Erections are more complicated than you think. Your brain, nerves, heart, blood vessels, and a whole lot of hormones have to work together perfectly or nothing happens. It’s a lot to ask, and sometimes things break down. And while ED happens to most guys at some point in their lives, erectile dysfunction isn’t something you can just ignore and hope it goes away.
Alcohol abuse is the leading cause of impotence and other disturbances in sexual dysfunction.[3] Episodic erectile failure in alcoholic men is fairly routine, found to be significantly higher in men consuming more than three standard units of alcohol (12 g ethanol) daily and in subjects smoking more than 10 cigarettes/day.[4] Van Thiel and Lester[5] reported that 61% of patients dependent on alcohol reported sexual dysfunction, the most common being erectile dysfunction followed by reduced sexual desire. Erectile dysfunction and reduced sexual desire were frequently seen to be coexisting.[6–9] Vijayasenan,[10] found that of 97 male inpatients admitted for the treatment of alcoholism, 71% suffered from sexual dysfunction for a period of more than 12 months prior to admission to a hospital. The disturbances noted were diminished sexual desire (58%), ejaculatory incompetence (22%), erectile impotence (16%) and premature ejaculation (4%). Virtually all aspects of the human sexual response are affected by alcohol especially sexual desire and erection.[11]
Illegal drugs don’t just affect and suppress the central nervous system. They cause serious damage to blood vessels. And any damage to blood vessels or normal blood flow will eventually cause erectile dysfunction. Some experts even argue that a single use of any of these chemicals can lead to subsequent ED. Chronic use raises the risk even more. If you have a substance addiction speak to your physician. There’s always help available.
It's also important to remember that your mental health plays as much a part of your sexual ability as your physical health. Stress and other mental health concerns can cause or make erectile dysfunction worse. Minor health problems may slow your sexual response, but the accompanying anxiety that comes with the slow sexual response can shut things down entirely.
A little wine every day or two is good for your heart, and that’s good for your sexual function. Men who drink moderately, one or two drinks a day, are actually at lower risk of developing erectile dysfunction (ED) than men who don’t drink at all. But if a little is good, too much is clearly bad. Drinking too much alcohol at one time can interfere with sexual performance, as many a college student has found to his dismay. Drinking too much alcohol over months and years can do something far worse. It can cause ED.

If the inability to get or maintain an erection happens to you once or twice, you may not need to see a doctor. Many lifestyle factors, such as stress or drinking too much alcohol, can affect your sexual ability. If you notice the problem is happening on a routine basis and it’s impacting your ability to have a satisfying sex life, then it’s time to consider seeing a doctor.
Many men who suffer from erectile dysfunction feel guilty about being unable to please their partner. If the problem persists, the guilt becomes more than just a side effect – it can contribute to the ongoing cycle of ED as well. Guilt is often paired with low self-esteem, and not just in men with erectile dysfunction. Guilt and shame are feelings that are commonly linked to mental health issues such as depression. In fact, feelings of worthlessness and inappropriate guilt is one of the clinical criteria for major depressive disorder, according to the DSM-5.
Some doctors prefer to start a man on the lowest dose of an oral medicine and increase the dose until an effective one is found. Others prefer to start with the highest dose and go to a lower dose only if a man complains of side effects. In either case, it’s important for a man to communicate with his doctor to let him know how the dose he’s using is working.
"Stress and anxiety can adversely affect sexual performance and are common causes of erectile dysfunction,” warns Feloney. “Feelings of stress and anxiety can also lead to depression and a loss of interest in sex." It's important to get these feelings out in the open where you can deal with them. Issues that can lead to erectile dysfunction include fear from previous bad experiences with sex, family or work related stress, poor communication with your partner, and unrealistic goals and expectations.
Other hormone levels: Measurement of other hormones beside testosterone (luteinizing hormone [LH], prolactin level, and cortisol level) may provide clues to other underlying causes of testosterone deficiency and erectile problems, such as pituitary disease or adrenal gland abnormalities. Doctors may check thyroid levels in some individuals as both hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) and hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid function) can contribute to erectile dysfunction.
Not only can guilt affect your ability to perform sexually, but so can low self-esteem. The correlation between erectile dysfunction and low self-esteem seems obvious from one direction – an inability to perform in the bedroom can cause you to feel bad about yourself. But how does low self-esteem cause ED? Self-esteem is defined as, “confidence in one’s own worth or abilities.”
While pills for ED are convenient, some men sustain stronger erections by injecting medication directly into the penis. Drugs approved for this purpose work by widening the blood vessels, causing the penis to become engorged with blood. Another option is inserting a medicated pellet into the urethra. The pellet can trigger an erection within 10 minutes.
The bottom line is that nearly all men with diabetes who wish to have an erection adequate for sexual intercourse can do so with the therapies currently available. And with commitment and communication, the experience of erectile dysfunction can be changed from a potential personal tragedy to an opportunity for greater emotional intimacy in a couple.
When a man becomes sexually excited, muscles in their penis relax. This relaxation allows for increased blood flow through the penile arteries. This blood fills two chambers inside the penis called the corpora cavernosa. As the chambers fill with blood, the penis grows rigid. Erection ends when the muscles contract and the accumulated blood can flow out through the penile veins.
Tadalafil (Cialis) is the third oral medicine approved by the U.S. FDA for the treatment of erectile dysfunction. Like sildenafil (Viagra) and vardenafil (Levitra), tadalafil inhibits PDE5 (as described earlier). Unlike the other PDE 5 inhibitors, patients should take tadalafil once daily and is approved for the treatment of BPH (benign enlargement of the prostate).

The number of sexual dysfunction complaints was significantly associated with the amount of alcohol consumed per day. On curve-fitting the data, there was a significant positive linear relationship (F = 10.54; dF 87; P = 0.002) [Figure 1]. However, there was no correlation between the reduction in frequency of sexual intercourse over the last five years and the amount of alcohol consumed.
Erectile dysfunction, also known as impotence, is defined as not being able to get or keep an erection firm enough for sex. Remember, occasional erectile dysfunction is not uncommon, but if it’s persistent, erectile dysfunction can be the sign of a more serious health issue, and so you should visit your doctor.Here are 8 surprising causes of erectile dysfunction:High cholesterol. Having a raised cholesterol increases the risk of atherosclerosis where the arteries become narrowed and clogged, resulting in impaired blood flow. When this happens to the arteries in the penis, it can prevent enough blood to create an erection from reaching the penis.Depression. This can cause a lack of interest in sex. See your doctor if this happens to you.Smoking. Smoking causes damage to blood vessels, including those that supply the penis which can result in difficulty in achieving an erection.Cycling. Long hours in the saddle without changing position can cause compression of the perineal nerves and blood vessels, resulting in nerve damage which causes erectile dysfunction. Some saddles are worse than others. If cycling is causing you symptoms of tingling or numbness in your penis, adjust your riding position and take a break.  You might want to look at a different saddle, too. Rodeo riding can have the same effect.Medicines. Erectile dysfunction can be a side-effect of many medicines, including some antipsychotics and antidepressants, cholesterol-lowering medicines, high blood pressure medicines, and epilepsy medicines.Stress. Feelings of stress and anxiety can overflow onto your sex life, and you may find you can’t perform as well as you normally could. 'Performance anxiety' is a common cause of erectile problems.Diabetes. Diabetes raises the risk of erectile dysfunction threefold by its effects on nerves and blood vessels.Peyronie’s disease. This disease causes curvature of the penis due to a hardened area of scar tissue, which results in pain when the man has an erection.If you suffer from erectile dysfunction, don’t be embarrassed – it affects one in 5 men over 40. Remember your doctor can help identify the cause of your erectile dysfunction,  and put you on the path to successful treatment. Read erectile dysfunction – visiting your doctor to find out what to expect when you visit your doctor. Last Reviewed: 18 February 2016
What young men should not do is take an ED drug like Viagra without a prescription, or mix them with other drugs. “This is a huge problem and not a safe practice,” says Penny Kaye Jensen, PhD, president of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. “Some young men are mixing ED drugs with mind-altering drugs, such as ecstasy or crystal methamphetamine. This is on the rise and is a potentially deadly combination.”
In many ways, performance anxiety becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy wherein you become nervous about being able to satisfy your partner and the nerves lead to sexual dysfunction. In many cases, performance anxiety is triggered by negative self-talk – worries about being able to achieve an erection, pleasing a partner, or ejaculating too early. If you have had erectile issues in the past, those experiences will add to the weight of performance anxiety.

Nerve or spinal cord damage: Damage to the spinal cord and nerves in the pelvis can cause erectile dysfunction. Nerve damage can be due to disease, trauma, or surgical procedures. Examples include injury to the spinal cord from automobile accidents, injury to the pelvic nerves from prostate surgery for cancer (prostatectomy), and some surgeries for colorectal cancer, radiation to the prostate, surgery for benign prostatic enlargement, multiple sclerosis (a neurological disease with the potential to cause widespread damage to nerves), and long-term diabetes mellitus.
One hundred male subjects, consecutively admitted to the Deaddiction Centre of the National Institute of Mental Health And NeuroSciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore, India, with a diagnosis of Alcohol Dependence Syndrome With Simple Withdrawal Symptoms (F10.30, ICD-10 criteria) [WHO][13] were recruited for the study. All subjects gave informed consent for taking part in the study. Subjects were initially assessed on the schedules for clinical assessment in neuropsychiatry (SCAN)[14] by a trained psychiatrist (VB). All patients were subjected to detailed clinical and biochemical examinations including blood glucose and liver enzymes. Patients with significantly high levels of liver enzymes or physical findings suggestive of hepatic cirrhosis were referred for ultrasound assessment of the abdomen.
The best policy is honesty and clarity. If you understand the cause of your ED, as well as the solution, you can enlighten your partner and allow both of you to enjoy sexual intimacy along with everything else you both enjoy about each other. It doesn’t have to be a secret shame, because it’s a medical condition just like any other and fortunately its very treatable.
Erections are neurovascular events, meaning that nerves and blood vessels (arteries and veins) are involved in the process of an erection and all must work properly to develop a hard erection that lasts long enough. Erection begins with sexual stimulation. Sexual stimulation can be tactile (for example, by a partner touching the penis or by masturbation) or mental (for example, by having sexual fantasies, viewing porn). Sexual stimulation or sexual arousal causes the nerves going to the penis to release a chemical, nitric oxide. Nitric oxide increases the production of another chemical, cyclic GMP (cGMP), in the muscle of the corpora cavernosa. The cGMP causes the muscles of the corpora cavernosa to relax, and this allows more blood to flow into the penis. The incoming blood fills the corpora cavernosa, making the penis expand.
Smoking.   Smoking and erectile dysfunction are related as smoking leads to plaque build up in the arteries called cardiovascular disease, which restricts blood flow through the veins.  Arterial sclerosis from smoking restricts blood flow, and thus can prevent the massive amount of blood required for you to achieve an eretion, resulting in erectile dysfunction.
Nonsustained erection with detumescence after penetration is most commonly caused by anxiety or the vascular steel syndrome. In the vascular steel syndrome, blood is diverted from the engorged corpora cavernosae to accommodate the oxygen requirements of the thrusting pelvis. Questions should be asked regarding the presence or absence of nocturnal or morning erections and the ability to masturbate. Complete loss of nocturnal erections and the ability to masturbate are signs of neurological or vascular disease. It is important to remember that sexual desire is not lost with ED—only the ability to act on those emotions.

Erectile function can be impaired in several endocrine disorders and treating these conditions can improve ED (43). This is the case of adrenal insufficiency, whose treatment with glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid replacement is able to improve erectile function (44). Similarly, an adequate control of thyroid function in hyper- and hypothyroid patients is associated with an improvement in ED (45,46). However, although ED is a common complaint in subjects with Addison’s disease, hypo- and even more hyperthyroidism (45-48), the prevalence of these disorders is subjects with ED is not so high for recommending the routine screening of adrenal and thyroid hormone in these men (49). In contrast with the low prevalence of adrenal or thyroid disturbances in ED subjects, testosterone (T) deficiency is frequently found in subjects with ED (49,50) and, in turn, low T is frequently associated with the occurrence of sexual dysfunctions, including ED, even in general population (51). Accordingly, the Fourth ICSM recommends the routine assessment of T levels in patients with ED (43). The assessment of prolactin (PRL) in ED patients is controversial because an actual pathological increase in PRL levels (severe hyperprolactinemia: prolactin ≥735 mU/L or 35 ng/mL) is rarely found in ED men (52). Furthermore, the role of PRL in inducing ED is still not clarified. Hyperprolactinemia has been consistently associated with loss of sexual desire (43,53) and development of hypogonadotropic hypogonadism, both conditions that can in turn induce ED. However, a direct role of high PRL levels in inducing an impairment of erectile function is not consistently proven (52,54) and, conversely, more recent evidence suggests that lower, rather than higher, PRL levels are associated with impaired erectile function (55-57). For these reasons, at present, the assessment of PRL levels in subjects with ED is not routinely recommended (43) and it could be advisable only in men with hypogonadotropic hypogonadism, as a possible cause of this condition.


This initial release of NO causes rapid and short-term increases in penile blood flow and short-term relaxation of the penile smooth muscle, initiating an erection.  The resulting expansion of penile blood vessels and smooth-muscle relaxation allows more blood to flow into the penis. This increased blood flow (shear stress) activates the eNOS in penile blood vessels causing sustained NO release, continued relaxation and full erection.

The condition is often an early warning sign of heart disease and other circulatory problems. To achieve and maintain an erection, extra blood must be able to flow unimpeded. Anything that interferes with healthy flow – for example atherosclerosis, the artery-clogging process at the root of most heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular conditions – has the potential to cause erectile dysfunction, too.
Smoking.   Smoking and erectile dysfunction are related as smoking leads to plaque build up in the arteries called cardiovascular disease, which restricts blood flow through the veins.  Arterial sclerosis from smoking restricts blood flow, and thus can prevent the massive amount of blood required for you to achieve an eretion, resulting in erectile dysfunction.
As shown in Figure 2, in younger patients consulting for ED, the organic component plays the predominant role. These data provide evidence for the need to adequately investigate possible organic causes of ED in younger and apparently fit men. The organic causes of ED can be classified into three categories: metabolic and CV, endocrine and neurologic conditions.
Cardiovascular diseases account for nearly half of all cases of erectile dysfunction in men older than 50 years. Cardiovascular causes include those that affect arteries and veins. Damage to arteries that bring blood flow into the penis may occur from hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) or trauma to the pelvis/perineum (for example, pelvic fracture, long-distance bicycle riding).
With coronary artery disease, a buildup of plaque inside the arteries can limit the amount of blood that’s able to flow through them. If the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscle is reduced or blocked by this hardening of the arteries, the result can be angina (chest pain) or a heart attack.17 Because the arteries that supply blood to the penis are much smaller than the ones that feed the heart, the problem may show up earlier as having difficulty getting an erection.18
Alcohol abuse is the leading cause of impotence and other disturbances in sexual dysfunction.[3] Episodic erectile failure in alcoholic men is fairly routine, found to be significantly higher in men consuming more than three standard units of alcohol (12 g ethanol) daily and in subjects smoking more than 10 cigarettes/day.[4] Van Thiel and Lester[5] reported that 61% of patients dependent on alcohol reported sexual dysfunction, the most common being erectile dysfunction followed by reduced sexual desire. Erectile dysfunction and reduced sexual desire were frequently seen to be coexisting.[6–9] Vijayasenan,[10] found that of 97 male inpatients admitted for the treatment of alcoholism, 71% suffered from sexual dysfunction for a period of more than 12 months prior to admission to a hospital. The disturbances noted were diminished sexual desire (58%), ejaculatory incompetence (22%), erectile impotence (16%) and premature ejaculation (4%). Virtually all aspects of the human sexual response are affected by alcohol especially sexual desire and erection.[11]
Combination therapy has proven effective for some men who don’t respond adequately to oral medicines. The idea is to use two drugs with different mechanisms of action for better results. Commonly, sildenafil is used in combination with pellets of alprostadil (synthetic prostaglandin E1) that are inserted into the urethra (the tube in the penis that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body). Alprostadil also increases the blood supply to the penis, but by different means.
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