Why Do I Lose Weight When I Drink Alcohol? Short Term & Long Term Effects on Weight

Weight Loss & Diets | Written by Nathan Petitpas | Updated on 8 July 2024

A smiling man in a blue t-shirt with a white baseball logo offers a glass of beer to a tattooed person, who wonders why they're a few pounds lighter the day after drinking, with a shelf of liquor bottles in the background.

You might wonder what causes weight loss when you consume alcohol.

If you have noticed a few pounds difference from a night of drinking, there is a perfectly reasonable explanation as to why alcohol reduces weight in the short-term — it’s mostly caused from dehydration.

But, if you have been drinking habitually for weeks, months, or years, alcohol can cause weight loss if there is an underlying health issue, and more commonly causes weight gain in the long-term.

That being said, we’ll explain why alcohol makes you lose weight in the short-term, describe both short term and long term effects of alcohol regarding weight fluctuations and overall health, and give some tips on how to enjoy alcohol on occasion without packing on extra pounds.

Why Do I Experience Weight Loss the Day After Drinking Alcohol? Can Alcohol Make You Weight Less the Next Day?

With plenty of advice on avoiding or limiting alcohol content to lose weight or at least refrain from gaining, it can be puzzling to experience the opposite.

For those wondering why they experience weight loss after drinking alcohol the night before–it’s actually likely water weight being lost, as alcohol aiding with weight loss is a common misconception.

An alcoholic cocktail in a short brown glass filled with ice and garnished with a sprig of fresh rosemary.

Source: Jakub Dziubak via Unsplash.com1

Alcohol certainly doesn’t have nutritional or health properties that aid in weight loss or a slimming effect; rather, consuming alcohol is much more likely to cause weight gain for many reasons–including lowered inhibitions, slowing metabolism, and its empty calories.

Therefore, if you’ve noticed losing a little weight after a night out, this is likely only temporary weight loss and can probably be chalked up to one of the following reasons:

Dehydration can occur if you forget to drink water when out and solely–or mostly–consume alcoholic beverages.

Less water retention can contribute to losing water weight in very little time; excess fluids going into the body in the form of alcohol can lead the body to release some of its stored water to get back to normal levels, causing more frequent urination–so when you weigh in the following morning, the slightly lower number could be attributed to loss of water weight (less water retention) in the body.

Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning that drinking it promotes water loss through urine–similar to what we mentioned above. Alcohol disrupts the production of vasopressin (a hormone responsible for regulating excretion of water), so the body flushes more of what’s consumed than usual. With more urination, the body rapidly loses water weight and can lead to a lower number on the scale.

Drinking alcohol poisons the body due to its toxic nature; since the body is very smart and works to keep you healthy, when alcohol is consumed your body will use it as the main energy source until these toxins have been depleted (since most alcohol has caloric content). This means the body pushes alcohol through faster than most other foods and drinks you intake, so it could seem like you are losing weight–at first.

However, since the body is burning off the drinks instead of fat or carbs, these remain stored in the body and actually lead to a higher long term weight.

Since one or all of these reasons are the likely culprit for slight weight loss after drinking, there is a good chance the weight cut will be temporary and that your weight will return to normal once you have rehydrated.

The only other potential reason is that someone who’s already working towards how to get skinny fast or following the 3 steps to lose weight incorporated enough healthy choices and few enough drinks that their weight loss program was not disrupted much by their minimal drinking, so the weight didn’t return.

Regardless, it’s advised to avoid alcohol altogether or to only enjoy it in moderation as drinking isn’t one of the successful trending diets for a reason–it not only doesn’t aid in sustainable weight loss, but can be very detrimental to overall health.

Why Alcohol Affect Weight Loss Goals & Progress In the Short Term

So, it raises the question of whether alcohol affects short-term weight loss. Technically, alcohol can lead to weight loss in the short term–but as we covered above, this is likely only temporary due to the loss being from water loss or even dehydration.

Alcohol Delays Fat Burning

Since the body processes alcohol through the system first before returning to burning fat or carbs, drinking can drastically delay fat loss.

Alcohol Destabilizes the Normal Digestive Process

Alcohol destabilizes the normal digestive process in many ways; drinking can cause the stomach to produce more acid, leading to acid reflux, indigestion, and heartburn.

It can also cause inflammation and discomfort throughout the abdomen and just one instance of heavy alcohol consumption can limit stomach function and cause lesions. Both the liver and gastrointestinal tract can be damaged, making digestion much slower and more painful.

Drinking Alcohol Leads to Hunger

Most people who’ve had a night out on the town know well that drinking alcohol leads to hunger and often more specifically leads to cravings for salty, greasy, carb-heavy foods with poor nutrition benefits.

A study on individual, sociocultural, and environmental links between alcohol consumption, dietary intake and body weight acknowledges that more nuanced research should be done on this complex relationship, but notes that alcohol does seem to increase food consumption, leading to higher overall daily caloric intake, and in turn, weight gain.2

Intoxication Causes Other Poor Health Choices

Intoxication vastly lowers inhibitions and mental clarity, making it much more likely to make poor health choices and cave into your appetite or over-consume junk foods, high-calorie snacks or meals that likely don’t align with your weight loss plan, and added drinks beyond your initial limit or plan.

Drinking Slows Metabolism

Regular drinking–especially in excess–interferes with the body’s normal metabolic rate and can slow overall metabolism.

Since the body metabolizes alcohol before any other foods or drinks, all other nutrients and fats stay in the body longer than they should. This can lead to weight increase, and can even cause liver disease because some of that fat may stay in the liver if not properly metabolized.

Hangovers Hinder Goals

The morning after a night of heavy drinking, a hangover can lead to bloating as well as more poor health choices including making or ordering foods heavy in unhealthy ingredients, sugars, or astronomical calories–not to mention it feels impossible to even consider a workout when you feel miserable.

An anthropomorphic red figure holding onto their stomach with a concerned expression, a circle highlighting the stomach organ, set against a yellow background.

Source: Julien Tromeur via Unsplash.com3

Long Term Effects of Alcohol, Weight Loss & Weight Gain

After addressing why weight loss occurs when drinking alcohol and covering what can cause that short term effect, let’s jump into the more long term effects of alcohol and weight loss and weight gain.

Alcoholics–those who have an addiction and/or regularly consume alcohol in excess–can interestingly either tend to constantly lose weight or gain. Unfortunately those who tend to lose weight likely have underlying health issues that could very well be linked to alcoholism, since weight gain is a far more common long term result of regular drinking.

The combination of alcohol and weight gain has been studied immensely and it seems that the main contributing factors that drinking has on increasing fat are that the body stops burning fat as efficiently, alcohol increases hunger, and often leads to cravings of greasy and salty foods that can add even more weight in the form of fat.4 Other long-term weight impacts from alcohol are listed below.

Alcohol Can Lead to an Increased BMI

A study done on alcohol consumption and body weight showed that the amount of alcohol consumed per drinking session seems to have more impact on weight gain and BMI than frequency of drinking sessions.

Men in the 18-25 year old range had the most impact on their BMI, contrasting the general belief that those who are young can “bounce back” more quickly from alcohol-promoting weight changes. On the other hand, those with moderate drinking habits (occasional drinking sessions and limited alcohol) had almost no change to their BMI.5

Overindulging in Alcohol May Lead to Obesity

Drinking in moderation tends to be much less detrimental to body composition and general well being, but excessive drinking makes one a lot more prone to becoming overweight.

Men who consume more than two drinks per day and women who consume one or more alcoholic beverages a day on average are much more likely to be obese.

Alcohol Leads to Male Reproductive Issues

Alcohol’s effects on male reproduction can cause lower testosterone levels, impotence, and infertility due to alcohol’s interference with many aspects of the male reproductive system including the hypothalamus, anterior pituitary gland, and testes.

Since these parts of the body produce hormones, aid in reproductive function, and ensure sperm maturation, alcohol’s impairment of these abilities disrupts and decreases fertility and other reproductive functions in men.6

Other Health Risks That Can Impact Weight Fluctuations

Aside from the previously mentioned long-term effects of alcohol on weight, chronic drinking or alcoholism and its toxicity can also cause discomfort or pain and–in much more severe cases–may lead to much more serious and potentially fatal conditions due to the impacts of poison on one’s organs.

Alcoholic liver disease (ALD) is a good possibility in alcoholics and is one of the primary causes of liver disease globally, accounting for nearly half of all cirrhosis-related deaths in the United States alone.

At the point that one develops symptoms such as extreme jaundicing of the skin and eyes and severe abdominal pain, they could already be in acute liver failure; by then, the mortality risk may already be as high as 50% within merely a month.7

Four beers filled in a clear plastic cup, showcasing their golden colors and bubbly foam.

Source: Julia Nastogadka via Unsplash.com8

Other potential risks of long-term heavy drinking include:

  • Alcoholic Hepatitis
  • Alcohol Use Disorder
  • Cancers
  • Elevated Blood Pressure
  • Elevated Blood Sugar
  • Heart Disease
  • High BMI
  • High Cholesterol
  • High Triglycerides
  • Hormone Imbalance
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Liver Cirrhosis
  • Liver Disease
  • Low Testosterone
  • Metabolic Syndrome
  • Stroke

Is It Possible To Drink Alcohol and Still Lose Weight? (Tips and Tricks)

Though it’s advisable to cut out alcohol completely to avoid both short and long-term weight fluctuations and health risks, many people aren’t ready or willing to give up alcohol completely and are curious how they can drink alcohol and lose weight simulatenously.

Now that we’ve established how dangerous regular and excessive drinking can be, let’s delve into some ways you can still enjoy an occasional drink if desired–while cutting back on the negative impacts and ensuring you don’t pack on extra weight.

A bare foot resting on a white digital weighing scale with no weight displayed on the screen.

Source: I Yunmai via Unsplash.com9

Following weight loss rules and sticking to these guidelines can help keep you on track even when enjoying a drink or two at a birthday party or backyard cookout; although drinking is certainly not the key to how to lose belly fat overnight, there are ways to enjoy a beverage here and there without throwing away your weight loss plan.

  • Tip 1: First, moderation is key. Remember that research showed no significant difference in BMI between those who were sober and those who enjoyed the occasional alcoholic beverage–but that the group who drank often and in high quantities had a noticeable spike in their BMI.
  • Tip 2: Try using spritzers, soda water, or sparkling water as a mixer rather than using calorie-heavy juices and pure alcohol. This will save a lot of calories and you can add a fresh lime or other fruit for some added flavor without the calories.
  • Tip 3: Remember to drink just as much water as alcohol to stay hydrated and keep the body functioning at its best during a drinking session.
  • Tip 4: Opt for less fat-promoting alcoholic drinks when on a diet. Choose light beer, red or white wine, or low-calorie spirits like vodka (in very small amounts) instead of sugar-loaded cocktails, craft beers, or frozen margaritas. Always check the calorie contents of liquor and other alcohol before partaking.
  • Tip 5: Eat a healthy, nutritious meal just before drinking to cut down on the likelihood of cravings and overdoing it on unhealthy snacks you may later regret.
  • Tip 6: Go for a walk or leisurely bike ride the day after drinking to burn some calories without jumping into anything high intensity since rigorous workouts can be risky when you might be dehydrated.
  • Tip 7: Be mindful of how many drinks you’ve had and stick to your limit; keep your goals in mind even when splurging a little, but if you do slip up and overindulge, check out these pointers for how to lose weight gained from alcohol to get back on track.

What To Avoid When Drinking Alcohol

If you’re asking why weight loss occurs when you’re drinking alcohol, there’s a good chance you’re already following some of these tips on what to avoid when drinking alcohol because drinking regularly tends to lead to weight gain if actions aren’t taken to counter this effect.

If you are trying to stop drinking completely, check out these drinks to reduce belly fat in 4 days and try green tea or black coffee for much better health benefits. If you aren’t ready to cut alcohol out completely, make a few healthier choices when drinking to avoid weight gain.

Avoid these when drinking alcohol:

  • Drinking more than 1-2 drinks
  • Drinking to intoxication
  • Eating high calorie, salty, sugary, and fried foods
  • Forgetting to hydrate
  • Giving up on weight loss goals because of a mistake or slip up
  • High calorie alcohols like cocktails
  • Losing count
  • Skipping Meals

Drinking alcohol in excessive amounts can lead to rapid weight gain and a slew of health issues, many irreversible.

Be sure to drink responsibly–if at all–and remember that if you’re wondering why you experience weight loss when you drink alcohol, you’re likely dehydrated (and that this weight loss is temporary) so build healthy weight loss habits if you want to drink without packing on the pounds.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Do I Experience Weight Loss When I Drink Alcohol & Is It Fat Loss?

It is a misconception that you can lose weight or achieve fat loss sustainably by drinking alcohol; either it’s a lack of water retention, more serious dehydration, or even an underlying health issue.

Why Do Alcoholics Tend To Be Skinny?

“Does alcohol cause weight loss” and “why are alcoholics tend to be skinny” are fair questions to ask, but sadly alcohol does not make you skinny so alcoholics who are thin are likely either counterbalancing their drinking with others weight loss measures like eating little and exercising a lot, or they may very well have major health issues due to their drinking that could cause weight loss.

Does Alcohol Inhibit Fat Burning?

The answer to does alcohol inhibit fat burning is yes it does. As soon as someone drinks, their body switches to ridding itself of the alcohol before going back to burning fat or carbs. This not only disrupts digestion and metabolic processes but can lead to weight gain and fatty liver.

How Long Does Alcohol Inhibit Fat Burning?

For those curious how long does alcohol inhibit fat burning,it can range from 12-36 hours depending on body size and amount and type consumed.

If I Stop Drinking, Will I Lose Weight?

if I stop drinking, will I lose weight can be answered with yes–if you maintain or create other healthy habits alongside quitting.


References

1Dziubak, J. (2017, July 16). Closeup Photo of Clear Wine Glass With Brown Liquid. Unsplash. <https://unsplash.com/photos/closeup-photo-of-clear-wine-glass-with-brown-liquid-sX7oITk-UXE>

2Fong, M., Scott, S., Albani, V., Adamson, A., & Kaner, E. (2021, August 24). ‘Joining the Dots’: Individual, Sociocultural and Environmental Links between Alcohol Consumption, Dietary Intake and Body Weight—A Narrative Review. Nutrients, 13(9), 2927. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8472815/>

3Tromeur, J. (2002, April 4). A Picture of a Human Body With a Diagram of the Human Body. Unsplash. <https://unsplash.com/photos/a-picture-of-a-human-body-with-a-diagram-of-the-human-body-w0139vjqZXg>

4Better Health. (2021). Alcohol and Weight Gain. Department of Health: State Government of Victoria, Australia. Retrieved February 27, 2023, from <https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/Alcohol-and-weight-gain>

5French, M., Norton, E., Fang, H., & Maclean, J. (2010, July). Alcohol Consumption and Body Weight. Health Economics, 19(7), 814-832. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3082959/>

6Emanuele, M., & Emanuele, N. (1995). Alcohol’s Effects on Male Reproduction. Alcohol Health & Research World, 22(3), 195-201. <https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh22-3/195.pdf>

7Singal, A., Bataller, R., Ahn, J., Kamath, P., & Shah, V. (2018, February). ACG Clinical Guideline: Alcoholic Liver Disease. American College of Gastroenterology, 113(2), 175-194. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6524956/>

8Nastogadka, J. (2017, July 30). Four Clear Plastic Disposable Cups With Beer on the Top of the Board. Unsplash. <https://unsplash.com/photos/four-clear-plastic-disposable-cups-with-beer-on-the-top-of-the-board-AMwYylKQsUc>

9Yunmai, I. (2018, April 4). Person Standing on White Digital Bathroom Scale. Unsplash. <https://unsplash.com/photos/person-standing-on-white-digital-bathroom-scale-5jctAMjz21A>

About the Author

Nathan Petitpas

Nathan has been a fitness enthusiast for the past 12 years and jumps between several types of training such as bodybuilding, powerlifting, cycling, gymnastics, and backcountry hiking. Due to the varying caloric needs of numerous sports, he has cycled between all types of diets and currently eats a whole food diet. In addition, Nathan lives with several injuries such as hip impingement, spondylolisthesis, and scoliosis, so he underwent self-rehabilitation and no longer lives with debilitating pain.