Addiction Alcohol Use How Alcohol Can Impair the Body's Hormone System By Buddy T Buddy T Facebook Twitter Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism. Learn about our editorial process Updated on November 30, 2020 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by John C. Umhau, MD, MPH, CPE Medically reviewed by John C. Umhau, MD, MPH, CPE John C. Umhau, MD, MPH, CPE is board-certified in addiction medicine and preventative medicine. He is the medical director at Alcohol Recovery Medicine. For over 20 years Dr. Umhau was a senior clinical investigator at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Yoshiyoshi Hirokawa / Getty Images The body's hormones work together in a finely coordinated and complex system to keep us healthy and functioning. Alcohol can interfere with the operation of the hormone system and cause serious medical consequences. The Effect of Alcohol on Hormones Hormones act as chemical messengers to control and coordinate the functions of the body's tissues and organs. When the hormone system is working properly, the exact amount of hormone is released at exactly the right time and the tissues of the body accurately respond to those messages. Drinking alcohol can impair the functions of the glands that release hormones and the functions of the tissues targeted by the hormones, which can result in medical problems. When alcohol impairs the hormone system's ability to work properly, it can disrupt these major bodily functions: Growth and developmentMaintenance of blood pressure and bone massProduction, utilization, and storage of energyReproduction Research with laboratory animals has also revealed that alcohol's impact on hormonal pathways can influence alcohol-seeking behavior. Scientists believe that alcohol-seeking behavior is regulated in part by the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis. By interfering with the hormone system, alcohol can affect blood sugar levels, impair reproductive functions, interfere with calcium metabolism and bone structure, affect hunger and digestion, and increase the risk of osteoporosis. Blood Sugar Levels The main energy source for all body tissues is sugar glucose. The body gets glucose from food, from synthesis in the body, and from the breakdown of glycogen which is stored in the liver. The body's blood sugar levels are controlled by insulin and glucagon, hormones secreted by the pancreas. They work together to maintain a constant concentration of glucose in the blood. Insulin lowers glucose levels, while glucagon raises it. Other hormones from the adrenal glands and the pituitary gland back up the function of glucagon to make sure the body's glucose level doesn't fall low enough to cause fainting, passing out or even brain damage. Parts of the Brain Alcohol interferes with all three sources of glucose and interferes with the hormones that regulate glucose levels. There are many ways alcohol consumption affects the body's glucose levels. Alcohol is known to: Augment insulin secretion, causing temporary hypoglycemia.Inhibit glucose production while alcohol is being metabolized.Impair the hormonal response to hypoglycemia with heavy consumption.Limit intake of glucose by not eating properly when drinking. Chronic heavy drinking can increase the body's glucose levels. A review published in 2015 reported that chronic heavy drinking can cause glucose intolerance in healthy people. It can also: Alter the effectiveness of medications for diabetes.Cause both hypoglycemic and hyperglycemic episodes in alcoholics.Increase secretion of glucagon and other hormones that raise glucose levels.Lower survival rates for alcoholics with diabetes.Reduce the body's responsiveness to insulin. Reproductive Functions There are many hormones in the body that regulate the reproductive system. The two main hormones—androgens (testosterone) and estrogens (estradiol)—are synthesized in the testes and ovaries. These hormones affect various reproductive functions. In men, they are responsible for: Aspects of male sexual behaviorSexual maturationSperm development and therefore fertility In women, hormones perform many functions, including: Breast developmentDevelopment of secondary sexual characteristicsDistribution of body hairHelp in maintaining pregnancyRegulating the menstrual cycle Chronic drinking can interfere with all of these reproductive functions. Alcohol can impair the adequate functioning of the testes and ovaries and result in hormonal deficiencies, sexual dysfunction, and infertility. Some of the problems that alcohol consumption can cause by interfering with the male hormonal system include: Altered normal sperm structureImpaired sexual and reproductive functionsMale breast enlargementReduced testosterone levels Although many reproductive problems were found in women who were alcoholics, some problems were also found in women considered social drinkers. In premenopausal women, chronic heavy drinking contributes to reproductive disorders, including: Cessation of menstruationEarly menopauseIrregular menstrual cyclesMenstrual cycles without ovulationRisk of spontaneous abortions Calcium Metabolism and Bone Structure Hormones play an important role in maintaining calcium levels in the body, which is necessary not only for strong bones and teeth but also for communication between and within cells of the body. Several hormones—parathyroid hormone (PTH), vitamin D-derived hormones, and calcitonin—work to regulate calcium absorption, excretion, and distribution between bones and body fluids. Acute alcohol consumption can interfere with these hormones and therefore calcium and bone metabolism in several ways, including: Adversely affect bone metabolism via nutritional deficienciesAltering reproductive hormones, affecting bone metabolismCausing PTH deficiency and increase calcium excretionDisturbing vitamin D metabolismInhibiting activity of bone-forming cellsLimiting adequate absorption of dietary calcium All of these problems can cause calcium deficiency which can lead to bone diseases, such as osteoporosis, a loss of bone mass and therefore an increased risk of fractures. Alcohol-related bone health problems pose a serious health threat for alcoholics due to the greater risks of falls and therefore fractured or broken bones. The good news is studies have found that alcohol's effect on bone metabolism and bone-forming cells are at least partially reversible when alcoholics stop drinking. Cortisol Levels Researchers have found that alcohol consumption also increases the body's production of cortisol, not only while the person is drinking, but also later when the drinker is withdrawing from the effects of intoxication. In the short-term, cortisol can increase blood pressure, focus alertness and attention, but in the longer term can adversely impact body functions such as bone growth, digestion, reproduction, and wound repair. 3 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Rachdaoui N, Sarkar DK. Effects of alcohol on the endocrine system. Endocrinol Metab Clin North Am. 2013;42(3):593–615. doi:10.1016/j.ecl.2013.05.008 Steiner JL, Crowell KT, Lang CH. Impact of Alcohol on Glycemic Control and Insulin Action. Biomolecules. 2015;5(4):2223–2246. doi:10.3390/biom5042223 Gaddini GW, Turner RT, Grant KA, Iwaniec UT. Alcohol: A Simple Nutrient with Complex Actions on Bone in the Adult Skeleton. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2016;40(4):657–671. doi:10.1111/acer.13000 By Buddy T Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Get Treatment for Addiction Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.