How Does Alcohol Affect the Reproductive System?

Males

Pregnant woman with a glass of wine
A pregnant woman is holding a glass of wine and a cigarette. (Image: Valua Vitaly/iStock/Getty Images)

According to Montana State University, alcohol can affect the male reproductive system by causing reduced testosterone levels. Prolonged use can also cause the testes to shrink, which can result in infertility, impotence and secondary sexual characteristics that are reduced. Examples of the latter are breast enlargement, reduced chest and facial hair and a shift in fat distribution to the hip area from the abdomen. Alcohol also affects how hormones are released from the pituitary and hypothalamus glands, which can cause problems for male reproductive and sexual functions.

Females

Chronic drinking can cause a variety of problems in the female reproductive system. West Virginia University states that abnormal menstrual cycles and failure to ovulate are two of the main effects alcohol has on females. Others include an increased risk of spontaneous abortions and early menopause; breast cancer is higher in women who consume alcohol. Both men and women have a higher risk of contracting an STD while under the influence of alcohol, as lowered inhibitions from alcohol consumption often lead to unprotected casual sexual encounters.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

According to the Mayo Clinic, up to 40 thousand babies are born in the United States each year with alcohol-related damage. During the first trimester, a woman may be unaware that she has conceived, and damage to the fetus may occur during the key stages of development. If a woman consumes alcohol during the first trimester of pregnancy, she risks impairment of the fetal heart and other organs, the central nervous system and the facial features of her fetus. Continued consumption of alcohol can affect the brain of the fetus during any stage of pregnancy.

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