Can Alcohol Use Cause Premature Aging?
Abusing alcohol can cause several noticeable changes in a person’s appearance and can even result in premature aging. The more alcohol a person drinks, the more likely they are to experience signs of physical aging. If you are struggling with an addiction to alcohol, seeking treatment is the best way to prevent premature aging and other health-related problems.
Many people are aware that alcohol use can cause many health problems and put individuals at risk for injury and even death. However, not everyone is familiar with the fact that alcohol and aging are very related. Chronic heavy drinking can significantly age the body and result in early signs of aging and other visible changes.
Seeking treatment for alcohol abuse or addiction is the most effective way to prevent the negative effects of alcohol on the body. We Level Up California offers a number of treatment programs for alcoholism that can help individuals overcome alcohol use disorders and reclaim their lives in sobriety.
How close are alcohol and aging?
Alcohol and aging are very related. Abusing alcohol can cause the body to age in several ways and has been directly linked to premature aging. Alcohol can affect every part of the body, and chronic heavy drinking can cause significant damage to the organs and other body parts. Additionally, one study found that alcohol causes the body to age on a cellular level, which can increase a person’s risk of age-related diseases.
What’s more, alcohol is hepatotoxic. This means that alcohol causes direct damage to the cells in the liver. The liver cells are responsible for detoxifying the body and can also impact the skin. The more damaged the liver cells are, the less the liver can detox the body, which can result in premature aging.
These are some of the most common ways in what alcohol and aging are very related:
Increased impact of imbibing
As you get older, alcohol’s effects can catch up with you. Decades of heavy drinking may take a toll on the liver and brain and leave telltale signs on the skin. Even light and moderate drinkers face emotional consequences and increased health risks from alcohol as they age. If you’re approaching retirement with fewer daily obligations to meet, and possibly more time to imbibe, don’t throw caution to the wind. See the different ways drinking affects the aging process – and vice versa.
Tolerance decreases with age
Tolerance for alcohol can decline over time, possibly due to changes in body composition, says Robert Pandina, an adjunct professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences with the Medical College of Georgia, and the former director of the Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies in New Jersey.
Hormonal changes that come with age, like the decrease of some hormones involved in metabolism, appear to increase alcohol sensitivity among women and men alike. As you age, the proportion of fat to muscle tends to increase, even if your weight remains stable, he says. So, you develop a higher blood alcohol content even if you drink the same amount you used to because fat absorbs less alcohol from the blood than muscle does. Reaction times and motor ability tend to slow with age – and drinking reduces these abilities further.
More isn’t merrier
People often underestimate how much they drink, Pandina says. For standard servings, a single drink equals the following: one 12-ounce can or bottle of regular beer or wine cooler; one 5-ounce glass of wine; and one 1.5-ounce shot glass of liquor at 80 proof or less. According to the National Institute on Aging, a healthy person age 65 or older should drink no more than seven alcoholic drinks in a week, with at most one drink for women and two for men on any given day.
Sets you up for a fall
Intoxication increases the risk of accidents, including falls, fractures, and car crashes at any age. But balance and stability pose more of a challenge as people age. Older adults are more likely to suffer falls, with worse injuries – like hip fractures – and longer recovery periods. Alcohol ramps up the risk even more, as it slows the brain’s activity. Alertness, coordination, judgment, and reaction time all decrease with drinking.
Alcohol influences mood
It’s true: A drink or two can help you relax. Alcohol has anti-anxiety and anti-stress properties, Pandina says. “I’m not a champion of daily drinking or any drinking for that matter,” he emphasizes, adding that while it’s hard to generalize, “whenever you put a drug into your body, whether it’s alcohol or medication or any such substance, you are putting something into your body that doesn’t belong there.”
A recent survey shed light on the drinking patterns of older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. In January 2021, the University of Michigan Poll on Healthy Aging asked a national sample of participants ages 50 to 80 about their alcohol use and why they drank.
“A majority of people who drank during the pandemic reported reducing their alcohol use relative to past years,” says Anne Fernandez, a clinical psychologist and an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Michigan. A smaller but significant number drank more, says Fernandez, who is associate director of the U-M addiction treatment service.
Among the two-thirds of older adults who drank at least occasionally, key findings included:
- 42% drank monthly or less. About equal proportions (roughly 20% each) drank two to four times a month, two to three times weekly or at least four times weekly.
- 77% consumed one or two drinks on a typical day of drinking. Another 17% had three to four drinks, and 6% had five or more drinks.
- Top reasons for drinking were liking the taste, to be social, to relax or as part of their routine. Other reasons included coping with stress, helping with mood, relief from boredom or to ease pain.
- Men drank more than women.
- 7% of drinkers reported experiencing a blackout at least once.
“People who reported drinking for social reasons were more likely to report reducing alcohol use, not surprisingly, because there’s a lot less opportunity for social contact and all of the things that go along with that,” Fernandez says.
Alcohol can aggravate anxiety
In the University of Michigan survey, older adults who said they were drinking to cope with anxiety during the pandemic were more likely to report increasing their alcohol consumption.
Using alcohol as a coping mechanism can backfire, particularly over time. “It’s undeniable that alcohol use can reduce some negative emotions on a short-term basis,” Fernandez says. “So, if you’re feeling really anxious and you have a few drinks, you may feel calmer because alcohol is a depressant and is going to lower your physiological state.”
However, although you may feel better for a short period, “paradoxically, you will feel worse in the long run, especially if you habitually do that,” she says. “If you’re using alcohol to cope, you’re not learning to use other tools to cope that are going to be more versatile and helpful.”
Alcohol builds tolerance and causes dependence.
At any age, the potential for building up tolerance – when you eventually need more alcohol to feel its effects – is a concern. “The more alcohol you have, the more likely you are to develop dependence, which can actually cause more anxiety, more depression, and more stress in the long run because of the various changes on the brain,” Fernandez says.
As people become dependent on alcohol, they can become extremely anxious in drinking downtimes. “They’re drinking so much that their anxiety is completely out of control, essentially, when they’re not drinking, because their body is in withdrawal from alcohol,” she says. “So when the depressant is out of your body, you’re in an overstimulated state. You’re jittery, your thoughts are racing and you’re sweating.”
Alcohol can take a serious toll on a person’s skin. To begin, alcohol can deplete levels of vitamins, such as vitamin A, which are crucial to the health of the skin. Vitamin A depletion can reduce levels of collagen, which can result in premature wrinkles as well as a loss of elasticity and fullness in the face.
Alcohol can also cause dehydration, which can contribute to the development of wrinkles on the face as well as excessively dry skin. Chronic alcohol consumption can additionally cause redness and puffiness in the face and can even lead to permanent rosacea, or blotchiness and redness.
Alcohol and aging: additional effects that alcohol can have on the skin include:
- Yellowed skin
- Spider veins
- Higher risk of skin infections
- Worsened existing skin conditions
- Red spots on the skin
- Skin color changes
What’s more, alcohol acts as a vasodilator, which means that it widens the blood vessels in the face and body. Regular alcohol use causes the blood vessels to continue to widen. Over time, this can cause loss of skin tone and permanent redness on the face. It can also cause blood vessels in the face to enlarge and even burst open. The more alcohol someone drinks, the more likely he or she is to experience the negative effects on the skin.
Excess weight – especially around the waist and jowls – can add years to a person’s appearance. Because alcohol is full of empty calories and often excess sugar and carbohydrates, chronic consumption can quickly lead to weight gain. Alcohol can raise insulin levels and cause the body to store more fat, especially around the stomach. This is why some people who drink excessively have what is often referred to as a “beer belly.”
Additionally, alcohol use can affect a person’s hormones. This is can result in breast development in men and can even cause men to carry weight in places like the breasts, hips, and thighs (similar to women) rather than the stomach.
Additional Ways That Alcohol Use Can Cause Premature Aging
In addition to directly affecting the skin and a person’s weight, alcohol use can impact several other bodily functions that can result in premature aging. For example, alcohol use can cause the body to release excess amounts of stress hormones. This, in turn, can speed up the aging process as well as wreak havoc on various other parts of a person’s body and mind.
Other ways that alcohol can impact the aging process include:
- Dehydrating the body, which can result in premature aging over the long term
- Causing sleep disruption, which can affect appearance and cognitive function
- Causing a depletion of healthy nutrients in the body
- Causing increased amounts of free radicals in the body
- Causing harm to organs in the body
- Causing the brain to age and lessening the brain’s ability to function optimally
In short, alcohol use can result in various bodily disturbances and conditions that will ultimately cause a person to age faster. The longer a person uses alcohol, the more significant the impact will be.
Treatment for alcoholism
When it comes to Alcoholism treatment, it is normal to think of 12-step programs or 28-day inpatient rehab, but it becomes difficult to think of more options of treatment for this condition. There are a variety of treatment methods currently available. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, there are three types of treatment:
- Behavioral Treatments: are aimed at changing drinking behavior through counseling. They are led by health professionals and supported by studies showing they can be beneficial.
- Medications: Three medications are currently approved in the United States to help people stop or reduce their drinking and prevent relapse. They are prescribed by a primary care physician or other health professional and may be used alone or in combination with counseling.
- Mutual-Support Groups: Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other 12-step programs provide peer support for people quitting or cutting back on their drinking. Combined with treatment led by health professionals, mutual-support groups can offer a valuable added layer of support. Due to the anonymous nature of mutual-support groups, it is difficult for researchers to determine their success rates compared with those led by health professionals.
Reclaim Your Life From The Effects of Alcohol and Aging
Alcohol and aging are very related. Abusing alcohol can cause the body to age in a number of ways and has been directly linked to premature aging. We Level Up California can provide you, or someone you love, the tools to recover from alcohol addiction with professional and safe treatment. Feel free to call us to speak with one of our counselors. We can inform you about this condition by giving you relevant information. Our specialists know what you are going through. Please know that each call is private and confidential.