When you drink alcohol, particularly large amounts or excessively, it can affect many parts of your body and your life. One area of concern that people frequently wonder about is weight gain related to alcohol use. Does alcohol cause weight gain or is this a myth?
Here’s what you should know about how alcohol can affect you, and more specifically, what to know about alcohol-related weight gain.
Article at a Glance:
Yes, alcohol can cause or contribute to weight gain. There are several links between alcohol and weight gain including:
- alcohol is packed with sugar, carbs and empty calories
- you’re also likely to eat more unhealthy foods than you would if you weren’t drinking.
Weight gain is just one of the many health considerations to keep in mind when it comes to your alcohol use and limiting how much you drink.
Table of Contents
Is Alcohol Intake Linked Weight Gain?
There are a few reasons why alcohol and weight gain are linked, some of which are direct and others are indirect.
First, alcohol can cause weight gain simply because it has calories. Not only does the actual alcohol have calories, but additives and mixers that are included with many alcoholic beverages can be packed with calories as well as sugar. The calories that come from alcohol are considered empty, meaning they have no nutritional value.
Alcohol is an appetite stimulant, so you may be more likely to eat more and also make poorer food choices. Not only are you likely to feel hungrier if you’re drinking, but your inhibitions will be lowered, so you’re not going to be thinking about choosing healthy foods.
Research suggests heavy episodic drinking is associated with a 41% higher risk of transitioning from normal weight to overweight, a 36% higher risk of transitioning from overweight to obese, and a 35% higher risk of maintaining obesity compared to those who aren’t heavy drinkers.
Finally, another way alcohol and weight gain are linked is alcohol suppresses the central nervous system which ultimately just slows all the functions of your body down. This likely only has a significant effect on chronic drinkers.
What Does Alcohol Do to Your Body?
Drinking in moderation is usually considered okay from a health perspective, but it’s important to have a full grasp of what “in moderation” means because drinking excessively can contribute to a range of health problems, many of which are serious.
Drinking in moderation means having no more than one drink a day if you’re a woman and no more than two a day for men. If you’re drinking more than this, it could be considered problematic, and if you drink more than five drinks a day as a man or four as a woman, that’s considered binge drinking.
The immediate effects of alcohol can include impaired coordination and judgment, memory problems and slow reflexes. Even if you just have a single drink, these things can occur and the more you drink, the more profound and apparent these symptoms can become.
When you drink, a significant portion of the alcohol is absorbed into your bloodstream, and then it is distributed through most tissues in your body.
Here are just some of the effects of alcohol on the body:
- When you drink, it affects your brain significantly, including altering levels of GABA and dopamine, which are neurotransmitters that are part of the brain’s reward system. If you have changes in either of these neurotransmitters, it can lead to multiple effects, including increased heart rate, aggression, and depression.
- Your liver is one part of the body that is most significantly impacted by drinking. Your liver processes and metabolizes alcohol. When you drink excessively, it causes your liver to accumulate fat, which can lead to a serious condition called fatty liver disease. This can ultimately lead to cirrhosis.
- Drinking raises estrogen levels and this has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.
- When you drink, it causes your stomach to make an excessive amount of acid, which can contribute to a variety of conditions like irritation and inflammation of the stomach lining.
These aren’t even all the ways alcohol can affect your body—there are many more.
Fazzino, Tera; Fleming, Kimberly; Sher, Kenneth; Sullivan, Debra; Befort, Christie. “Heavy Drinking in Young Adulthood Increases Risk of Transitioning to Obesity.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine, March 29, 2017. Accessed June 2, 2020.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.