems.
- Alcohol may interfere with testosterone production, leading to low testosterone levels and poor erections.
- Long-term heavy drinking can also affect blood vessel health, which may decrease blood flow to the penis.
How to prevent whiskey dick
Alcohol has an interesting relationship with ED. At low-to-moderate levels (up to 1–2 drinks per day for men), alcohol may actually help erections and protect against ED. This is thought to be due to alcohol’s ability to decrease performance anxiety and increase sexual desire. However, binge drinking or drinking too much can lead to a loss of penis nerve sensitivity, lower libido, sexual dysfunction, and other effects. So it all depends on how much you drink (Sivaratnam, 2021).
The best way to prevent whiskey dick is to avoid heavy drinking.
Is there a female equivalent?
Alcohol consumption can interfere with sexual arousal in both genders. Alcohol causes dehydration, and it depresses your central nervous system. Just as with men, these effects can reduce circulation and nerve sensitivity associated with arousal. Some studies show that women have decreased arousal, sexual desire, and sexual satisfaction, especially with heavy alcohol use (George, 2019).
How long does it last?
For most, whiskey dick will last only as long as it takes for you to sober up. After that, you should be able to get back to normal erections. However, chronic heavy drinking may also be one cause of true ED.
Drinking too much alcohol can also increase your chances of developing high blood pressure (hypertension), damaging blood vessels throughout the body. That can impede blood flow to your brain, heart, and penis, raising your risk of stroke, heart disease, and ED (Day, 2019).
How to deal with whiskey dick?
If you experience whiskey dick, your body may be telling you to take a look at how much you’re drinking.
The 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans say that to reduce your risk of serious health problems, it’s best to drink only in moderation. That’s defined as no more than two drinks a day for men and one daily drink for women (USDA/HHS, 2020). Your sex life can only benefit.
- Day, E., & Rudd, J. (2019). Alcohol use disorders and the heart. Addiction (Abingdon, England), 114(9), 1670–1678. doi: 10.1111/add.14703. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31309639/
- George W. H. (2019). Alcohol and sexual health behavior: What we know and how we know it. Journal of Sex Research, 56(4-5), 409–424. doi: 10.1080/00224499.2019.1588213. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30958036/
- Mathew F, Goyal A. (2021). Ethanol. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK556147/
- Sivaratnam, L., Selimin, D. S., Abd Ghani, S. R., Nawi, H. M., & Nawi, A. M. (2021). Behavior-related erectile dysfunction: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 18(1), 121–143. doi: 10.1016/j.jsxm.2020.09.009. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33223424/
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (USDA/HHS). (2020). Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. Retrieved from https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2021-03/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans-2020-2025.pdf
- Wang, X. M., Bai, Y. J., Yang, Y. B., Li, J. H., Tang, Y., & Han, P. (2018). Alcohol intake and risk of erectile dysfunction: a dose-response meta-analysis of observational studies. International Journal of Impotence Research, 30(6), 342–351. doi: 10.1038/s41443-018-0022-x. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30232467/
Dr. Chimene Richa is a board-certified Ophthalmologist and Senior Medical Writer/Reviewer at Ro.