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How alcohol impacts specific age groups

Google trend data states that the search term, am I drinking too much, has received a 9.400% rise in UK searches between September + October 2020.  Such data reflects the nations desire to still enjoy the months ahead that will inevitably be indoors.  Here, PT and health practitioner Jason Briggs at the health and fitness brand Shoe Hero  reveals the impact alcohol has across various age groups and how the body’s tolerance differs from 18 years old – 60+.

18 – 30

At the ages of 18-30, many can feel invincible.  It is likely to be your social calendars busiest time with after work drinks, weekend beer gardens and late-night bar crawls.  The current climate may see us less likely to socialise however, drinking at home has risen by 38% in the UK alone.

‘Regardless of your age or the location of your drinking, alcohol works in the same way, it is just its impact that differs’, says Briggs.  ‘Alcohol is a poison that works as a diuretic.  Inevitably, it empties the body of moisture leaving it dehydrated.  The body holds the hormone vasopressin, an antidiuretic.  The consumption of alcohol suppresses the production of vasopressin seeing that you lose moisture from the body and go to the toilet more.  It is essential that you frequently drink water alongside your alcoholic drink.  This will aid in restoring the moisture in the body and even limit a hangover.’

‘When alcohol is consumed, the enzymes in the liver transmute to acetaldehyde, which the body then works to break down and convert to the substance acetate,’ states Briggs.  ‘Essentially, this metabolizes the alcohol to reduce its impact on the body’.

‘The younger you are, the quicker the body can process alcohol, which is somewhat good news for the 18-30s.  However, that does not mean that you can drink carefree.  Research suggests that the human brain is not fully developed until a person is in their 20’s, some scientists even propose that full development of the brain is not reached until ones 30’s.  As a result, excessive alcohol consumption in your 20s-30s could see that the development of the brain is impaired.  Fortunately, it is impossible for alcohol to destroy brain cells.  However, it does disturb the link between the neurons that impact motor coordination.’

‘As boring as it may sounds, it is wise to drink responsibly in your 20s and early 30s’, advises Briggs.  ‘The body is still developing, and frequent binge drinking will lead to long term effects in the future’.

30-45

We have all heard the age-old comment, ‘my hangovers are worse now that I am older. Unfortunately, this is not an old wife’s tale, it is somewhat fact.  If you frequently found yourself binge drinking in your 20s, it is likely to catch up with you post 40.  However, depending on the regularity of your drinking, you may begin to witness its impact as early as 30. 

‘As we age, the body’s ability to process alcohol decelerates and the body’s ability to heal itself slows.’, says Briggs.  ‘Over time, the liver develops fatty tissue that hinders its ability to metabolise alcohol and process essential nutrients.  Consequently, it is inevitable that you will experience the dreaded 2-day hangover.  The significant reduction in the body’s power to metabolise alcohol also means that you are more likely to feel the impact of the alcohol (i.e. ‘get drunk’) quicker.  This is why many believe that as they age they evolve into more of a ‘light weight’.

‘It is no secret that drinking alcohol impairs our ability to make rational decisions.  This is a result of alcohol harming the brains frontal cortex, the area that is responsible for making judgment calls.  Whilst this is obviously affected when we consume alcohol, when we reach our late 30s/early 40s, its impact can last several days.  If that is not bad enough, alcohol also slackens the neurotransmitters in the brain that are responsible mood.  As we age, this can lead to low feeling post drinks for several days.  Worst case scenario, frequent binge drinking can pave the way to long term anxiety and depression’.

‘Sleep is vital at any age.  It plays an instrumental role in the healing of the body, especially the heart.  It reduces inflammation, increases cognitive function, and reduces stress.  As we reach our 40’s sleep becomes increasingly vital.  It becomes harder to get through a day on less sleep and we can really feel its impact on the body.  A common misconception is that alcohol tires you and therefore you oversleep.  This is not true.  Yes, alcohol is a sedative however, it stifles REM sleep, the stage in our sleep cycle that is crucial for its restorative properties.’ 

45-60

Alcohol is laden with sugar.  Whilst white wine, cocktails and syrup-based mixers may be the worst culprits, all alcohol charts high on the glycaemic index.  ‘The glycaemic index is used by health practitioners to determine how quickly foods impact the body’s blood sugar levels’ says Briggs.  ‘As alcohol is high in the glycaemic index, blood sugar levels rapidly spike.  As they spike so quickly, they fall just as rapidly.  This leads to inflammation.  Those that are aged between 45-60 and consume alcohol on a regular basis often experience redness of the skin along with skin conditions such as Rosacea and broken capillaries.  As the skin is well into the ageing process, the impact alcohol can be very apparent on those between this age bracket.’

‘The current climate has shone a global spotlight on our health as individuals, with a particular focus on the immune system.  Speaking very generally, the healthier the person, the quicker they can dispel general illness such as cold and flu.  Alcohol effects the cells of the immune system.  An example of the harm this can cause is the effect it has on the lungs.  Alcohol damages the cells as well as the fine hairs that clear the pathogens within the airway.  If the lining of the airway is damaged as a result of regular alcohol consumption, viruses can easily gain entry to the body as the damaged immune cells struggle to fight the infection.  As we age, we are likely to experience what I call ‘wear and tear’.  Inevitably, the body will not function in the same way that it did in our younger years.  It is wise to limit alcohol consumption and be mindful of how often drinking takes place as well as the volume consumed’. 

‘People are often surprised to hear that alcohol effects the digestive system’, state Briggs.   ‘This is not immediately apparent; however, its symptoms can appear as we age and ultimately when the damage is done.  Alcohol damages the tissues that make up the digestive tract, preventing the intestines from digesting food whilst absorbing essential vitamins and nutrients.  Excessive drinking into older years can even lead to stomach ulcers.  The tell-tale signs of damage to the digestive system is abnormal bloating, diarrhoea and excessive gas’.

60+

According to Briggs, even the smallest consumption of alcohol can have quite the effect on those who are 60+.  ‘As we age, our hearing, vision and response timings tend to deteriorate naturally.  Combined with the intake of alcohol, the deterioration can be extreme.  For this reason, even if a person of this age group is within the legal limit to drive, they may not be competent.’

‘The most common consequence of alcohol consumption in those 60+ is the fact that it is likely to aggravate pre-existing health conditions.  For instance, stomach ulcers, heart conditions and of course liver diseases can all be worsened as a result of drinking alcohol’.

‘At the End of The Day, the slightly boring motto of ‘everything in moderation’ has never been more relevant when it comes to alcohol.  Everyone can enjoy alcohol should they want to but listen to your body and be mindful of how often your drink’.  

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