How Alcohol (& Recovery) Affects Your Sex Drive

By Aisha Z. Rush, MD, MA, MBA

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More often than not, we don’t fully recognize how alcohol is affecting our lives until we start cutting it out. As a physician on the Monument platform, I see firsthand how excessive drinking affects all dimensions of my patients’ health, and the physical and emotional effects of the alcohol recovery journey.

Early recovery is often characterized by uncomfortable changes that indicate that our body is healing. One of those that is very commonly experienced, but very rarely spoken about, is decreased sex drive.

Recovery is an incredible process, and brings an abundance of benefits of sobriety. However, early recovery is often characterized by uncomfortable changes that indicate that our body is healing. One of those changes that is very commonly experienced, but very rarely spoken about, is decreased sex drive. It’s completely natural to experience a decreased sex drive when beginning a sobriety or moderation journey.

Low libido can occur for many reasons, including physical, mental, and emotional drivers. With time, the body and mind are able to heal, and you’re able to more authentically embrace all the joys of life. Here’s why alcohol & alcohol recovery can affect sex drive, and what to expect throughout your journey. First, let’s start by looking at the biology behind alcohol and sex drive.

What is Alcohol’s Affect on Sex-Related Hormones? 

When alcohol is first consumed, testosterone and dopamine levels rise, which may initially increase sexual desire. However, this boost is only temporary. Over time, drinking alcohol can cause a decrease in testosterone, serotonin, and dopamine, which in turn can lead to depression, anxiety, and overall decreased sexual desire. 

women in bed

The good news is, the body is an incredible healer. With time, your body will adjust its low testosterone, serotonin, and dopamine levels back to their healthy states. Hormone levels and sexual tendencies typically recover within the first 4 weeks of the alcohol recovery timeline. It’s completely natural to have a decreased sexual desire during that time period. With long-term sobriety or moderation, the body will re-stabilize hormone levels, allowing sex, and life in general, to be more fully enjoyed.

It Can Cause Erectile Dysfunction

While alcohol consumption may cause a temporary increase in sexual desire, it’s not uncommon for the body’s sex organs to respond negatively to alcohol. . When it comes to alcohol and sex drive, many people experience physical sexual dysfunction. For people with penises, alcohol consumption can impact their ability to get and maintain an erection, a phenomenon referred to as alcohol-induced erectile dysfunction. For those that do achieve an erection, it’s also common for excessive drinking to result in delayed ejaculation.

It Can Cause Vaginal Dryness

For people with vaginas, alcohol consumption may impact normal vaginal secretions during sexual activity causing vaginal dryness, which can lead to an unpleasant sexual encounter. Excessive drinking may impact the body’s response to sexual arousal, making it more difficult for vaginas to self-lubricate, and resulting in vaginal dryness, unwanted friction, or discomfort during sexual intercourse.

It Can Make it More Difficult to Orgasm

Because alcohol can impact sexual desire, arousal, and physical sexual function, it can make it more difficult to achieve an orgasm. Orgasms may be less intense, take longer to reach, and occur less frequently.

It May Cause Nerve Damage To Occur

Long-term excessive alcohol use can lead to nerve damage both in the clitoris and the penis. This can contribute to difficulty with arousal or achieving an orgasm, which can also lead to a fear of intimacy and sexual intercourse.
When one decreases their alcohol intake or becomes sober, the body begins to naturally heal itself. While some damage can be permanent, the nerve-endings will start to repair themselves so that the body will likely regain full sexual capabilities again. If you have questions about the physical side effects of alcohol & alcohol recovery, you can ask your physician for personalized advice.

It Can Lead to Emotional, and Interpersonal Changes

In addition to alcohol’s effects on your biology, the psychological factors at play when changing your relationship with alcohol can affect your sex life. Here I’ve outlined additional changes in early recovery that may influence your sex drive.
These changes can be uncomfortable, but you don’t have to navigate them alone. Working with a therapist in an alcohol therapy program can be a powerful tool in processing these experiences. Regardless of your path forward with online alcohol treatment, remember that this is a non-linear journey, and you hold an incredible power to heal.

It Can Lead to Lack Of Interest, Including Low Sex Drive and Sexual Desire

Drinking alcohol may lead to a gradual lack of interest towards activities that used to bring you joy, including sex. With excessive use, alcohol can assume a leading role in your life, and activities and relationships can take a back seat. A low sex drive, or low libido, can be described as a decrease in sexual stimulation and interest towards sexual activity. As alcohol can impact an individual’s mental health and emotional wellbeing, any activity – whether related to sexual behavior or otherwise – may feel less desirable for those navigating alcohol use disorder.

Self-Esteem Needs Time To Recover

Some people experience a temporary boost in self-esteem when they consume alcohol. It’s not uncommon to feel like your drinking habits are part of your personality, even though drinking is a behavior, not a character trait. Because of that, many people experience an early recovery identity crisis. Recovery often requires getting to know oneself again without the influence of drinking alcohol. While cutting back on alcohol ultimately leads to increased self-confidence, it can be difficult to regain your sense of self right away. Feeling unsure about yourself can decrease your sexual arousal. There is nothing wrong with needing time for self-discovery before being intimate with another person.

Building self-esteem while changing your relationship with alcohol

Starting your journey toward sobriety or moderation can bring on a wave of different emotions, including what could feel like an identity-crisis. This is normal. Join a discussion on how to not only navigate but how to cultivate confidence.
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Shame And Intense Emotions Can Be Distracting

Unfortunately, alcohol use disorder is often misrepresented as a personal failure instead of a medical condition. Let me be clear, choosing to change your relationship with alcohol is an incredible and brave act of self-care. It isn’t always easy, however, to juggle the various emotions that can come with making this transformation. Experiencing shame, feeling fear of not reaching a goal, or simply being preoccupied while undergoing change are all legitimate reasons to have less sexual desire during the early days of recovery. All of these emotions need space to be felt and therefore better understood. You can work with a specialized therapist on an alcohol therapy program to work through your feelings and restructure negative thought patterns.  

men holding hands

It May Strain Your Relationships

Alcohol use disorder can also have a significant impact on loved ones, including our romantic relationships. After experiencing their loved one’s past excessive alcohol use, partners of people in recovery may have their own emotional reactions during the recovery journey, including feelings of resentment or anxiety. They are also deserving of support, and time to heal. This might initially affect a couples’ sex life. Healing is possible with open communication, engagement with resources like online alcohol support groups for people in recovery and friends and family, and a sense of mutual compassion.

Couple hugging

How Does Recovery Affect Your Sex Drive?

When you renegotiate your relationship with alcohol, many of the effects of long-term drinking can be reversed. Relationships can be mended, physical sexual functioning can be fully restored, and self-esteem can be repaired. Your body has a miraculous capability to heal, and facing emotions head on makes you a stronger, more present person. Here at Monument, we provide a judgement and stigma-free alcohol treatment program and support every step of the way. Whatever the challenge, you are not alone. 

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Disclaimer: Our articles and resources do not constitute clinical or licensed therapy or other health care services. If you need counseling or therapy services please contact a licensed provider. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.

About the Author

Aisha RushAisha Rush graduated from Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and completed her residency at Temple University Hospital. She has also obtained a Master’s Degree in Sociology and a Master’s in Business Administration. She is Board Certified and is a member of several professional organizations. She comprises a vast array of skills and knowledge when it comes to medicine and the needs of patients, and focuses on each patient from a biopsychosocial model.