Alcohol and testosterone: what's the connection?

Medically reviewed on March 8, 2022 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.


Have you ever wondered if having a beer or a glass of wine could affect testosterone levels? It’s a good question to ask. Testosterone plays a big part in the body’s many hormones, and even if you normally have healthy levels of testosterone, alcohol can affect them.

Whether you need to worry about alcohol intake affecting testosterone mostly depends on how much you drink and how often. For example, if you have one or two drinks a night, a few times a week, you probably don’t need to worry. But if you’re drinking alcohol heavily every day, it could affect testosterone levels over time.

If you’re interested in more insights on alcohol, testosterone, and how both impact health, we’ll walk you through it (and to learn more about your testosterone levels, consider the at-home Testosterone Test). To figure out how the interaction works, though, some basic background information can be helpful.

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Testosterone: understanding the basics

Before we connect the dots between alcohol and testosterone, let’s get clear on the role testosterone plays in health—and why abnormal testosterone levels might cause concern in the first place.

As the primary male sex hormone, testosterone is responsible for features such as [1]:

  • Body hair
  • Deep voice
  • Height
  • Sexual organs
  • Ability to have children

Testosterone is linked to energy levels, mood, bone, and muscle mass. For those assigned male at birth, the production of testosterone takes place in the testes, or testicles.

Those assigned female at birth also produce testosterone. However, their levels are naturally lower and production takes place in the ovaries. Still, the hormone plays an important role, affecting factors such as [2]:

  • Mood
  • Energy levels
  • Sex drive

For most people, the body naturally produces the amount of testosterone needed to stay healthy. However, certain health conditions, illnesses, and outside factors—including alcohol—can disrupt this process and cause abnormal levels. Understanding the relationship between alcohol and testosterone is therefore important to managing overall well-being.

How alcohol affects testosterone

In a person with healthy hormonal functions, two different parts of the brain, the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, work together to send hormones to the testes. These hormones then tell the testes when to produce testosterone [1].

Ideally, this process should give the body a healthy balance of testosterone and other hormones. But excessive drinking is one of several factors that could complicate things. So, how exactly does alcohol interfere with testosterone production?

One review of studies suggests several possible ways [3]:

  • Alcohol may impair the way the brain’s hormones function, potentially disrupting testosterone production and resulting in lower testosterone levels over time.
  • The oxygen molecules produced when the body processes alcohol could also cause cell damage in the testes, where testosterone is produced.
  • When the body processes alcohol, it produces ethanol, a chemical that could impair an enzyme important to testosterone production.

Overall, the research found that men who drank heavily had lower testosterone levels when compared with men who didn’t drink heavily. To understand how alcohol may affect testosterone levels on a larger scale, however, we’ll need to zoom out and look at what happens over time.

From minutes to days: alcohol’s short-term effects on testosterone

What happens to testosterone levels in the minutes and hours after you have a drink? As we mentioned earlier, the answer depends somewhat on how much you drink.

Looking at the results of several studies, we can piece together the following timeline:

30 minutes – In one study, healthy male participants showed a decrease in testosterone levels within 30 minutes of a heavy dose of alcohol [4]. Researchers found that after the participants stopped drinking, their testosterone levels quickly returned to normal. However, this doesn't necessarily mean that continuing to heavily consume won't have an effect.

72 hours – This study also compared the short-term effects of alcohol intake in healthy male volunteers and in men who were chronic alcoholics [4]. In the study, both sets of participants were given the equivalent of a pint of whiskey per day, over a period of thirty days. The results? Even in the male participants who were not chronic drinkers, testosterone levels began to drop within 72 hours.

30 days – After 30 days in the same study, the healthy participants’ testosterone levels had dropped below the normal range and were similar to the levels of the men who were chronic alcoholics.

Over months and years: alcohol’s long-term effects on testosterone

The studies we mention above show us that, if you continue with heavy drinking, you could end up dealing with the effects of lower testosterone in the long term [5]. But what happens to the body when alcohol causes testosterone levels to decrease and stay low over time?

At first, symptoms of low testosterone for individuals assigned male at birth may include [1]:

  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Lower sperm count
  • Reduced sex drive

As time goes on, continued low testosterone may result in other symptoms, such as [6]:

  • Decreased muscle strength and size
  • Weakened bones and bone loss
  • Lower energy
  • Reduced male fertility
  • Weight gain
  • Depression

From muscle mass to mental health, it’s clear that low testosterone caused by excessive drinking can affect those of the male sex. If you’re of the female sex, does that mean you’re out of the woods? Not necessarily—but the relationship between the body’s testosterone and alcohol may look a bit different.

Alcohol and female testosterone

Much of the research on how alcohol affects testosterone focuses specifically on those assigned male at birth, probably because testosterone is the primary male sex hormone. However, there is some science that tells us alcohol may affect female testosterone levels, too.

For instance, in an older study of healthy, premenopausal females, participants were given between 0–4 alcoholic drinks per day [7]. Rather than lowering their testosterone levels, the alcohol caused significantly higher levels of testosterone in the study’s female participants.

While the study couldn’t confirm how long these effects lasted after drinking, it’s possible that those of the female sex who continue to drink heavily could experience symptoms of high testosterone, including:

  • An irregular menstrual cycle
  • Excess body hair
  • Weight gain
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome

So, if assigned female at birth, drinking moderately can help keep hormones in balance and help to avoid the effects of high testosterone.

What’s in a drink? Moderate vs. heavy drinking

By understanding how much you’re really drinking, you can better determine whether alcohol is affecting testosterone levels. Luckily, if you’re not sure how to categorize alcohol consumption, there are some guidelines to help you figure it out.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, provides the following insights [8]:

  • Moderate drinking includes two drinks or less a day for those of the male sex, and one drink or less a day for those of the female sex.
  • Heavy drinking includes 15 or more drinks per week for those of the male sex, or eight or more drinks per week for those of the female sex.

Another point to keep in mind is that not all drinks are made equal. What the CDC considers a “standard drink” varies depending on the type of alcohol consumed. Here’s a quick guide:

  • Beer – With an alcohol content of 5 percent, a 12-ounce bottle of beer is the equivalent of one standard drink.
  • Wine – Due to its higher alcohol content of 12 percent, a standard glass of wine is considered 5 ounces.
  • Liquor – With the highest alcohol content of 40 percent, a standard glass of liquor is 1.5 ounces.

When you drink, it’s important to remember that different beverages may come with varying levels of alcohol. For example, some types of beer, known as malt liquors, have higher alcohol content than regular beer. Depending on your drink of choice, you’ll want to adjust your intake accordingly to stay on the moderate side.

What happens to testosterone levels when you stop drinking?

More research is needed on how much and how quickly testosterone levels return to normal after you quit drinking or begin to moderate drinking. However, there are tests that can help you determine whether your levels are off-balance.

If you’re concerned that alcohol use could be affecting your testosterone levels, or if you’re experiencing symptoms of high or low testosterone, it’s never a bad idea to consult a healthcare provider. Once you know where you stand, you can determine what treatment options and lifestyle changes—such as moderating your alcohol use—could help you take steps toward better health.

Level with your health with Everlywell

Understanding how alcohol consumption affects health can be an important step in working toward better overall wellness. However, it might seem intimidating to make the next move: learning your testosterone levels.

Both the Everlywell at-home Men’s Health Test and Women’s Health Test measure testosterone, along with other key hormones, allowing you to easily evaluate and track your levels in the privacy of your own home.

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References

1. Reproductive Hormones. Endocrine Society. URL. Accessed March 8, 2022.

2. Susan Davis, Jane Tran, What Are “Normal” Testosterone Levels for Women?, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 86, Issue 4, 1 April 2001, Pages 1842–1846.

3. Rachdaoui N, Sarkar DK. Pathophysiology of the Effects of Alcohol Abuse on the Endocrine System. Alcohol Res. 2017;38(2):255-276.

4. Sarkola T, Eriksson CJ. Testosterone increases in men after a low dose of alcohol. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2003 Apr;27(4):682-5.

5. Duca Y, Aversa A, Condorelli RA, Calogero AE, La Vignera S. Substance Abuse and Male Hypogonadism. J Clin Med. 2019;8(5):732. Published 2019 May 22.

6. Could you have low testosterone? MedlinePlus. URL. Accessed March 8, 2022.

7. Taisto Sarkola, Tatsushige Fukunaga, Heikki Mäkisalo, C. J. Peter Eriksson, ACUTE EFFECT OF ALCOHOL ON ANDROGENS IN PREMENOPAUSAL WOMEN, Alcohol and Alcoholism, Volume 35, Issue 1, January 2000, Pages 84–90.

8. Alcohol Use and Your Health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed March 8, 2022.

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