Does Drinking Alcohol Make You Gain Weight?
Last Updated: November 3, 2023
Learn about the many different factors that influence weight gain or loss and the role that alcohol can play in this delicate balance.
Many people who use alcohol1 wonder why they find it more difficult to lose or even maintain weight. While alcohol use does not make weight gain inevitable (and can even lead to malnutrition), it can play an important role in causing people to gain weight through the many different effects it causes.
While alcohol may result in weight gain, studies show3 inconclusive results in those who only use light or moderate amounts of alcohol. In contrast, heavy drinkers appear to have a greater risk of gaining weight when using alcohol.
Alcohol and Weight Gain
Weight gain is a complex topic. It can depend on the calories you eat, how much energy you expend and other health considerations specific to each individual. Alcohol does, however, play a significant role in potential weight gain. There are four main ways that alcohol can lead to weight gain4. These include:
- Inhibiting your body’s ability to burn fat
- Contributing high amounts of calories in alcoholic drinks
- Creating increased hunger and less satiety (feeling full or not hungry)
- Causing you to make poor food choices
These different effects of alcohol may increase your risk of gaining weight. However, weight gain or loss ultimately depends on a wide variety of lifestyle choices, not just one activity.
How Alcohol Could Lead to Gaining Weight
Alcohol can impact weight in many different ways. When alcohol is used, it becomes the primary fuel source5 for the body. This means that when your body would normally be burning fat, it instead burns energy from the alcohol, stopping the fat from being metabolized.
Additionally, alcohol is high in calories2 itself. Weight gain or loss is due to a balance of how many calories are ingested vs. how many calories are burned — drinking alcohol tips the scale toward increased weight gain.
Alcohol also affects the hormones that control hunger6, making you feel more hungry than you normally would. Simultaneously, alcohol affects your judgment and decreases your inhibitions7, making you more likely to choose unhealthy, fattening foods.
Other Factors That Determine Weight Gain
While alcohol may contribute to weight gain, many different factors will ultimately affect your weight. Weight gain occurs when the amount of calories you eat exceeds the number of calories you burn, and weight loss occurs when the opposite is true. While this sounds simple, there are many different things that affect this balance8, including:
- Overall health
- Certain medical conditions
- Your normal metabolism
- The foods you eat
- How much you eat
- How active you are
- Medications you use
- Sleep quality
- Stress levels
- Your culture’s relationship with food
All of these factors work together to influence your behaviors, the number of calories that you ingest and how you burn these calories.
Even the potential effects of drinking alcohol on weight vary significantly4 based on different factors. These factors may include:
- The caloric content of alcohol used
- How frequently alcohol is used
- How much alcohol is used
- The food you eat while drinking
- Your body and lifestyle choices
While alcohol definitely has the potential to impact how likely you are to gain weight, the complexity of the topic makes it necessary to consider the broader context of your lifestyle and how alcohol plays a role in it.
If you use alcohol and can’t stop, even when you are concerned that it is negatively impacting your weight or life, you may have an addiction to alcohol. The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper has a proven track record of helping those addicted to alcohol overcome the burden of alcoholism through evidence-based treatment. Contact us today to discuss your situation, learn more about treatment and get started on the path to long-term recovery.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Alcohol.” MedlinePlus, October 26, 2021. Accessed December 8, 2021.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Calorie count – Alcoholic beverages.” MedlinePlus, November 30, 2021. Accessed December 8, 2021.
- Manton, Elizabeth. “Alcohol and Obesity: A systemic review scoping study.” The Center for Alcohol Policy Research, July 2013. Accessed December 8, 2021.
- Department of Health, State Government of Victoria, Australia. “Alcohol and weight gain.” November 11, 2017. Accessed December 8, 2021.
- Jiang, Lihong; Gulanski, Barbara Irene; & et al. “Increased brain uptake and oxidation of […]te in heavy drinkers.” The Journal of Clinical Investigation, March 8, 2013. Accessed December 8, 2021.
- Traversy, Gregory & Chaput, Jean-Philippe. “Alcohol Consumption and Obesity: An Update.” Current Obesity Reports, January 2015. Accessed December 8, 2021.
- Caton, Samantha J.; Nolan, Laurence J.; & Hetherington, Marion M. “Alcohol, Appetite and Loss of Restraint.” Current Obesity Reports, January 14, 2015. Accessed December 8, 2021.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. “Factors Affecting Weight & Health.” February 2018. Accessed December 8, 2021.
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.