Last Updated on September 14, 2021
Alcohol is a global health issue, but research shows that it’s also a serious men’s health issue.
An estimated nine million men in the United States have an alcohol use disorder1. Men are nearly twice as likely as women to binge drink, and four of every five binge drinks are consumed by men. Men also have higher rates of hospitalizations and deaths linked to alcohol than women2.
In this post, we’ll explore why men often drink more than women, the long-term repercussions for men’s health, and what you can do if you or a man in your life is struggling with alcohol dependence.
Why Do Men Drink?
Research clearly shows that men drink more than women. But why?
Potential factors include social norms and expectations around masculinity, along with decades of marketing. Alcohol advertising, films, and television shows regularly depict men drinking after work, at sporting events, and to celebrate accomplishments and special occasions.
This messaging helps create a culture of male bonding around alcohol, potentially resulting in peer pressure. Men may worry that if they don’t participate in drinking rituals, they’ll be viewed as weak or “no fun,” and be excluded from social groups and events.
In addition to social factors, emerging research suggests there may be some biological explanations for male drinking. Researchers from Columbia and Yale found that after consuming alcohol, men experienced greater dopamine release than women3.
Dopamine release plays a major role in addiction. Alcohol and other substances activate receptors that flood the brain with dopamine, creating pleasurable feelings. These pleasurable feelings reward and reinforce drinking behavior. As tolerance increases over time, dopamine release declines, meaning more alcohol is required to achieve the same effects. This further contributes to dependence and addiction.
Men also tend to have higher alcohol tolerance than women, due to a higher percentage of body water and more efficient alcohol metabolism4. Therefore, they usually need to drink more than women to achieve a similar blood alcohol concentration (BAC), or feel the same effects. This may partially explain why men drink more overall.
The Link Between Alcohol and Physical Harm
Not only are men more likely than women to drink excessively, they’re also more likely to take risks like not wearing a seat belt, abusing other substances, or having multiple sex partners5. Taken as a whole, men are at greater risk than women for physical harm or accidental death related to alcohol abuse.
- Men account for a larger share of hospitalizations, and almost 75 percent of deaths linked to excessive drinking in the U.S. annually.
- Each year in the United States, there are around 33,000 fatal motor vehicle crashes6. Male drivers involved in these crashes are about 50 percent more likely to have been drinking than female drivers.
- Men are three times more likely than women to die by suicide, and they are more likely to have consumed alcohol beforehand7.
- In addition to personal harm, alcohol increases the likelihood of physically or sexually assaulting another person8.
In summary, men are more prone to risk-taking behaviors than women as a whole. This means that men who drink heavily are at greater risk of motor vehicle crashes, hospitalization, violence, sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, and even death.
Men and Alcohol: Long-Term Health Effects
Alcohol dependence can have harmful and fatal long-term health effects on the human body for anyone who drinks excessively. These harmful effects include brain damage, cancer, liver disease, and mental health issues.
Although women may experience alcohol-related health issues more quickly than men, men experience most of these effects at higher rates overall. Here are some of the long-term health impacts of alcohol on men in particular.
Alcohol and Cancer in Men
Alcohol is a carcinogen, or a substance that promotes the formation of cancer. Research shows a link between alcohol and many types of cancer, including cancers of the head, neck, esophagus, liver, colon, and rectum9.
While light drinkers have only a slightly elevated risk of cancer, this risk increases for moderate drinkers, and even more for heavy drinkers.
Statistics show that men are more likely than women to die of alcohol-related mouth, throat, esophageal, and liver cancers10. Other studies also suggest that heavy drinking increases the risk of prostate cancer—the second most common cancer among men. More research is needed to be certain, however11.
Alcohol and Liver Disease in Men
According to the American Liver Foundation, virtually all heavy drinkers develop fatty liver. Up to 35 percent get alcoholic hepatitis, while 10 to 20 percent end up with cirrhosis12. Damage from cirrhosis is irreversible and sometimes fatal.
Alcohol and Men’s Mental Health
Excessive alcohol use can cause or worsen a wide range of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, antisocial behavior, and insomnia14. Many people who struggle with these problems experience temporary relief from drinking. As the effects of alcohol wear off, however, these issues often reemerge—only worse. This can lead to a cycle of drinking to self-medicate, and is a common way that people become alcohol dependent.
Men frequently drink alcohol to deal with mental and emotional problems, and to cope with conflicts related to work and relationships15. Men’s overall hesitance to admit to or seek help for such issues makes self-medication all the more likely, and all the more damaging.
Alcohol and Men’s Sexual and Reproductive Health
Over time, alcohol negatively affects the reproductive health of both women and men.
For men, excessive alcohol use can sometimes lead to erectile dysfunction and infertility16. Excessive drinking also increases the chances of sex with multiple partners, or unprotected sex. These in turn can lead to consequences such as unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
Can drinking alcohol cause erectile dysfunction?
Research shows a connection between heavy drinking and erectile dysfunction17. Men who have consumed too much alcohol may have trouble becoming physically aroused. Although this condition is often temporary, it can lead to long-term difficulties with sexual confidence, sexual intimacy, and romantic relationships.
Does alcohol affect testosterone levels?
Heavy alcohol use interferes with testicular function, and can cause a drop in testosterone levels in men18. Long-term excessive drinking can shrink the testes, cause abnormal sperm, and reduce overall production of sperm, making it harder to conceive a child.
The Bottom Line on Alcohol and Men’s Health
Although men often have a higher alcohol tolerance than women, and are less vulnerable overall to its negative health effects, alcohol abuse remains a significant men’s health issue. Men are still more likely to drink excessively, or become addicted to alcohol. The majority of alcohol-related illnesses and deaths are among men—including everything from accidents, to cancer, liver disease, and even suicide.
If you or a man in your life is struggling with alcohol, there are new, more convenient ways of getting support. Ria Health can help you change your relationship with alcohol from the comfort of home, without any shame or stigma. You can even choose between abstinence and moderation, and still have the occasional beer with friends. Learn more about how our program works.