Effects of Substance Misuse on Fertility and the Reproductive System

Alcohol and drug use can have negative impacts on an individual’s physical and mental health. Men and women’s reproductive health and fertility can also be impacted by substance use and misuse. Learn about how drugs and alcohol can affect fertility and how to get help if you are struggling with dependency or addiction.

Does Substance Misuse Impact Fertility?

While it’s fairly well-known that women who are pregnant or wish to become pregnant should avoid alcohol and drugs, it’s not as widely known that men’s fertility can be impacted by substance misuse as well.

Both men and women’s fertility and reproductive health are impacted by substance misuse. Additionally, there are medical conditions that occur with addiction that can result in detrimental consequences to a person’s physical and mental health, personal relationships, financial and housing stability, and a host of other problems that can both directly and indirectly impact fertility.

Effects of Drugs and Alcohol on Women’s Fertility

Women between the ages of 18 and 25 are the most likely to report problematic alcohol consumption, including binge drinking and heavy use, according to a report published in 2013. About 59 percent of women in the US now use marijuana regularly, a number that has increased rapidly since 2002. While illicit drug use among women of childbearing age is declining in general, some categories, such as opioid addiction, are on the rise. Misuse of substances often leads to reproductive problems, including sexually transmitted infections (STIs), menstruation issues, difficulty becoming pregnant, problems in the physical and mental development of children.

The Impact of Different Drugs on the Female Reproductive System

crashA woman’s whole-person health is affected by drug and alcohol use. However, these substances can have different impacts on a woman’s reproductive health and can make it difficult to get pregnant, stay pregnant, and have a healthy pregnancy. Addiction during pregnancy can lead to problems for both the mother and fetus.

The Impact of Alcohol on the Female the Reproductive System

It’s well known that drinking during pregnancy presents serious risks for their unborn child to develop a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). But it’s not as well known that alcohol use can create difficulties for women are trying to conceive.

Alcohol reduces inhibitions, which can lead to risky sexual behavior. This can increase the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection that can lead to fertility issues, including sterility.

Women who binge drink may experience difficulties trying to conceive — especially if she’s undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF). Once pregnant, alcohol consumption can increase the chances of miscarriage, preterm labor, and stillbirth.

The Impact of Cocaine on the Female Reproductive System

Cocaine has a number of psychological and physical effects — including an increase in sexual urges and activity.  Increased sexual activity increases the risk of contracting an STI. Furthermore, substance like cocaine can lead to changes in the timing of ovulation and menstruation, which can increase the risk of infertility.

Long-term cocaine users may experience changes in the fallopian tubes, making ovulation and pregnancy more difficult. Pregnant women who abuse cocaine are more likely to give birth sooner, and their infants are likely to have a lower birth weight.

The Impact of Marijuana on the Female Reproductive System

Frequent marijuana use can lead to menstrual irregularity, decreased ovulation, and increased risk of infertility. Women who use marijuana during pregnancy increase their child’s risk of cognitive problems, and infants are more likely to be underweight and born prematurely.

The Impact of Methamphetamines on the Female Reproductive System

Methamphetamine use can disrupt normal ovulation and menstruation cycles which can make conception more difficult to achieve. Use during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage and premature birth due to increased heart rate and blood pressure. Meth constricts blood vessels in the placenta, reducing the amount of oxygen and nutrients sent to the fetus, which can lead to birth defects, behavioral problems, and mental health disorders.

The Impact of Opioids on the Female Reproductive System

Like alcohol, opioids are CNS depressants that can relax users and induce a short, pleasant euphoria. Reduced inhibitions from feeling relaxed can lead to risky sexual behavior, which can increase the risk of a woman contracting a sexually transmitted disease. Menstrual irregularity from hormonal disruption can also occur. Children born addicted to opiates experience life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. A study found that about 21 percent of women who abused opioids developed hypogonadism, which reduces fertility.

The Impact of Tobacco on the Female Reproductive System

Smoking can harm the reproductive system and lead to problems with fertility and conception. Smoking cigarettes during pregnancy increases the risk of low birth weight, developmental problems, premature birth, and stillbirth.

Effects of Drugs and Alcohol on Men’s Fertility

Men are generally more likely than women to use intoxicating substances, including alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and other illicit drugs. Women and men are equally likely to develop substance dependency or addiction, but more women tend to struggle with alcohol and prescription medications.

When men misuse drugs or alcohol, or struggle with addiction, the drug use is likely to affect their sexual and reproductive ability by disrupting hormones; damaging blood vessels, leading to erectile dysfunction; and even damaging sperm shape and count. Men who smoke anything are at a greater risk of all types of cancer, including testicular cancer. Various risks are associated with the substances below.

The Impact of Different Drugs on the Male Reproductive System

man receiving motivational interviewing therapy

Men experience a number of negative effects on their overall health from drug and alcohol use. Like women, men can experience fertility and reproductive health issues related to substance use.

The Impact of Alcohol on the Male the Reproductive System

Drinking heavily, binge drinking, and alcohol use disorders can cause erectile dysfunction, especially while intoxicated. They can also cause infertility. Damage to sperm can cause damage to the genes, which can lead to problems with fetal development or the child’s later development. Reduced inhibitions from feeling relaxed leads to risky sexual behavior, which can increase the risk of contracting an STI.

The Impact of Cocaine on the Male the Reproductive System

This potent stimulant can cause infertility, problems with sexual function, and problems with sperm function.

The Impact of Marijuana on the Male the Reproductive System

Hormonal problems in young people struggling with marijuana miuses can delay the onset of puberty. Lower sperm count is caused by lower testosterone. Chronic marijuana abuse can lead to problems with shape or size of testes, problems with sperm shape, and sperm movement. Smoking increases the risk of cancer, including testicular cancer. Lowered inhibitions can lead to risky sexual behaviors and an increased risk of contracting STIs.

The Impact of Methamphetamines on the Male the Reproductive System

Methamphetamine use has been shown to negatively impact sperm count, shape, and motility. Feeling more sexual is common with use of methamphetamines, which can lead to making riskier decisions with sex and potentially contracting an STI.

The Impact of Opioids on the Male the Reproductive System

Opioids use may contribute to low sperm count due to hormone disruptions and problems in the testes called hypogonadism. One study found that 83 percent of men who abused narcotics or prescription painkillers experienced hypogonadism.

The Impact of Tobacco on the Male the Reproductive System

There has been some correlation between smoking cigarettes and lower sperm counts. Smoking also increases the risk of cancers like testicular cancer.

Getting Help for Drug or Alcohol Misuse

Drug and alcohol dependency and addiction affects not only your physical health, but impacts your entire life. Fortunately, there is effective help available. At our inpatient rehab in New Jersey, our team of addiction treatment specialists use evidence-based addiction-focused healthcare to help people get on the road to recovery, find hope and healing, and get back to living the life they deserve.

Contact our knowledgeable and helpful admissions navigators at to learn more about our different types of addiction treatment, how to start the admissions process, and what to expect in inpatient treatment. They can also help you find out about ways to pay for rehab and using your insurance coverage for rehab.

Was this page helpful?
Thank you for your feedback.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is committed to delivering original, truthful, accurate, unbiased, and medically current information. We strive to create content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.

Read our full editorial policy

While we are unable to respond to your feedback directly, we'll use this information to improve our online help.