Alcohol and Tinnitus: Are They Connected?

Learn how alcohol can affect your brain and inner ear
Last update on Mar, 28, 2024

As we age, we start to think more about our health and the habits we have formed over the years. One of them might be having a glass of wine at dinner, enjoying a pint at a local brewery, or sipping your favorite bourbon with an old friend.

Alcohol, even in moderation, can affect our health, especially as we get older. Studies continue to show, for example, that women are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer from moderate alcohol use, and even one drink can increase your blood pressure.

But does alcohol affect our hearing health? Or, more specifically, can alcohol cause tinnitus?

In this article, we'll review the latest research on the topic and share ways to easily eliminate alcohol from your routine and opt for healthier alternatives.

What Is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is a ringing, buzzing, or hissing sound in your ears that isn't caused by an external source.

Although tinnitus may only last a short time, the phenomenon is disruptive and never not something you should ignore. While tinnitus is not a condition, it can be a symptom of hearing loss, which may increase your risk of developing dementia.

Tinnitus can be triggered by exposure to loud noises, certain medications, ear infections, head or neck injuries, and even stress. 

Alcohol and the Inner Ear

Alcohol can make you feel dizzy or cause vertigo, commonly known as "the spins," due to its effects on the inner ear.

The inner ear contains fluid-filled canals that help maintain balance and spatial orientation. Alcohol can disrupt the fluid levels in these canals, leading to a feeling of motion even when standing still.

Alcohol can also affect the brain's ability to interpret signals from the inner ear, exacerbating the sensation of dizziness or vertigo. This is why you may feel more dizzy or disoriented after drinking alcohol, especially in large quantities.

A ringing in your ears may also accompany this feeling of dizziness.

Alcohol and Tinnitus: Recent Studies & Findings

Drinking alcohol may not cause everyone to experience tinnitus. Still, there does seem to be a correlation between the two—although some studies show mixed conclusions, including reports of participants claiming that alcohol helped their tinnitus symptoms.

What we do know is that consuming alcohol can have a direct impact on the inner ear, altering the volume and composition of the fluid present within it.

When you drink alcohol, it causes your blood vessels to relax and expand, a process known as vasodilation because it affects the production of a hormone called vasopressin.

Vasopressin helps regulate the constriction of blood vessels, but after ingesting alcohol, whether beer, wine, or spirits, your vasopressin levels start to decrease, leading to vasodilation. This can cause an increase in blood flow to various parts of the body, including the inner ear.

As a result, alcohol may increase the perception of tinnitus by affecting blood pressure and circulation in the inner ear.

Ears Ringing After Drinking: What's Really Triggering It?

Although identifying what's triggering your tinnitus is important, understanding the bigger picture of alcohol's connection to hearing loss may hold some answers.

When we hear a sound, it goes through a process that involves the inner ear and the auditory nerve, which sends electrical signals to the part of the brain responsible for processing sound, known as the auditory cortex. Damage to this area can be detrimental to our hearing health.

Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to various health problems, including damage to the auditory cortex. Studies have shown chronic alcohol abuse can cause damage to the neurons in the auditory cortex, leading to hearing loss or difficulties in processing sound.

Alcohol can also cause permanent damage to the hair cells in the inner ear, causing hearing loss.

If I Stop Drinking Alcohol Will My Tinnitus Go Away?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eliminating alcohol from your diet or limiting your intake to reduce alcohol-related harms. However, if you believe that drinking, even in moderation, is affecting your hearing health, talk to your clinician for advice and support.

If you're experiencing tinnitus, it's likely you have an underlying condition that needs to be addressed, so although you should avoid drinking, it may not necessarily resolve symptoms and further intervention may be necessary.

Tips for Eliminating Alcohol from Your Diet

If you're looking to remove alcohol from your diet, there are several strategies you can try. 







Find a Support System

Having a support system, whether it's a spouse, family, friends, or community, be sure to surround yourself with people who will encourage you and won't pressure you back into bad habits.
Grandma and grandaughter dancing


Avoid Triggers

Identify the triggers that make you want to drink and try to avoid them. This could mean avoiding certain social situations, where you know you'll be tempted to drink.
Cocktail party


Stay Active

When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, which are natural chemicals that help you feel good. These endorphins can help reduce stress and anxiety, which are often triggers for drinking.

Exercise can also help improve your overall health, making you feel more motivated to avoid habits that may be harmful, such as alcohol consumption. 

Man cycling


Stay hydrated

Drinking plenty of water can help you feel fuller and reduce your cravings for alcohol.
Woman drinking water


Find Alternatives

There are many alternatives to drinking alcohol that can help you manage stress or social situations. One strategy is to plan ahead for events where alcohol may be present.

You can decide ahead of time what you'll order, such as a mocktail that uses fresh fruits, herbs, and sparkling water.

If you're drinking due to stress, try to address the underlying issue and consider different stress-reducing activities, such as yoga, walking, or meditation to help you relax and manage your stress levels. 

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