Alcohol and Aging: What You Need to Know

group of friends drinking alcohol

To drink or not to drink? This question poses many uncertainties. People drink to socialize, celebrate, and even loosen up. However, people often don’t realize how alcohol affects their body. As we age, alcohol can have negative consequences on our bodies. It’s why it takes longer to recover from a hangover in your 40’s than it did in your early 20s. That aside, is alcohol something we should avoid consuming as we get older? Or is it something we must approach with caution and consideration?

Is Alcohol Really That Bad for Us As We Age?

While we are all aware that alcohol consumption can result in some unfortunate consequences if not consumed responsibly, we have also learned that alcohol consumed in moderation can be good for heart health. Therefore, can alcohol consumption really be that bad for us as we get older? As you may have guessed, the answer is not that simple.

As we age, we tend to experience factors that may affect our tolerance to alcohol, such as medications or health conditions that influence alcohol absorption. Some medicines when combined with alcohol, such as benzodiazepines, can even slow the cardiovascular system to the point of unconsciousness or death. As we age and our metabolism naturally slows down, the rate at which our bodies process alcohol does as well. This means that the alcohol stays in our livers longer before it is processed, increasing the risk of liver damage. And because alcohol takes longer to metabolize, we also experience the effects of alcohol for a longer duration. This is why you may find that you are unable to drink as much as you used to in your early years of adulthood.

As we get older, we lose muscle tissue, gain fatty tissue, and the amount of water our bodies can hold decreases. Therefore, an elderly individual will (on average) have a higher blood alcohol concentration from one drink than a physically fit young adult.

Health conditions are not the only factors that reduce our alcohol tolerance; we naturally lose the ability to process alcohol over time. This does not necessarily mean that alcohol consumption is bad for us as we get older. However, alcohol must be treated more respectfully and taken in careful moderation as our bodies age.

How Else Does Alcohol Affect Us As We Age?

Our digestive system is not the only thing that is affected when we consume alcohol. Registered Nurse, Jodi Sawyer, has stated that alcohol consumption can deplete healthy nutrients in our bodies. Particularly, alcohol depletes vitamin A which is an important antioxidant that regenerates new cells and promotes healthy skin through its production of collagen. That is, alcohol consumption reduces the amount of collagen and water in our bodies, thus dehydrating and reducing the elasticity of our skin.

As this happens, we become more susceptible to premature wrinkling and aging. And on top of dry skin, alcohol can also cause inflammation. Alcohol acts as a vasodilator when it is metabolized. It widens blood vessels that carry blood to the face. When this happens, our faces can appear red and puffy. And the more alcohol we consume over a long period, the larger and more prominent these vessels become. Therefore, not only does the faces well due to alcohol consumption, but our skin can also become permanently reddened and blotchy from over-consumption. As we age, our bodies take longer to metabolize alcohol, and long-term use can cause premature aging and permanent skin discoloration.

This is not to say that all alcohol consumption is unhealthy, or we must stop drinking altogether as we get older. The truth is, people will likely continue to drink alcohol despite any adverse effects.  And alcohol, when consumed in moderation, can even be beneficial to our health. As we age, we need to be more cautious about our consumption and realize that our bodies may not be able to metabolize alcohol as it did in our younger years. Additionally, individuals with health issues may need to be extra cautious or cut out alcohol altogether.

About the Author

Josh Miles is a St. Petersburg/Tampa based writer who studied Business Management and Marketing at the University of South Florida. He believes that time spent with good friends and a connection with nature are keys to a healthy and happy life. In his free time, you will find him exercising, listening to music, or playing video games with friends.
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