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Alcohol and Premature Aging: Understanding the Long-Term Consequences of Heavy Drinking

Written by Thomas Christiansen

& Medically Reviewed by Dr. Trisha Sippel, PhD

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Updated 07/15/2020

Alcohol can have toxic effects on the body, which may lead to premature aging in some people. Learn more about how alcohol affects the aging process.

Alcohol can have toxic effects on the body, which can speed up the aging process. The premature aging effects of drinking alcohol are usually a result of long-term alcohol use. A person who drinks alcohol may begin aging in terms of their looks and in the development of other health issues. To prevent alcohol-related aging, a person should avoid heavy alcohol use.

Ways Alcohol Affects the Aging Process

As we age, our bodies may not work as well as they once did. People tend to become forgetful, lose their eyesight, and have heart problems. A person’s appearance can also change. Getting wrinkles and losing hair are common signs of aging. Alcohol can affect the aging process and cause a person to look older than they are. Alcohol ages people in different ways. Regular alcohol consumption can affect a person’s brain, eyesight, face, hair, heart, and skin.


When people chronically misuse alcohol, they can experience changes in their mood or behavior, along with a decline in memory as a result of alcohol changing the brain. Chronic alcohol exposure can lead to brain cells not getting the nutrition they need to function properly. Additionally, heavy alcohol consumption can cause brain cell death and is associated with a decrease in gray matter (the area of the brain responsible for most of its functions). Drinking heavily also puts a person at risk for developing dementia later in life.


Drinking alcohol can lead to eyesight damage in a variety of ways. Alcohol is associated directly with eye damage, as consuming more than two drinks per day increases a person’s risk of age-related macular degeneration. This is a condition where the back of the eye deteriorates, causing blurred vision. Alcohol can also cause damage to the optic nerve, which will greatly affect a person’s vision. Some studies have also shown that people who use alcohol heavily have an increased risk of developing cataracts as they age.


Alcohol can cause blood vessel dilation, which may make a person’s skin turn red as they drink. With heavy alcohol use, a blood vessel may burst, causing red patches on the skin. People who drink heavily may have permanent redness on their cheeks or face from blood vessels breaking.

Some people may experience a temporary facial flush reaction in response to alcohol, where their face turns red with alcohol consumption. This reaction is common among people of Asian descent, as they have higher levels of a gene mutation that interferes with how alcohol is metabolized. While the facial flushing is temporary, people who have facial flushing in response to alcohol are more likely to have other health consequences in response to heavy drinking, such as an increased risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, and other metabolic issues.


Different nutrients are needed for hair to grow normally. Deficiencies in those nutrients can lead to hair loss. Alcohol can affect the nutrients necessary for hair growth, causing them to be depleted or not absorbed from food. Drinking too much alcohol can lead to hair loss.


Alcohol can affect heart health. People who drink heavily are more likely to have irregular heartbeats and tend to have higher blood pressure compared to people who do not drink alcohol. Drinking heavy amounts of alcohol can lead to alcoholic cardiomyopathy, a condition that affects the heart muscle, making it harder for the heart to beat properly. Additionally, among patients with cardiomyopathy, those who do not stop drinking have an increased risk of death from their disease.


Alcohol can contribute to skin aging by influencing a number of skin diseases. Alcohol misuse can lead to eczema or psoriasis or make them worse. Alcohol can also indirectly lead to changes in the skin as a result of liver damage or liver disease, which can cause the skin to turn a yellow color.

Drinking alcohol leads to dehydration, which leads people to believe that alcohol can also cause wrinkles. However, a study looking for a correlation between alcohol and skin aging found that alcohol consumption did not contribute to facial wrinkling.

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Why Does Alcohol Cause Premature Aging?

Alcohol can have detrimental effects on all organs in the body, causing them not to function properly or experience more cell death than normal. This effect can lead to premature aging. One of the ways that alcohol affects organs is by influencing the level of stress hormones. In response to stress, our bodies make a hormone called cortisol, which acts to change how the body makes the energy to respond to stress. Alcohol can cause high levels of cortisol at baseline conditions, meaning cortisol is always around instead of increasing in response to a stressful situation. Chronic exposure to cortisol can cause aging.

Alcohol can also affect a person’s nutrition in a number of ways. When alcohol is broken down by the body, it can cause the release of reactive oxygen species, which will then deplete antioxidants that are helpful for healthy cells. Alcohol use can also prevent nutrient uptake in the intestine, leading to decreased nutrient levels even when eating enough. Nutrient deficiency can cause organ damage and increase aging processes.

Contact The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health if you or a loved one struggle with alcohol use. Prevent the negative side effects that alcohol can have on the natural aging process by addressing alcohol use today.

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