How Does Alcohol Affect Your Metabolism?

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It can seem unfair at times. Why can some people seemingly eat five cheeseburgers a day and stay skinny, while others struggle to lose weight?

Metabolism is a big topic when it comes to weight loss and health. But is it all genetics? Or are there things you can do to change how fast you burn calories? Can drinking less alcohol help or hurt your metabolism?

It’s complicated, and a big reason is your metabolism itself. Your body consumes a certain number of calories when it’s at rest, when you’re exercising, and when you’re processing food. Genetics, overall weight, diet, muscle mass, and even mental health can affect how many calories your body burns in each situation.

Alcohol can alter almost every part of this equation, with different results. That said, there are a few key ways alcohol can affect your metabolism, and make it harder or easier to gain weight.

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4 Ways Alcohol Affects Your Metabolism

1. It Might Speed Things Up—In Moderation

alcohol and your metabolism, sped up
Photo by Jean Gerber on Unsplash

Although more studies are needed, it’s possible that small amounts of alcohol can speed up your metabolism. One study on mice found evidence that moderate drinking boosts energy use. Other research showed increased heat production and elevated resting metabolism in people.

Current research is limited, and there are other factors at play. But for some people, drinking moderately (1-2 drinks per day depending on gender and body weight) might keep them thinner.

2. It Slows Down Fat Metabolism

On the flipside, drinking might cause you to store more fat than otherwise. Since your body considers alcohol a toxin, it tends to metabolize it before everything else. That means that other nutrients, and especially fat, may be pushed to the back of the line.

Some of this fat may wind up getting stored in your liver, potentially leading to liver disease. It may also simply lead to weight gain over time.

3. It Discourages Exercise

About 15-30 percent of the calories you burn every day are through exercise. Compared with your resting metabolic rate, this is a part of your energy processing you have a lot of control over. The effects of alcohol can make you sluggish or fatigued—less likely to exercise while drinking, and more likely to sleep in and skip that morning jog.

4. Drinking Adds Extra, or Lower Quality Calories

The speed of your metabolism isn’t the only factor in weight gain: It also matters what you eat, and how much. It’s well known that people tend to make worse food choices when intoxicated. While marijuana may be most famous for giving you the munchies, plenty of us have ordered an extra side of fries while tipsy.

And, of course, alcoholic drinks themselves add empty calories. People who binge drink, or consume several beers a day, are likely adding this on top of regular meals—probably exceeding their recommended daily calorie count. And heavier drinkers may actually replace meals with booze. This could make you lose weight, but it’s certainly bad for your health.

So, Does Quitting Drinking Speed Up Your Metabolism?

woman drinking, alcohol and your metabolism
Photo by Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash

As we can see, there are more cons than pros when it comes to alcohol and your metabolism. But that doesn’t mean the answer is clear-cut. More scientific research is needed. Many people will experience weight loss after quitting drinking, but the human metabolism is very complicated, and variable.

In summary, some people are better off drinking moderately, while others will be healthiest if they abstain completely. There are many factors that determine how your metabolism will respond to having alcohol in your diet, and it’s best to observe the effect on your own body. If you’re curious, there’s no harm in trying a “dry month” to see how you feel.

What is clear is that heavy alcohol use is bad for pretty much everyone. Drinking more than a moderate amount is likely to lead to weight gain from extra calories, or to weight loss from replacing healthy calories with alcohol. Either scenario is bad for your health, including your metabolism.

If you’re struggling to cut back on alcohol, regardless of how it’s affecting your weight, there are new, 100 percent online solutions. Access expert medical advice, anti-craving medications, weekly coaching meetings, and more—all from an app on your smartphone. Best of all, you don’t need to choose abstinence. Whatever your goals are, we’ll support you.

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Written By:
Ria Health Team
Ria Health’s editorial team is a group of experienced copywriters, researchers, and healthcare professionals dedicated to removing stigma and improving public knowledge around alcohol use disorder. Articles written by the “Ria Team” are collaborative works completed by several members of our writing team, fact-checked and edited to a high standard of empathy and accuracy.
Reviewed By:
Evan O'Donnell
Evan O’Donnell is an NYC-based content strategist with four years’ experience writing and editing in the recovery space. He has conducted research in sound, cognition, and community building, has a background in independent music marketing, and continues to work as a composer. Evan is a deep believer in fact-based, empathic communication—within business, arts, academia, or any space where words drive action or change lives.
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