There’s an old saying that refers to the fun of a “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll” lifestyle. But volumes of research suggest that a substance-driven lifestyle isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, chronic alcoholism or drug abuse has a decidedly negative impact on your performance in the bedroom. To be clear – substance abuse can ruin your sex life.
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Binge-Drinking and Erectile Dysfunction
Alcohol is the ultimate social lubricant. On a date, many people like to loosen up with a few drinks. But for man, consuming too much alcohol can lead to a disastrous sexual outcome – the dreaded “whiskey penis”. According to the Mayo Clinic, heavy drinking is one of the most common causes of erectile dysfunction. This happens for four main reasons:
- FIRST, the more alcohol in a person’s blood, the harder it is for the brain to sense and respond to sexual stimulation.
- SECOND, alcohol is a depressant. This means that it interferes with the nervous system, specifically those parts necessary for arousal and orgasm – blood circulation, respiration, and nerve sensitivity.
- THIRD, alcohol causes blood vessel dilation, changing the way blood flows to and from the penis.
- FOURTH – alcohol is a diuretic, and excessive consumption leads to dehydration and increased levels of angiotensin, a hormone associated with erectile dysfunction.
The Long-Term Sexual Side-Effects of Chronic Alcoholism
And it’s not just impaired performance on individual nights of heavy drinking. Chronic alcohol abuse can cause lasting damage. In a 2007 study of men with diagnosed alcohol dependence, 72% of subjects had one or more forms of sexual dysfunction lasting for more than a year before treatment admission. The most common complaints included:
- Low sex drive
- Sexual aversion disorder
- Erectile dysfunction
- Difficulty in achieving orgasm
- Premature ejaculation
Of special relevance, researchers concluded that the amount of alcohol consumed was the most significant predictor of eventually developing a sexual dysfunction. There is good news – with abstinence, alcohol-induced sexual dysfunction appears to be reversible.
Sexual Dysfunction among Female Alcoholics
Although men are often singled out when discussing the sexual side effects of excessive drinking, a 2017 study indicates that women who are diagnosed as alcohol-dependent also suffer several adverse sexual effects:
- Low sexual desire – 55%
- Inability to reach orgasm – 52.5%
- Dissatisfaction with orgasm – 50%
- Dissatisfaction with own sexual function – 45%
Marijuana and Impotence
“…research has found that the prevalence of erectile dysfunction is three times as high for daily marijuana smokers compared to those who don’t use it at all.” ~Dr. Justin Lehmiller, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Social Psychology, Department of Counseling Psychology, Ball State University Marijuana is often praised because it supposedly enhances sexual activity. However, recent research indicates the exact opposite. As it turns out, heavy marijuana use may in fact cause erectile dysfunction. Previous research had already determined that marijuana affects certain receptors within the brain. A 2015 study suggests the penis also contains those same receptors – and they can be inhibited by high levels of marijuana. As a result, pot smokers have higher-than-normal rates of ED. Dr. Lehmiller also discusses the myth that using marijuana improves sexual stamina, calling it a false drug-impaired perception. In actuality, the duration of sex while high on marijuana does not increase. Earlier, Dr. Rany Shamloul researched the effect of marijuana on sexual health and found that it has a negative impact on male performance, making it harder to achieve or maintain erections. About his findings, Dr. Shamloul says, “These findings will change the current understanding of the magnitude of the impact of cannabis use on sexual health.”
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Opioids and Sexual Behavior
it has long been known for that opioids – legal painkillers like OxyContin or Vicodin and illicit street heroin – can inhibit sexual behavior. Even at therapeutic levels, prescription opioids cause erectile dysfunction in more than a fourth of male patients. Besides ED, opioids can also:
- Lower testosterone levels
- Cause decreased libido
- Create orgasm difficulties in both sexes
At levels of abuse, the likelihood of sexual dysfunction increases dramatically. For example, a 2014 study revealed that long-term heroin use results in sexual dysfunction across all clinical domains:
- Erectile function
- Orgasmic function
- Sexual desire
- Intercourse satisfaction
- Overall satisfaction
Significantly, even when patients abstained from heroin use and entered a methadone maintenance program, use of the replacement medication led to decreased testosterone levels.
Cocaine and Sexual Dysfunction
Although cocaine has a reputation as a drug that can increase sexual stamina, the truth is that it makes it more difficult to reach orgasm. While that might sound like a positive, an inability to ejaculate can be extremely frustrating. But cocaine’s impact on your sex life doesn’t stop there, because its effects on the body can have lasting consequences:
- It causes vascular damage by accelerating arterial aging, including plaque and calcification.
- Cocaine abuse cuts ejaculatory volume by more than half.
- Even before ED-causing vascular damage occurs, the opposite is a real risk – priapism, a painful erection that won’t go down. To treat this medical emergency, blood must be drained from the penis via a large-gauge needle. Untreated, priapism can lead to penile damage and even amputation.
Meth and Sexual Function
At first, methamphetamine seems like a sex lover’s dream – longer duration, greater quality and quantity of sexual pleasure, enhanced orgasm, and more confidence during sex. But over time, the negative impact of meth on the body and brain eliminates those effects. A meth-dependent person will suffer:
- Decreased libido
- Erectile dysfunction
- Premature ejaculation
- Loss of control during sex
Special Concerns for Female Meth Addicts
Female meth users are characterized by high levels of risky sexual behaviors including:
- Multiple partners – In one study, female meth users reported an average of 7.8 sexual partners within a two-month period.
- Risky sex partner types – 31% admitted to having an anonymous partner within the past two months.
- 84% had “casual” sex partners.
- Significantly, 90% of these casual partners were also meth users.
- 22% admitted trading sex for money.
- Unprotected sex – oral (98%), anal (83%), and vaginal (56%)
Men Are at Greater Risk of Long-Term Sexual Problems
A 2013 study conducted by the University of Granada found that past substance abuse negatively impacts male sexual performance even after years of abstinence. Published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, the study looked at the sexual performance of men who had been diagnosed with addictions to alcohol, cocaine, heroin, and/or marijuana. Researchers determined that the abuse of any of these substances resulted in some level of permanent impairment to the man’s sexual performance, specifically:
Pointedly, it was announced that alcohol is the substance that most effects erectile capacity, while the quality of orgasm is most impaired by cocaine and heroin.
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Substance Abuse and Intimacy
With all the focus on the damage that substance abuse has on the physical aspects of sex, it would be remiss to ignore the negative impact that excessive drinking and drug use can have on a relationship. True intimacy is built upon trust, and the deceit and dysfunction that accompanies addiction can erode that trust. Substance-related relationship issues might include:
- Broken promises to quit
- Financial problems
- Domestic violence
Interestingly, scientists may have found a genetic link between cheating and substance abuse. According to researchers at Binghamton University, State University of New York, people with the “thrill-seeking” gene are more prone to addictive disorders, including alcoholism, gambling, drug abuse, and risky sexual behaviors. Each of these produces a rush of dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with reward and pleasure. And certain individuals are genetically vulnerable to the effects of dopamine. Lead investigator Juan Garcia said, “It turns out everyone has got the gene. Just as height varies, the amount of information in the gene varies. In those who have more, their alleles are longer and they are more prone to thrill-seeking.”
How Substance Abuse Affects Intimacy
There is a school of thought that proposes that addiction is a type of attachment disorder. This means that a person’s ability to regulate their own emotions and behaviors is largely determined by the strength and length of their attachments. In romantic relationships, anything that disrupts intimacy – in this case, substance abuse – also interferes with what for the majority of us is our most important adult attachment. A healthy sex life promotes closeness with our partners and our positive relationships also help regulate our emotions. Conversely, when that attachment is impaired, emotional regulation and impulse control is diminished. As a result, a self-perpetuating cycle is created:
- The substance abuser’s substance-driven behaviors interfere with their intimate relationship.
- The person copes with the strained attachment by self-medicating with more alcohol or drugs.
To break free of this dysfunctional cycle, specialized professional care is often required. First and foremost, the addiction MUST be addressed, before any other issues. Only when the person is free from an active addiction can they start working on the other areas of their life. But, once new habits are learned, and a period of sobriety has been achieved, then any relationship problems can be addressed. The best rehab programs also offer couples counseling as part of a comprehensive treatment program. In the end, one of the best ways to protect intimate relationships is to avoid drug or alcohol abuse. Just as important, when problematic substance use has disrupted your sex life, the absolute best way to restore healthy functioning and positive connections is to practice sober, evidence-based life of recovery.