Overconsuming alcohol negatively affects almost every aspect of your health. Your hormone health is no exception.

Drinking alcohol excessively can cause both short-term and long-term changes to many hormones in your body, including testosterone.

Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone. It gives men their masculine features and plays a critical role in muscle and bone growth as well as sperm development.

When testosterone levels drop, it can lead to problems, such as:

  • erectile dysfunction
  • infertility
  • loss of muscle mass

Even though this article focuses on testosterone in men’s health, women also produce a small amount of testosterone in their ovaries. Low levels of testosterone in women can lead to low sex drive and brittle bones.

Keep reading to learn about the connection between alcohol and your testosterone levels.

There are three glands needed for the production of testosterone in men: the hypothalamus, anterior pituitary gland, and the testes.

  1. Your hypothalamus releases a hormone called gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), which acts on your anterior pituitary gland.
  2. Your anterior pituitary gland then releases luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).
  3. In response to LH and FSH, your testes then synthesize testosterone.

Alcohol can disrupt testosterone production by interfering with all three glands.

Long-term effects of alcohol on testosterone

Heavy drinkers are more likely to have poor testicular function than people who consume a moderate amount of alcohol.

Heavy drinking is usually considered more than 15 drinks a week for men or more than eight drinks a week for women.

Men who drink heavily are more likely to experience:

  • erectile dysfunction
  • low testosterone levels
  • low libido

It’s thought chronic alcohol misuse damages the Leydig cells in your testes, which are responsible for testosterone production. Alcohol may also interfere with the release of LH, FSH, and GnRH.

Moderate alcohol consumption doesn’t seem to have long-term effects on reproductive health or testosterone levels.

Moderate alcohol consumption is usually defined as no more than one drink for women or two drinks for men in a single day.

Short-term effects of alcohol on testosterone

It’s thought that acute alcohol consumption can cause short-term impairments in testosterone release by negatively affecting your hypothalamus and pituitary gland.

Research has found that testosterone can drop in as little as 30 minutes after alcohol consumption.

In one study, healthy men were given a pint a whiskey per day for 30 days, and their testosterone levels were compared to those of men with chronic alcoholism.

The healthy men’s testosterone levels began dropping by the third day and reached similar levels to those of the men with alcoholism by the end of the month.

Alcohol impairs the function of Sertoli cells in your testes. These cells are needed for sperm maturation.

The development of sperm is called spermatogenesis. Both testosterone and FSH play a role in spermatogenesis.

Disruptions to these hormones can lead to spermatogenic arrest. Spermatogenic arrest is an interrupted development of sperm that can lead to low sperm concentration in semen.

Studies have found that 50 percent of heavy drinkers had spermatogenic arrest compared to only 20 percent of men without alcoholism.

They also found that men who drank heavily had slightly but significantly smaller testicles than men who didn’t.

A 2017 study looking at 16,395 healthy men found that heavy drinking may negatively affect semen volume and sperm morphology. Moderate alcohol consumption didn’t have a significant effect on either parameter.

Another study looking at 8,344 healthy men from Europe and the United States also found that moderate alcohol intake didn’t affect semen quality.

Although it’s commonly known that women shouldn’t drink while pregnant, some research suggests that men who drink heavily before fertilization may also put their future baby at a heightened risk for developing birth defects.

Quitting alcohol can help reverse some of the damage to your brain and testes.

However, depending on how much and how long you’ve been drinking, recovery can take months or years. Some damage may be permanent.

One mouse study found that alcohol damage on the male reproductive tract was somewhat reversible after 10 weeks of abstaining from alcohol. Although the results of animal studies don’t always carry over to humans, the results of this study suggest that at least a partial recovery is possible.

More research is needed on human subjects to better understand the extent that the human reproductive system can heal itself.

Adopting an overall healthy lifestyle can help support your recovery. Avoiding junk food, eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and getting adequate sleep can all help you maintain optimal hormone levels.

People with a history of alcohol misuse are at a heightened risk for developing low testosterone. Continuing to drink heavily while undergoing testosterone replacement therapy may undermine the treatment’s effectiveness.

Many doctors recommend limiting or quitting alcohol while taking testosterone.

More than 90 percent of men with advanced liver disease also have low testosterone. Continuing to drink may worsen liver damage, which will lead to more health problems and further impaired testosterone production.

If you believe that your drinking is affecting your testosterone levels or reproductive health, it’s a good idea to see a doctor.

Your doctor can recommend the best treatment options for your low testosterone levels and your alcohol dependence.

Heavy alcohol consumption can lower your testosterone levels and impair your fertility.

Heavy drinking for men is generally considered to be more than 15 drinks per week.

Quitting alcohol or lowering your alcohol intake to a safe level may help reverse some of the damage caused by chronic drinking.