- As a rule, men drink considerably more alcohol than women
- The result of this is a much higher rate of alcohol-related disease in men
- Alongside disease, alcohol use can impact sexual health with conditions such as erectile dysfunction implicated
- Excessive alcohol use is associated with unwanted effects on weight and appearance that can be specific to the male body
- Maintaining a healthy relationship with alcohol is key and you can do so by following our helpful tips
Alcohol is a staple of modern society and people of all genders, and almost all ages consume it. Despite this, research shows alcohol use is not equal between men and women.1 This piece will delve into the higher rates of alcohol consumption in men, the impact of heavy drinking on health, but also explore some ways you can aim to reduce your own intake.
Alcohol use, and misuse, is highest in men
A global estimate of alcohol use in 2016 listed 1.46 billion males and 0.88 billion females above the age of 15 as alcohol consumers, but the story doesn’t end there.1 Men are two times more likely to binge drink than women, and 7% of men report an alcohol misuse disorder compared with 4% in females.2 The trend for higher alcohol consumption in men is plain to see, but what are the health implications?
Higher consumption leads to higher rates of serious medical conditions
Alcoholism is associated with a range of negative health effects, including:3
- Infectious disease
- Neuropsychiatric disease
- Cardiovascular disease
- Liver and pancreas disease
There is no better example to highlight the health risks of heavy drinking than simply observing the disproportionately higher cases of alcohol-related disease in men. Best estimates suggest men are five times more likely to experience alcohol-related chronic diseases. While this number alone is concerning, men are actually less likely to develop these alcohol-related conditions if they consume the same quantity (units of alcohol) than women - further emphasising the disparities of the quantity of alcohol intake between men and womeen.3 Unsurprisingly, this chilling male-dominated trend continues if we look at alcohol-related deaths and hospitalisations, and the problems don’t stop there.2
Alcohol and sexual health
The relationship between alcohol and sex is a double-edged sword. There's no denying that drinking can lower inhibitions, raise confidence, and increase sexual desire.4 This can be beneficial in certain environments but could also lead to some unwanted effects; uninhibited male behaviour due to alcohol is associated with higher levels of unprotected sex and the associated STD transmissions and unplanned pregnancies.
Alcohol intake is also known for its ability to deflate even the most intimate encounters. As a depressant, alcohol affects the nervous system and can prevent erections by interfering with signals that fill the penis with blood, a key step in the initiation of an erection.5 While erectile dysfunction due to alcohol intoxication is usually shortlived,4 consistent heavy drinking can cause liver damage with long-term implications for sexual performance. Liver damage contributes to low levels of testosterone and raised levels of oestrogen which both increase erectile dysfunction risk.5
Testosterone also controls libido, also known as sexual drive, and plays an important role in sperm production. Reducing testosterone levels can reduce libido, sperm quality, and sperm count, and thus the overall fertility of a man.6–9 Such negative effects are unlikely to be left solely in the bedroom and will compound the problem by contributing to feelings of depression, guilt, and low self-esteem.
Weight and appearance
Alcoholic drinks are high in calories, though most of them offering very little in the way of nutritional value. Yes, one could argue there’s not too much wrong with the occasional light beer following an intense bout of exercise, but the majority of alcoholic drinks we consume contribute to a surplus in our daily calorie intake. Empty calories if you will. This means drinking can contribute to weight gain.
Though this problem is not unique to men. The way alcohol affects each gender is different. For example, men tend to put on weight around the abdominal area, leading to the famous ‘beer belly’. This problem is also potentially dangerous as it increases both heart disease and diabetes risk.10 Men tend to be larger and heavier than women and this allows for a higher consumption for the same blood alcohol level, meaning men will usually drink more than women to get to the same level of intoxication. More alcohol means more surplus calories, and they have to go somewhere.
How can you keep in control of alcohol consumption?
So far we have explored some unpleasant effects that alcohol has on the male body. On the other hand, it’s important to remember that most of these effects are brought on by excessive drinking over protracted periods of time; a few drinks in moderation are not going to cause your body to shut down overnight. However, if you are worried you may be drinking too much, or want to keep track of your consumption to stop it spiralling in the future, here are some helpful tips for you:
Stick to the recommended alcohol intake levels
- Drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, spread across three days or more.
Alternate each drink with a glass of water
- Not only will this cut down the amount of alcohol you consume, it will also rehydrate you. You may be grateful for that in the morning.
Try non-alcoholic beer
- Non-alcoholic beers have come a long way in recent years in terms of taste and flavour – and serve as a useful beverage to enjoy socially without the negative effects of alcohol.
Know your limits
- Just because your friends can drink a certain amount does not mean you can, or indeed need to. Each person processes alcohol differently, so it’s important that when you do enjoy a drink, to understand your body’s tolerance.
Look for lower strength items
- Drinks like beer and cider can vary in strength quite significantly but are usually served by the same volume. Therefore, if you choose a lower strength drink you will be consuming less alcohol.
Drinking alcohol can bring joy to many lives, though it’s important to know the risks associated with its consumption and how to manage them. If you are concerned about your alcohol consumption, it’s strongly recommended to visit your healthcare professional to ensure you receive the help and support you need.
- White, A.M. Alcohol Research Current Reviews 2020;40(2):01.
- Excessive Alcohol Use is a Risk to Men’s Health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website: https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/mens-health.htm
- Rehm J. Alcohol Res Health 2011;34(2):135-43.
- How alcohol affects yout sex life and fertility. Health Service Executive Ireland website https://www2.hse.ie/wellbeing/alcohol/physical-health/alcohols-effect-on-the-body/sex-life-and-fertility.html
- Yafi, F.A., et al. Nature Reviews Disease Primers 2016;2(1):1-20.
- Ricci, E., et al. Reproductive Biomedicine Online 2017;34(1):38-47.
- Condorelli, R.A., et al. Andrologia 2015;47(4):368-379.
- Emanuele, M.A. and Emanuele, N. Alcohol Research & Health 2001;25(4):282.
- Sansone, A., et al. Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology 2018;16(1):3.
- Piano MR. Alcohol Res. 2017;38(2):219-241.