Cigarettes, Alcohol, Drugs and Erectile Dysfunction

Substance use (nicotine, alcohol, drugs) is a contributing factor to erectile dysfunction (ED). In fact, substance use is often interconnected with stress, as many people cope with daily pressure by "taking the edge off." Stress causes the body to release adrenaline, and adrenaline fights with erectile function. Poor lifestyle habits cause ED far more than aging does, though many men slip into relaxed standards as they get older and have less energy.

Unhealthy habits that lead to impaired circulation erode a man's quantity and quality of erections include use or abuse of smoking, excessive alcohol use, abuse of illegal drugs, and certain medications.

Smoking contributes to ED by harming circulation. There is evidence that the effects of smoking, especially nicotine, constricts blood vessels and increases the risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Remember that all-important nitric oxide that was discussed in the anatomy section? Just as adrenalin fights with nitric oxide, nicotine fights with the body's ability to produce nitric oxide. If you want better erectile function, quit smoking.

Many people are surprised to think of alcohol as a "substance," especially if their consumption is light to moderate. After all, studies have demonstrated that an occasional drink, especially red wine, appears to have certain health benefits. There are also emotional benefits of a small amount of alcohol. Since liquor acts as a depressant, it temporarily shuts down some of the negative self-talk in our heads, leading to an increased sense of well-being, confidence, and libido as sexual inhibitions are suppressed for a while. However, drinking one too many can lead to "brewer's droop," or short-term impotence. This is not the same as chronic ED, but it is all too real when it spoils a hot date.

More importantly, alcohol abuse or addiction inevitably has a negative affect on erectile function. Heavy alcohol use damages the nervous system, and this can become permanent. The signals from the brain to the pelvic nerves are cut off. When this becomes irreversible, it is called alcohol-induced impotence. Alcohol also interferes with the body's endocrine (hormone) system, resulting in lowered testosterone levels. Finally, alcohol overconsumption leads to impaired judgment, poor reflexes, and physical clumsiness – hardly the attributes of a good lover.

To sum up, light-to-moderate drinking (social drinking) can enhance a sexual encounter, but beware of too much. If you suspect that alcohol is interfering with your sexual performance, talk to your doctor.

Psychoactive substances (drugs) can lead to ED. These include amphetamines, barbiturates, cocaine, marijuana, methadone, and opiates. Depending on the substance, there can be serious effects on the central nervous system. Some can cause significant damage to the circulation system as well. As with alcohol, if you suspect a connection between ED and drug use, talk to your doctor.

Finally, taking certain prescription drugs can interfere with erectile function. If you have ED, talk to your urologist about any medications you regularly take. The following list is not exhaustive, but suggests prescriptions to discuss with your urologist: blood pressure medication; drugs for central nervous system diseases; antidepressants, sedatives, tranquilizers, and anti-anxiety drugs. If prescriptions may be playing a part in your ED, your medical team will work with you to explore alternatives with fewer ED effects.

At Firma Medical, we support a healthy, balanced lifestyle as the best investment in sexual energy and function. Check with your doctor regarding changes that can increase your energy and well-being.