How Alcohol Consumption Affects the Aging Process

Woman at the mirror, aging

Frequent alcohol consumption in the here and now means unwanted and unpleasant physical and mental conditions later on in life. Given that most Americans want to live long and healthy lives, pursuing a goal like that would be within reach if such individuals cut alcohol out of their diet completely.

Alcohol and its Effect on Aging; A Shortlist

Much about life tends to “catch up” with one as they age, and the effects of alcohol consumption are one such factor. As one writer put it, “Your brain, body, and mood may not bounce back like they used to.” And as our understanding of human health, biology, and chemistry advance, it would seem that even light and moderate drinkers face increased harm from alcohol as they age.

Here are 11 ways in which alcohol consumption affects aging. The following section will discuss and cite scientific studies, medical journal entries, and statistical data to emphasize further the long-term effects of drinking alcohol.

  • Tolerance and aging. As a person ages, their fat to muscle ratio changes, increasing the proportion of fat to muscle (even when body weight remains stable). Because of this, blood alcohol levels go up even when less alcohol is consumed, as fat does not absorb as much alcohol as muscle does (leading to more alcohol staying in the bloodstream).
  • Risk for falls. Alcohol inhibits brain activity and muscle coordination. And because older people are already at higher risk for falls (and at higher risk for suffering serious harm from such falls), frequent alcohol consumption can further increase one’s odds of experiencing a fall.
  • CNS depressant. Alcohol is a Central Nervous System depressant. While some argue that alcohol can help one relax, it is more likely that regular consumption will darken one’s mood over time, especially later on in life.
“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 and anxiety. Particularly as people age, using alcohol to cope with anxiety becomes quite dangerous. Quoting Dr. Anne Fernandez, “Paradoxically, you will feel worse in the long run, especially if you do that [drink alcohol] in a habitual way.” She also states that “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 and grieving. Older adults often experience profound grief as a result of losing loved ones. If alcohol was a crutch used as a coping mechanism earlier in life, it could be used again during moments of grief later in life, often with harmful consequences.
Patient in the hospital, alcohol health problems
  • Drinking and cancer. Alcohol consumption has been increasingly linked to cancer, especially the onset of cancer later in life. Alcohol has been linked to cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon, and breast, with at least 4% of all cancer deaths connected to alcohol consumption.
  • Skin aging. Even moderate alcohol consumption in one’s youth and adult years can negatively affect one’s skin later on in life. Alcohol dehydrates the body and causes tissue inflammation, leading to the gradual buildup of wrinkles, puffiness, dryness, red cheeks, purple capillaries, and years added to one’s face.
  • Liver strain. One of the most obvious effects of alcohol on the body is liver health. Even moderate drinking, when done over time, negatively affects the liver. Alcohol consumption in one’s younger years can also lead to serious liver conditions (like cirrhosis) later on in life.
  • Alcohol and other health problems. People tend to experience more health conditions as they age, and alcohol consumption exacerbates those conditions in one’s youth (and in one’s older years). From diabetes to cardiovascular health conditions to ulcers, past and current alcohol consumption makes other health conditions worse.
  • Alcohol and cognitive function. A link has been found between frequent alcohol consumption in one’s adult years and higher risks for dementia later on in life.
  • Alcohol and finances. One does not usually consider the long-term effects of purchasing alcohol, but these are quite significant. If the average alcoholic beverage costs $5–$10, and a young person has just one drink every day, that could lead to $75,000 to $150,000 of alcohol spending over four decades of adulthood. That money would be much better used in investing or saving for retirement.

Examining the Data; Details Behind How Alcohol Affects Aging

There is no shortage of information on the many long-term harms caused by frequent alcohol consumption. One study took an in-depth look at the effect of alcohol consumption on the endocrine system, concluding that chronic alcohol consumption “Disrupts the communication between nervous, endocrine, and immune system and causes hormonal disturbances that lead to profound and serious consequences at physiological and behavioral levels.”

“… Disrupts the communication between nervous, endocrine, and immune system and causes hormonal disturbances that lead to profound and serious consequences at physiological
and behavioral levels.”

Another paper, this one by Harvard Health, concluded that the alleged benefits of light alcohol consumption might not be true after all. The bottom line? Most doctors now recommend that people who do not drink should not start drinking, even if they think they might benefit from it. This also means that people who do drink alcohol should dramatically cut back on their alcohol consumption or cease consumption altogether.

Late night car accident

There is also a great deal of information on accidents, injuries, and physical and mental trauma caused by alcohol. Any or all such incidents can happen no matter one’s age, but if one suffers a life-changing accident from consuming alcohol in their youth, that accident will certainly hinder quality of life as they age.

Even moderate drinking has long-term effects on many areas of one’s physical health. Alcohol consumption harms the brain, heart, liver, pancreas, and the immune system. People who drink alcohol are more likely to get ill and more likely to suffer certain cancers. These risk factors are present in their adult years, and such factors are further exacerbated as the individual ages.

Finally, alcohol consumption leads to immense loss of life and reduced life expectancy in the United States. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 95,000 Americans die from alcohol-related causes every year. In fact, alcohol is one of the leading causes of preventable death.

Addiction Treatment; Overcoming Alcohol Abuse for Good

Any degree of alcohol consumption causes harm, especially when alcohol is consumed regularly. But by far, the most dangerous form of consumption is when someone drinks alcohol to excess, drinking to the point of intoxication, and doing so often. Such consumption causes problems later on in life.

The more alcohol one drinks and the more often they drink, the more harm they will do to their physical and psychological health. And if they cannot stop drinking on their own, they will need professional help. Compulsive, uncontrolled drinking is extremely dangerous, leading to tens of thousands of deaths in the U.S. each year. That’s why it is of the utmost importance that addicts seek treatment as soon as possible and not put it off. Putting off treatment can be a death sentence.

If you know someone who is drinking too much alcohol too often, someone who has let alcohol negatively impact their life, someone who cannot quit drinking on their own, please get them help at a drug and alcohol treatment center as soon as possible. Please don’t wait until they become just another statistic.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.