"Alcohol has numerous effects on the body ranging from the brain down to our liver and guts," says Niket Sonpal, MD, a New York-based internist and gastroenterologist. "Those effects increase as we get older."
How alcohol impacts your health as you age depends on how often and how much you drink. But there are some changes that naturally happen in the body around certain ages that can be exacerbated by alcohol consumption. Learn more about the connection between alcohol and aging below.
Alcohol and aging: This is what happens to your body as you get older
"Although it is joked about in comedies and in memes, the ability to recover from a night of drinking does reduce after 30," says Dr. Sonpal. And if you're a heavy drinker, the years you spend drinking start to add up as you age. "Chronic heavy drinking is also generally associated with dehydration and increased inflammation in the body. Inflammation is known to lead to several health issues and diseases. Therefore, in your thirties, you note more aches, pains, and headaches after a night of drinking. It is entirely due to dehydration."
Your forties is when you'll start to really see the impacts of alcohol on your face. "This is the age when our face begins to show our age," says Dr. Sonpal. "Someone with an alcohol use disorder will typically see their face wrinkle quicker than someone who doesn’t drink alcohol and it is most pronounced in this age."
The skin is your body's largest organ, and alcohol can have a proportional impact, says board-certified dermatologist Stacy Chimento, MD. "Alcohol dehydrates the body, and one of the first places you'll notice it is in your skin," says Dr. Chimento. "It also causes inflammation, which can manifest in blotchiness, redness, ruddiness, and dehydration."
When you hit your fifties, sleep interferences caused by alcohol can become more pronounced. "Alcohol also compounds the sleep difficulties that are commonly seen in the fifties and onwards," says Dr. Sonpal. "Many people believe that drinking helps you sleep, but in actuality, it prevents you from getting deep sleep. So you may fall asleep, but you won't get restful sleep. Therefore hangovers feel even worse at this age. "
Neuroscientist Kristen Willeumier, PhD, explains that this happens because alcohol reduces the time spent in the rapid-eye-movement (REM) phase. "REM sleep is critical to healthy brain function as it is essential in emotional regulation and the consolidation and retention of memories," says Dr. Willeumier.
60s and 70s
Years of drinking alcohol causes damage to the liver, and that can become more pronounced in your sixties. "After age 60, the body's circulation starts slowing down and less blood is flowing to your liver, so the process slows, and more toxic metabolites may accumulate," says Dr. Sonpal.
And because aging often brings more and more prescription medicines, your body has to work harder to process both the meds and the alcohol. "After 60 and 70 we probably also developed a few chronic ailments that are going to be needing a few medications," says Dr. Sonpal. "Alcohol competes with medicine processed by your liver and can cause lots of interactions with alcohol. As a result, those medicines are not broken down and their effects last a lot longer. " Medications that are known to react with alcohol include anti-anxiety drugs, antibiotics, antidepressants, antihistamines, blood thinners, and drugs used to tread diabetes.
80s and beyond
"In your eighties, you may have osteoporosis or brittle bones," says Dr. Sonpal. "Drinking and being unsteady on your feet from alcohol increases the risk of accidents. Physical and mental functions, like coordination, vision, hearing, and quick reflexes, become diminished as you age, putting you at higher risks of accidents such as falls, slips, or car crashes. Combine that will alcohol and the chances go up even more."
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