Sex hormone-binding globulin in non-cirrhotic alcoholic patients during early withdrawal and after longer abstinence

Alcohol Alcohol. Nov-Dec 1999;34(6):903-9. doi: 10.1093/alcalc/34.6.903.


In recently intoxicated non-cirrhotic male alcohol-misusing and -dependent patients, we studied, during early withdrawal and more prolonged abstinence, the rate of changes of sex hormones and their binding globulin (SHBG), the prevalence of hypo-androgenism and possible determinant factors of SHBG increase. Twenty-one alcoholics and 21 controls were studied. SHBG plasma levels, sex hormones (SH), cortisol, insulin and thyroid hormones were measured at admission and discharge. SHBG and SH were also determined on days 2, 4 and 7 after admission and on weeks 2, 6 and 12 after discharge. SHBG showed a 3-fold increase, decreasing slowly during the first 10 days, but remaining above control values. Luteinizing hormone was also increased. Free testosterone (Tf) was low at admission and correlated negatively with SHBG during the first 10 days. By day 10, Tf reached normal values, despite SHBG remaining elevated. The other sex hormones were normal. Neither insulin nor thyroid hormones correlated with SHBG. Cortisol was high at admission and then normalized. Clinical hypo-androgenism was found in 33-50% of patients, but did not correlate with SHBG or SH. During follow-up, nine patients relapsed. In those remaining abstinent, SHBG continued decreasing, reaching normal levels in the 12th week. In those who relapsed, SHBG remained high or even increased further. Gamma-glutamyltransferase showed similar but faster changes. We conclude that excessive alcohol ingestion is associated with marked increases of SHBG which slowly revert during abstinence. High SHBG does not fully explain the low Tf values or the presence of clinical hypo-androgenism in alcoholics. This SHBG response to ethanol makes it a potential marker of excessive alcohol intake.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcoholism / blood*
  • Alcoholism / diagnosis
  • Alcoholism / rehabilitation
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Ethanol / adverse effects*
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / blood
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Insulin / blood
  • Liver Cirrhosis, Alcoholic / blood
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin / metabolism*
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / blood*
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / rehabilitation
  • Thyroid Hormones / blood


  • Biomarkers
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones
  • Insulin
  • Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin
  • Thyroid Hormones
  • Ethanol
  • Hydrocortisone