While light-to-moderate, responsible drinking can enrich social, culinary, and even some religious experiences, alcohol can also affect weight loss attempts.

Studies have not yet consistently established a cause-and-effect relationship, but the consensus is that drinking higher-than-moderate amounts of alcohol can contribute to weight gain.

In this article, learn about how alcohol slows weight loss efforts and which types of alcohol are lower in calories.

a glass of alcohol which might slow down a person's attempts at weight lossShare on Pinterest
As alcohol is high in calories, it may hinder a person’s ability to lose weight.

In a word, yes. Drinking alcohol can make it harder to lose weight. There are many reasons for this, including:

  • Alcohol is high in calories, and so are the mixers that are popular to use in many drinks.
  • Calories from alcohol are empty calories, as they do not help the body meet its nutritional needs.
  • People typically consume alcoholic drinks as extras, adding to their regular daily calorie intake.
  • Drinking alcohol relaxes people’s inhibitions, which can make them more likely to overeat or opt for unhealthful foods.
  • Alcohol interferes with the body’s fat-burning mechanisms.
  • Drinking too much alcohol can reduce an individual’s interest in exercise.

Although some studies have found that drinking light-to-moderate amounts of alcohol is not necessarily linked to weight gain, researchers suggest that drinking alcohol can sometimes be a risk factor for obesity.

For some people, alcoholic beverages contribute a significant number of calories to the total amount that they consume each day.

A study in the United Kingdom found that on the heaviest drinking day in the past week, calories from alcoholic drinks made up 19% and 27% of the recommended daily calorie intake for women and men, respectively.

The following techniques can help people cut down the use of alcohol and achieve their weight loss goals:

  • Set limits on drinking: Federal guidelines define moderate drinking as up to one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.
  • Have a few alcohol-free days per week: As alcoholic drinks contain empty calories, it is best to avoid consuming them every day.
  • Use a smaller glass: Portion control is important for achieving and maintaining a moderate weight, and that also holds for beverages.
  • Alternate alcoholic beverages with water: Doing this can help people consume less alcohol within a set period.
  • Opt for wine or low alcohol beers: Beer, cocktails, and other mixed drinks tend to have higher calorie counts.
  • Stick with it: It takes time to change habits and lose weight.

People should also avoid drinking on an empty stomach because this can intensify the effects of alcohol and bring them on more quickly. Eating while drinking alcohol slows absorption and helps maintain impulse control.

Looking at the calorie content of alcoholic drinks can help people who are seeking to balance drinking alcohol with their weight loss goals.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) report the calorie counts for common drinks as follows:

  • 12 ounces (oz) regular beer — 153 calories
  • 1.5 oz gin, whiskey, vodka, tequila, rum — 97 calories
  • 5 oz red wine — 125 calories
  • 5 oz white wine — 121 calories
  • 4 oz champagne — 84 calories
  • 4 oz margarita — 168 calories
  • 3.5 oz whiskey sour — 160 calories

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism define alcohol use disorder, or AUD, as “a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not using.”

Studies have revealed varying results regarding the links between AUD and obesity in men and women. In general, though, heavy drinking does not support healthful lifestyle choices, such as eating a nutritious diet and exercising regularly.

Physical responses to excessive alcohol use can prompt cravings for fat and sugar, which further interfere with weight loss.

Drinking alcohol may impair the body’s ability to recover after a workout, so people with AUD may find that they have a reduced ability to burn excess calories with exercise.

AUD can cause feelings of anxiety and depression, which may affect a person’s motivation and body image.

Alcohol is high in calories and may interfere with weight loss. While cutting down on alcohol or not drinking at all will not necessarily produce weight loss immediately, it can be a good first step.

People who wish to continue drinking can opt for wine, unmixed spirits, or low alcohol beer in moderate quantities.