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If drinking red wine in moderation is one secret to living longer, too much alcohol in any form is the really scary flip side of the story that everyone should know. Get it here:
Does alcohol cause you to age faster? For those with a diagnosable alcohol use disorder that goes untreated, the answer is always “yes.”
Drinking red wine in moderation may reportedly lower cholesterol levels and benefit your heart, by helping to prevent heart attacks and coronary heart disease—but too much alcohol, be it red wine, beer or hard liquor, can greatly speed up the aging process. This article will describe how chronic heavy drinking that goes untreated can make you age prematurely, by exploring the ways in which alcohol affects the aging process.
How Alcohol Makes You Look Older
There are several ways in which heavy drinking can make you look older, causing premature wrinkles and damaging your skin. First, alcohol acts as a diuretic: it’s widely understood that the more you drink, the more dehydrated you become; and your skin is one of the first organs to suffer, becoming dry and, in turn, more sensitive to inflammation.
Alcohol is also a toxin to cells that detoxify the body. Drinking too much thus depletes the body of key nutrients like vitamin A, a key antioxidant that regenerates skin cells and produces retinol and collagen, which are essential to skin smoothness and elasticity. (Collagen and retinol are what keep the skin looking smooth, youthful and wrinkle-free.) Excess alcohol thus speeds up the natural aging process, only further depriving your already delicate skin (exposed as it is to sun and other pollutants in the environment) of what it needs to stay young.
In addition, when alcohol is metabolized, it widens the blood vessels that bring blood to the face, causing the redness, puffiness, swelling and blotchiness that chronic alcoholics often experience. The overall effect is similar to that of the skin condition known as rosacea. Often, too, the redness can turn into broken capillaries or vessels around the nose and face.
Alcohol-related liver damage can also take its toll on the skin, making you look older, as dermatologist Dr. David Colbert explained in an article in The Huffington Post. He invited readers to consider what someone looks like when they are dying of liver failure: “they’re sallow, they’re pasty, they’re cold, their pores are huge.”
How Alcohol Ages the Mind and Body
Over-consumption of alcohol ages the body in a number of key ways, because alcohol affects multiple organs in addition to the skin. Long-term heavy drinking can place chronic undue stress on major body organs, from the heart and liver to the kidneys and brain, thereby speeding up their deterioration (which in the absence of heavy drinking would occur at a higher age, if at all).
A fact sheet from the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse helps to describe alcohol’s wear and tear on the following key organs, leading to premature aging:
- Heart – Just one night of binge drinking—and most certainly chronic heavy drinking over an extended period of time—can cause high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, and stroke. “Cardiomyopathy”, drooping of the heart muscle, can be another long-term consequence.
- Liver – Alcohol is a hepatotoxin (a chemical substance that’s damaging to the liver), so heavy drinking can lead to early and avoidable degeneration of the liver, in the form of: “steatosis” (fatty liver disease), alcoholic hepatitis (inflammatory progressive liver injury), fibrosis (thickening and scarring of the liver) and cirrhosis (end-stage liver disease).
- Pancreas – Problem drinking can lead to pancreatitis, characterized by inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas. The condition can cause serious, life-threatening complications.
- Brain – Alcohol-related brain damage can involve the premature onset of dementia and dementia-like symptoms. On brain imaging scans of chronic alcoholics, this damage is evidenced by a visible shrinkage in brain volume and deteriorating fibers.
Many of the above conditions are either avoidable (with a healthy lifestyle that does not include alcohol) or are more likely to occur at an older age in the absence of heavy drinking—but among chronic alcoholics, many of these conditions occur at a notably higher rate and at a younger age. Research has shown, moreover, that for older adults (ages 65 and older), heavy drinking is more likely to make these health problems worse.
How Alcohol Causes Cancer
Cancer is another serious and often life-threatening disease that normally (in the absence of excess alcohol) affects older people at a higher rate than younger people: the older you are, the higher your risks of getting some form of cancer. Yet excessive alcohol use can significantly raise your risks of cancer, regardless of your age. One study found, for example, that alcohol abuse during adolescence correlated with a much higher risk of breast cancer—in both premenopausal and postmenopausal women. Heavy drinking almost doubles the chances of breast cancer in women, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
In addition to breast cancer, alcohol is “a major risk factor” for some head and neck cancers and esophageal cancer, NCI has said. To a lesser degree, alcohol use has also been liked to colon, rectal and liver cancer.
How to Prevent Premature Aging From Alcohol
The best way to prevent premature aging from alcohol is to reduce daily consumption to a moderate level or to avoid alcohol altogether. If you are not able to control or stop your drinking, get help immediately. Alcoholism and alcohol abuse are a very treatable disease, and should not keep anyone from living a long, healthy an