This Is What Alcohol Really Does to Your Body After the Age of 40
You’ve likely heard a lot of different expert’s opinions and health concerns about drinking too much, too little, or even a moderate amount of alcohol. Despite where you get your information on alcohol consumption from, there’s no denying that hangovers get worse as you get older.
However, the longterm effects alcohol has on your body get more serious — and more realistic — as you age, as well. These are the seven consequences of drinking after the age of 40, including the one that affects you as early as age 30 (page 7).
1. Your liver becomes less efficient
- Binge and excessive drinking in your 20s and 30s catch up by age 40
- Your liver can’t heal itself the same way after age 40
In your 20s and 30s, your liver is usually just the mysterious organ you joke of destroying after a night of heavy drinking. In your 40s, this destruction becomes a reality, and many continue excessive drinking habits regardless. By age 40, your liver has built up fatty tissue that makes it tougher for the organ to process the nutrients that will counteract alcohol consumption.
Alcoholic liver disease, or cirrhosis, used to affect mostly middle-aged men with heavy drinking habits. “Now, thanks to the steep rise in obesity and the availability of cheap alcohol, we are seeing more and more people with alcoholic … liver disease in their 20s and 30s,” Mark Wright, M.D., told The Guardian.
Next: This organ’s health is crucial as you grow older.
2. It can cause heart problems
- Studies show a glass of red wine a day can be good for your heart
- Some people are taking this suggestion too far with excessive consumption
While evidence leads experts to believe light to moderate drinking (one drink a day for women and two for men) can benefit the heart, it’s unclear if the benefits are a result of their typically healthy lifestyle or the alcohol itself. However, the evidence of binge drinking negatively affecting your heart health is far more advanced.
Long-term drinking injures your heart muscles and can affect their ability to properly contract. Binge drinking causes arrhythmias or irregular heart rhythms.
3. It affects your cognitive function and your mood
- Binge drinking at a young age puts elder men and women at risk of brain damage
- Alcohol slows down the neurotransmitters that affect your mood
It’s no secret hangovers worsen with age — just ask a parent who tries to celebrate their child’s college graduation. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) outlined just how detrimental excessive consumption is to your cognitive state.
Regular binge drinking potentially damages your frontal cortex and other areas of your brain associated with decision making. While you’re obviously impaired while drunk, aging amplifies your hangovers and can affect your cognitive state hours and days after the alcohol wears off. Alcohol also slows down the neurotransmitters responsible for your mood and correlates with depressive thoughts over time.
Next: If you thought you kids were bad for your sleep schedule, think again
4. It throws off your sleep schedule
- A night of boozing may put you into a deep sleep, but that doesn’t make it a good one
- After age 40, a healthy sleep is more important than ever before
Alcohol is a sedative, and a few cocktails or beers typically tires you out — especially as you age. However, just because drinks knock you out, doesn’t mean you’re sleeping soundly. Drinking before bed leads to a lack of REM rest, the restorative sleep you need to stay healthy.
Since most 40-year-olds get less sleep than they did in their 30s — due to work, kids, and aging — The Sleep Foundation’s recommendation of 7-9 hours a night stays the same. Rather than relying on a drink or two to lull you to sleep, try decaf tea or reading to promote natural sleep.
Next: You know your metabolism slows, but did you know this fun fact about alcohol?
5. You gain weight from alcohol easier
- If you’re struggling to lose weight, look closer at your liquid diet
- Alcohol packs plenty of sugar and calories that your slowing metabolism will need to process
A lot of external factors affect how alcohol and weight gain correlate in your 40s. You could be burning up to 300 fewer calories per day than before as your metabolism slows. For women, perimenopause and menopause, which begin in your early 40s, causes estrogen levels to fall and makes it tough for the body to control blood sugar.
It’s a myth that clear mixers like tonic and soda water will save your waistline. A cup of tonic water packs nearly 130 calories and 30 grams of sugar. If you choose to drink, go for a dry glass of red wine every so often.
Next: Booze screws your balance in the long run
6. Alcohol consumption can throw off your balance
- The older you get, the more prone to accidents you are under the influence
- Alcohol affects your balance even after the short-term effects wear off
It shouldn’t come as a surprise booze affects your balance when you’re drunk, but did you know it keeps you wobbly even after the alcohol wears off? A Hawaii research study found that heavy alcohol users who had been sober an average of seven years had worse balance than those without previous alcohol problems.
Dr. Celia Wilson stressed the increased risks of heavy drinking with age. “… when older people drink, the concentration of alcohol in their blood increases more quickly so they can feel tipsy — or be more at risk of — accidents or falls.”
Next: You should always pay attention to how alcohol affects underlying conditions.
7. It may react with your medications
- Regardless of age, be careful what medications you mix with alcohol
- After age 40 you’re more likely to develop conditions that require medication which reacts with alcohol
Medications that millions of Americans take — for diabetes, depression, anxiety, insomnia, chronic pain, and more — warn users that they may have adverse reactions with alcohol. When you’re in your 20s and 30s, you’re less likely to take one or multiple of these medications or are able to mix alcohol and medication with little side effects.
However, as you reach 40, you encounter common conditions (like high blood pressure) and resulting medications that don’t mix well with alcohol. Even harmless pain relievers like ibuprofin can lead to stomach bleeding if you frequently drink and take them.
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