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Alcohol and Weight Gain: How Drinking Affects Metabolism, Hunger, Bloating, and More

Written by Jonathan Strum

& Medically Reviewed by Benjamin Caleb Williams, RN

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Medically Reviewed by Benjamin Caleb Williams, RN

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Updated 01/25/2022

Studies show that many factors affected by heavy alcohol use contribute to weight gain, including sleep quality, sugar content, metabolism and more.

Heavy alcohol use can make you gain weight. There are conflicting studies about how smaller amounts of alcohol affect weight gain or exactly how alcohol affects weight, but most researchers agree that heavier alcohol consumption makes it more likely that you will gain weight.

Although many alcoholic beverages are high in calories, weight gain from alcohol is not purely related to calorie consumption. Alcohol’s effects on behavior, sleep and metabolism all play a role in how alcohol influences weight gain.

How Does Alcohol Make You Fat?

Weight changes are influenced by several factors, including age, genetics, diet, activity level and more. While the factors influencing weight gain or loss are complex and multifaceted, changes in your weight are ultimately due to the balance between the amount of calories you consume versus the amount your body uses.

Alcohol use is one of the many factors that can contribute to weight gain. Alcohol is unique in that it not only adds calories, but also causes other physical and behavioral changes that can further affect your weight.

Alcohol and Eating Behaviors

Alcohol decreases inhibitions, making you more likely to do things that you wouldn’t normally do otherwise. This applies to many areas, including decisions related to eating. If you would normally avoid or limit potentially non-nutritious foods, alcohol intoxication decreases your inhibitions, making you more likely to overindulge.

Alcohol Sugar Content

While alcohol can affect weight in many ways, the caloric content should not be ignored. Alcohol contains almost as many calories per ounce as pure fat, meaning that even just a few drinks can significantly increase your calorie intake for the day. Calories from alcohol are also empty calories, meaning that they add no nutritional value.

Alcohol and Metabolism

Alcohol changes the way your body metabolizes. When your body burns calories during and after alcohol consumption, your body prioritizes eliminating alcohol first. The absorption of nutrients and burning of fat is interrupted.

Alcohol and Hunger

A recent discovery shows that alcohol has an effect on an area of the brain that provokes hunger. When alcohol is consumed, the brain’s hunger signals may be distorted, leading to an increased motivation to eat despite consuming calories from alcohol. This makes you more likely to overeat when drinking alcohol.

Alcohol and Bloating

While technically not considered weight gain, bloating can still make you feel like you’ve gained weight. Alcohol causes bloating by irritating the lining of your intestines, causing excessive gas and swelling in the abdomen. While this may not add to your weight, it can add to your waistline and overall appearance.

Alcohol Water Retention

Alcohol causes you to retain water because it is dehydrating. This might seem counterintuitive, but your body compensates for losing water by retaining water wherever it can. This results in swelling in soft tissues in your body, most noticeably in the face. Depending on how dehydrated you are, this may not significantly affect your weight, but it can affect your perception of weight gain by adding volume to your face.

Alcohol and Testosterone

Alcohol is known to inhibit the release of testosterone, especially in men. While this can result in decreased libido and problems sustaining an erection, decreased testosterone is also known to contribute to weight gain.

Alcohol and Sleep

Alcohol may make it easier to fall asleep, but once you are asleep, alcohol will prevent your brain from reaching the deep, regenerative sleep you need to feel fully rested. The effects of alcohol on sleep will not only make you feel more tired throughout the day but will actually lead to an increased probability of weight gain.

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Best Alcoholic Drinks for Weight Loss

Ultimately, any drink that contains alcohol will increase your probability of gaining weight. That said, it’s possible to make health-conscious choices when considering the best alcoholic drinks to lose weight or prevent weight gain. Choose drinks with a relatively low alcohol and calorie content:

  • Dry martini
  • Vodka soda
  • Hard seltzer
  • Tequila with lime
  • Gin and diet soda
  • Light beer

To keep the calorie count as low as possible, avoid mixers and added sugar when possible. Keep in mind that even low-calorie, low-alcohol drinks add up. The more you drink, the higher the possibility of weight gain.

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