The Science of "Whiskey Dick" & How to Avoid It

While alcohol may have a reputation as something that all too often leads to sex, drinking too much can lead to alcohol-induced erectile dysfunction — a condition known to many men as “whiskey dick.”

Overall, this common form of temporary sexual dysfunction isn’t a cause for major concern if it’s just an occasional issue. If, however, it becomes part of a repeating pattern, you might need to take action to address the problem.

There are countless myths about how “whiskey dick” occurs, and numerous completely unscientific “tricks” to avoid it. But the truth is a little more nuanced than home remedies.

Below, we’ve explained how — and why — it happens, what you can do to maintain your sexual performance while drinking in moderation, and how to avoid common issues like alcohol-induced erectile dysfunction after a night out.

What is Whiskey Dick?

“Whiskey dick” is a popular slang term used to describe a situation where consuming alcohol causes a man to experience difficulty getting or maintaining an erection. Clinically, it’s referred to as alcohol-induced erectile dysfunction, or alcohol-induced sexual dysfunction. Practically, it’s a problem that occurs when your drinking interferes with intimacy.

A whiskey dick definition could be as simply as this: too much booze can throw a wrench in the works of every machine that makes for good sexual performance.

Alcohol is a depressant, which means that it slows down your central nervous system (CNS). That’s why alcohol consumption can impair reasoning, reaction time and motor skills. It can also mess with the information that goes between the brain and other parts of your body — including your penis.

Alcohol can produce effects that suppress your arousal, hinder your erections and affect your CNS. These effects can last for several hours, although they usually slowly improve as you start to sober up.

Alcohol-induced erectile dysfunction can vary in severity. You may find it difficult or impossible to “get hard” at all, or simply have a weaker erection than when you’re sober.

Most of the time, alcohol-induced erectile dysfunction isn’t a sign of long-term ED. However, excessive drinking can affect your sexual performance and health over the long term, making it important to take action if you’re starting to drink alcohol too often.

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Doesn’t Alcohol Increase Sexual Desire?

Doesn’t alcohol have benefits to offer for your sex life too? Yes and no. Drinking alcohol lowers your inhibitions, and some men claim they last longer if they have a little alcohol before sex.

However, on a physiological level, alcohol use isn’t particularly good for your sexual performance. In fact, excessive alcohol consumption can affect it in some harshly negative ways:

  • Alcohol is a depressant that slows your central nervous system, and nerves play a key role in your erection by sending impulses from your brain to the erectile tissues of your penis. By depressing your central nervous system, alcohol slows this process down, potentially making it harder for you to get and maintain an erection.

  • As a diuretic, alcohol speeds up your body’s process of removing fluids through your renal system. This is why you’ll usually need to pee more often when you drink a lot of beer, wine or other beverages that contain alcohol. By making you urinate often, alcohol can cause dehydration and reduce your total blood volume. Since erections are all about healthy blood flow, this can make it even harder to get and maintain an erection.

  • By causing you to become dehydrated, alcohol may trigger the release of a hormone called angiotensin. This hormone is responsible for increasing your blood pressure and helping your body to retain water and sodium. Angiotensin causes vasoconstriction, or a narrowing of your blood vessels. This further reduces the flow of blood to your penis, so you may find it even more challenging to stay hard during sex.

The more alcohol you drink in a short period of time, the stronger these effects become, which is why binge drinking is worse for more than just your long-term health, and why you’re much more likely to deal with alcohol-induced ED after a long, wild night of shots than after a drink or two at dinnertime.

How Much Alcohol Causes “Whiskey Dick?”

You may see information online about how much alcohol is acceptable before you experience alcohol-induced ED, don’t expect much in the way of scientific data. There’s no specific number of drinks, type of beverage or set of circumstances where you’ll flip a switch between sexually functional and non-functional due to alcohol.

In fact, your risk of alcohol-induced ED also has to do with things like your age, gender, metabolism, weight, genetics and other factors that, together, determine how susceptible your body is to the side effects of consuming too much booze.

What Type of Alcohol is Most Likely to Cause Whiskey Dick?

Is whiskey dick real? Yes. Does it only happen when you drink whiskey? Not at all.

While a friend may bemoan the effects of tequila over beer on their recent date night, there’s no scientific proof that any one type of alcoholic drink is more likely to cause sexual performance issues than others.

All alcoholic drinks contain ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, although the concentration can vary from one drink to another. In other words, “whiskey dick” isn’t only caused by whiskey.

Any type of alcoholic drink can potentially affect your sexual performance if it’s consumed in excess.

Is There a Vaginal Equivalent to Whiskey Dick?

Whiskey dick is not limited to people with penises. And if you’re wondering what does whiskey dick mean for women, well, a very similar set of problems.

While the equipment may be slightly different, the biology is essentially the same: alcohol hinders both the blood flow during arousal that causes the genitals to swell, as well as the ability of the vagina to lubricate.

The end result of this is both a risk of insufficient lubrication, and also the potential of a higher barrier to orgasm — it’s going to be more difficult for a woman’s genitals to perform well, either.

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What to Do if You Get Whiskey Dick

There are two important factors in dealing with alcohol-induced ED: your health and your relationship.

The best way to deal with alcohol-induced ED is to be upfront and let your partner know that although you'd love to have sex, that third dirty martini has done you dirty.

Since it’s temporary, you may find it easier to get and stay hard when you wake up the next morning. Just make sure to have a glass of water before bed to help prevent a hangover from interfering with tomorrow morning’s sex plans.

Alternatively, you can have fun with your partner without having penetrative sex. There are plenty of ways to have intimate fun with your partner that don't involve your penis.

As for the physiological issues behind alcohol-induced ED, there are a number of things you can do.

How to Prevent Whiskey Dick

The most effective way to prevent alcohol-induced ED is to not drink so much. We know — it’s obvious. But we’re also here to tell you that you don’t need to pivot to sobriety. Drinking in moderation is considered safe and not a risk for ED. You just have to avoid excessive consumption.

If you want to gauge what "excessive" looks like, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends up to two drinks per day for men or one drink per day for women.

Your sex life and medical advice aren’t always going to overlap. But if alcohol seems to be the only culprit for your poor erectile function, you know what you need to do.

So with your alcohol intake in mind, here are some tips and techniques to help you drink responsibly and with intention:

  • Set a limit to avoid getting carried away. Before you go out, set a limit for yourself and stick to it. Knowing ahead of time that you’re only going to have one or two drinks makes it easier for you to stop drinking, even if everyone else is ordering round after round.

  • Alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. If you drink, try having a water, soda or other non-alcoholic beverage between every beer, glass of wine or other alcoholic drink. This not only lowers the total amount of alcohol you consume, but it also helps to keep you hydrated, reducing your risk of developing a hangover the next morning or hampering your blood flow.

  • Avoid drinking on an empty stomach. Try to have a snack or meal before you drink or while you’re drinking. Food slows down your body’s absorption of alcohol, meaning you may not feel intoxicated so quickly.

  • Stick to low-alcohol drinks. Try to stick to drinks that only contain one standard serving of alcohol, such as normal-sized glasses of beer or wine. Many cocktails contain several standard drinks per glass, making it easy to become intoxicated quickly.

  • Drink something non-alcoholic that looks like alcohol. If you’re worried about being pressured to drink, order a soda, sparkling water or other beverage that looks similar to a cocktail but doesn’t contain alcohol.

  • If these tips sound impossible to you or you feel like your drinking may be becoming problematic, it's totally okay — and encouraged — to call in the experts. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has a list of resources that you can use to find treatment for alcohol problems in your area.

How to Treat Alcohol-Induced Erectile Dysfunction

Alcohol-induced erectile dysfunction will go away as your body metabolizes the alcohol and you sober up.

But if you have persistent ED that occurs with or without alcohol, you can get ED help online from a licensed healthcare provider.

If you often find it difficult to get an erection, even after drinking responsibly (or not at all), alcohol may not be the root of your ED issues.

Erectile dysfunction is a common issue that affects men of all ages. About 30 million men experience ED in the US alone.

A variety of factors can cause ED, from your physical health to psychological issues, lifestyle factors or your use of certain types of medication.

Most of the time, ED can be treated with medication. If you’re prone to erectile dysfunction, your healthcare provider may prescribe sildenafil (generic Viagra, and the active ingredient in brand name Viagra®), tadalafil (Cialis®), avanafil (Stendra®) or similar medication to improve your sexual performance.

These medications work by increasing blood flow to your penis, making it easier to get and keep an erection when you feel sexually aroused.

Although it’s okay to use these medications with a small amount of alcohol, you’ll need to avoid drinking to excess if you use medication to treat ED.

You can learn more about how these medications work, their safety, side effects and more in our guide to the most common ED treatments.

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Whiskey Dick and ED: Final Thoughts

The effects of alcohol are well known for their effects on sex drive and sexual function, but we’ll be the bearers of bad news here and remind you that alcohol can do much worse.

What’s whiskey dick costing you in the long term? Higher heart disease risks, depression and other things that can happen when drinking stops being moderate. 

If heavy drinking is affecting your sex life, it could also be affecting your health.

As for the facts about alcohol-induced ED, it boils down to this:

  • “Whiskey dick” is a common annoyance that can occur when you drink too much alcohol before having sex.

  • Can a guy get hard when drunk? Sure. But the easiest way to prevent alcohol-induced ED is to drink alcohol responsibly and not tempt fate.

  • Try to limit yourself to a maximum of two drinks per night and use the tips listed above to drink slowly and steadily when you’re out with friends or your partner.

If you have persistent ED that occurs with or without alcohol, talk to a healthcare provider to find out more about your ED treatment options.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment or medication.

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