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Alcohol's Effects on Adrenal Glands

author image Leah DiPlacido, Ph.D.
Leah DiPlacido, a medical writer with more than nine years of biomedical writing experience, received her doctorate in immunology from Yale University. Her work is published in "Journal of Immunology," "Arthritis and Rheumatism" and "Journal of Experimental Medicine." She writes about disease for doctors, scientists and the general public.
Alcohol's Effects on Adrenal Glands
A bachelor smoking and drinking at home. Photo Credit Steve Mason/Photodisc/Getty Images


Drinking moderate amounts of alcohol keeps your heart healthy, reports the Harvard School of Public Health. However, the benefits of drinking alcohol evaporate when a person's drinking crosses the line from moderate to excessive. This has detrimental effects on many organs in the body, including the liver, cardiovascular system, digestive system and kidneys. The adrenal glands are located near the top of each kidney, says Medline Plus. They produce essential hormones that are vital to bodily functions.

Sexual Effects

Alcohol has a depressive effect on adrenal glands and inhibits the production of the hormones that these glands produce. Initial effects of alcohol on the brain can lower inhibitions and cause an increase in libido. However, according to clinical psychologist Michaele P. Dunlap, Psy.D., alcohol can inhibit sexual functioning due to its effects on the adrenal glands. Adrenal glands produce sex hormones that enable maintenance of erections in men and orgasmic responses in women.


Medline Plus reports that the adrenal glands are also responsible for producing cortisol and other steroid hormones. Cortisol is essential for the natural stress response. When alcohol inhibits the functioning of the adrenal glands the body has less cortisol available for the stress response. A review published by Christine Maglione-Garves and colleagues at the University of New Mexico in 2005 describes how the adrenal glands secrete cortisol in response to stress, waking, fasting and eating. Maglione-Garves also reports how cortisol is responsible for regulating the delivery of energy to tissues and muscles. Cortisol also acts as an anti-inflammatory agent, inhibiting the immune response during stress. Its ultimate role is to turn off the bodily functions not needed in times of stress and allows energy to be available for movement. When alcohol inhibits the production of cortisol, the body fails to react normally. This means that the body's energy stores and other cortisol-dependent functions are not adequately regulated.

Epinephrine and Norepinephrine

Two other important hormones produced by the adrenal gland are epinephrine and norepinephrine. Richard Bowen at Colorado State University describes that the effects of epinephrine and norepinephrine are also involved in the body's natural response to stress. These two hormones increase the heart rate, increase blood pressure, open up the airways in the lungs and, like cortisol, help inhibit non-essential bodily functions. Thus, when alcohol inhibits the adrenal glands, the production of epinephrine and norepinephrine are inhibited. This leads to decreased heart rate and blood pressure.

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