How to Tell If It's Erectile Dysfunction or 'Whiskey Dick'
We’ve all had that bad night of drinking made worse by an aborted launch in the bedroom. Whether you had your first flaccid failure last night or a decade ago, one thing will be a constant: it sucks.
Failing to achieve an erection is a bummer for a lot of reasons: the shame, the disappointment, the impending hangover you suddenly remember is coming. But not being able to get hard can wear on your happiness and mental health a lot more if it’s becoming a pattern—if it’s not just whiskey dick, but erectile dysfunction.
Whiskey dick and ED are two sides of the same coin: They both have the same, disappointing results for your love life, and they’re both effectively mitigated with the right treatments.
Whiskey dick obviously is the better problem to have—and the simpler problem to solve, because the solution is to stop drinking. The bad news is that neither one is great, and drinking too much might become a bigger issue for your erections if not addressed. But we’re not trying to fear monger here.
What is whiskey dick?
Whiskey dick is just a slang term for having so much to drink that your normally upright soldier passes out. Essentially, somewhere around the point where you’re unable to drive, neither is your copilot. But unlike erectile dysfunction, which typically affects your ability to get hard through the vascular system, whiskey dick is more of a neurological issue.
Harvard Medical School points at a particular type of ED: neurological impotence. It’s a condition for which "disorders of the nervous system are frequently responsible. Nerves can also be damaged by alcoholism…" Essentially, that numbing effect alcohol has on your senses and your feelings is also being experienced by your member and its hardening response.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact number of drinks where you’ll experience this. Everyone’s metabolism, height, weight, speed of drinking and food intake are a little different. But if you can’t feel your toes, you can bet your member isn’t going to be feeling much either.
When it might be something more
A lot of men experience ED, and in fact once you hit 40, you’re more likely to suffer from it than to not suffer from it.
This is a good time to remind you that alcohol consumption is just one of many things that can increase your risk of ED. Erectile dysfunction can also come from bad diet, a smoking habit, diabetes and high cholesterol, and a host of other conditions—many of which might play nicely with a heavier drinking habit.
In most of these cases, a vascular issue is at play, stopping the blood vessels in your penis from becoming engorged.
There are also psychological factors to consider. A couple of beers might not give you whiskey dick, but it might make you feel sad, depressed or have generally negative feelings about yourself or your partner. It can also heighten performance anxiety.
The most obvious sign that it’s more than whiskey dick is if the problem is happening when you’re sober. If things are working fine when you’re dry, your drinking is likely the culprit. If you’re never sober enough to find out, you probably have a drinking problem, for which you should probably seek help first.
And drinking problems are bad for your hard-on, too. There’s a second, lingering danger to be considered with alcohol consumption: long-term damage to other organs, which might cause permanent erectile issues.
Remember that report from Harvard? They go on to explain that with prolonged use, "drinking can damage the liver, raising estrogen levels and causing permanent impotence, among other hazards." A few episodes of whiskey dick is one thing, but at the point where you’re causing liver damage, we’re pretty sure it changes categories.
Alcohol isn’t all bad
We’re not telling you drinking is great for your dick, but there’s evidence to suggest moderate drinking isn’t linked to ED problems. A 2014 Australian study found that the portion of the population whose consumption was between one and 20 standard drinks a week had the “highest protection” from ED.
A 2015 review in the Asian Journal of Andrology hypothesized that the beneficial effects of alcohol on erectile function "may be due, in part, to the long-term benefits of alcohol on high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and other variables that increase the bioavailability of nitric oxide [the driving force of the blood genital flow]." The key is finding the healthy consumption for you, which may be less than you’re consuming now.
When to talk to a doctor
Regardless of how you may be self-diagnosing, if you’re experiencing ED regularly enough that you’ve been Googling, you should probably talk to your doctor about it.
They may be able to put your fears to bed, or they may have some helpful guidance on how to solve the problem. Either way, the next step is looking at your options. Take this seriously—be your dick’s best advocate.