Does Alcohol Abuse Affect Testosterone Levels?
Commonly known as the sex hormone which influences both sex drive and libido, testosterone is also essential to other body functions such as muscle formation, bone mass, fat distribution, the production of red blood cells and sperm, and brain health. No matter a person’s sex, too much alcohol can wreak havoc on their body’s ability to produce and regulate hormones, such as testosterone.
How much testosterone levels fluctuate is directly related to the amount of alcohol consumed, according to a study by The Testosterone Centers of Texas. The more someone abuses alcohol, the more likely they are to experience changes in their testosterone levels, also referred to as “T levels.”
How Much Alcohol Does It Take To Affect Testosterone Levels?
Research has indicated that there has been a significant drop in testosterone levels. One study found that testosterone levels in American men today are 25 percent lower than the levels of their age-matched counterparts from the 1980s. According to recent research, alcohol may be one of the biggest reasons for this decrease.
So, how much alcohol does it take to affect someone’s T levels? Research indicates that “moderate” drinking (one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men) may cause a slight reduction in testosterone in men, and have no effect in women, which isn’t generally concerning.
However, heavy drinking (five or more drinks in a two-hour period), whether occasionally or on a regular basis, has been shown to cause more severe health complications. These health concerns can include lower testosterone levels in men, higher testosterone levels in women, and fertility issues in both men and women.
Factors That Can Influence Alcohol’s Effects On Testosterone Levels
Many different factors can influence how alcohol abuse will affect someone’s testosterone levels. These factors may include the sex of the individual, their age, and what type of alcohol they are abusing.
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An Individual’s Sex
Ethanol, the main chemical component in alcohol, is considered toxic to men’s reproductive organs. In large doses, alcohol can reduce testosterone function, sperm count, fertility, and can even cause cell damage to the testes. As a result, it is common for men with alcohol use disorders (AUD) to suffer from infertility.
Women, on the other hand, have the opposite problem. Excess alcohol consumption typically leads to an increased level of testosterone, which can result in the loss of specific female sex characteristics and increased risk of infertility.
An Individual’s Age
Some clinical studies indicate that moderate alcohol consumption rates can vary depending on the life stage of the individual. The amount of alcohol an individual consumes at age 20 may not be the same as the amount they consume at age 40.
As men and women age, their hormones naturally fluctuate, which can cause more substantial hormonal changes with lesser amounts of alcohol, compared to when they were younger. For people in their 40s and 50s, even “moderate” amounts of alcohol may drastically impact their hormone production.
Premenopausal women can experience a decrease in progesterone and an increase in estrogen when they consume too much alcohol. Some studies even suggest that alcohol consumption may delay the onset of menopause. However, binge drinking can be detrimental where hormone disruption and other health issues are concerned.
The Type Of Alcohol Being Abused
The type of alcohol someone drinks also factors into how it will influence their testosterone levels. Beer, for example, often contains phytoestrogen and prolactin—two chemicals that can increase estrogen levels, which in turn decreases testosterone. These chemicals are typically found in hops and barley, two of the more common beer ingredients.
Wine and some liquors, such as bourbon, also contain the estrogen-increasing chemical phytoestrogen. Phytoestrogen naturally occurs in many plants and can increase estrogen levels and reduce testosterone.
Side Effects Of Irregular Testosterone Levels Caused By Alcohol Abuse
When testosterone levels are thrown off by alcohol abuse, it can cause a range of side effects to occur. Alcohol can promote the conversion of testosterone into estrogen, and higher than normal estrogen levels can increase the risk of breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men.
Lowered testosterone levels in men who abuse alcohol may cause them to feel decreased energy levels and sex drive, loss of body hair and muscle mass, and cause them to develop swollen breasts and shrunken testicles. Increased testosterone levels in women who abuse alcohol may cause them to experience irregular menstrual cycles, excess hair growth, and frequent mood swings.
Excess alcohol consumption also causes significant strain on the liver, which is a vital organ responsible for over 500 unique functions, including testosterone production. When the liver becomes too busy with metabolizing massive amounts of alcohol—which it prioritizes because it identifies alcohol as a poison and attempts to remove it as quickly as possible— it may struggle to keep pace with normal testosterone production.
Finding Individualized Treatment For Alcohol Abuse And Addiction
Alcohol abuse can affect testosterone levels in many unhealthy ways. Individuals who struggle with alcohol abuse and addiction may find that they are not able to stop using alcohol on their own. If this is the case, the best solution is to find individualized treatment for their alcohol use disorder. In some cases, individuals may continue to abuse alcohol because they may fear to experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
To ensure individuals are as comfortable as possible during treatment, individualized inpatient treatment programs provide comprehensive treatment that will address the physical and psychological aspects of addiction. Comprehensive treatment is often comprised of a combination of talk therapies such as dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and medication-assisted treatments.