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 gifts. However, 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. It’s completely natural to experience a decreased sex drive when beginning a sobriety or moderation journey. This 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. 

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 unnatural boost is only temporary. Over time, alcohol use 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  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.

The Impact of Emotional, Physical, and Interpersonal Changes

Hormone levels aren’t the only factor at play when it comes to how sex can change during recovery. Here I’ve outlined additional psychological and physical 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. 

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 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 desire. 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 failing 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

Relationships May Be Strained 

Alcohol use disorder can also have a significant impact on loved ones, including our romantic relationships. Partners of people who drank excessively 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 support groups for people in recovery and friends and family, and a sense of mutual compassion.

Nerve Damage Can Occur 

Long-term excessive alcohol use can lead to nerve damage both in the clitoris and the penis. This can cause difficulty with arousal or achieving an orgasm, which can also lead to a fear of becoming intimate. 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. 

Couple hugging

When you renegotiate your relationship with alcohol, many of the effects of long-term drinking can be reversed. Relationships can be mended, 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 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.