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Addiction and Substance Abuse

Alcohol in relation to aging

12/30/2003

Question:

I am a 20 year old college student and consequently am around alcohol quite a bit. I try to only drink on the weekends but was wondering if the myth that alcohol makes you age faster is true. If so, how much alcohol is safe to drink and what makes you age faster?

Answer:

 Thank you for the thoughtful question about the effects of alcohol on your body and health. Now that you are in College and realize that you are around alcohol a lot, it is a good time to consider alcohol`s effects on you and to drink alcohol in a "low risk" manner.

Yes, alcohol does make you age faster. There are two aspects to your question. Are you concerned about how it affects your appearance - skin etc. or your health? I will address both aspects.

First, alcohol beyond the recommended limits is related to a number of health consequences and thus shortens your life span as well as affects your appearance and your ability to function. First, the recommended limits are no more than 2 drinks a day for men for a total of 14 drinks per week, but no more than 3 on any one occasion. So on a week end you should have no more than 2-3 drinks on each day. But remember that even one drink can be too much when driving a car, caring for small children, or if you are taking some medications. If you are female you will need to drink a little less: no more than 1 drink per day, with no more than 2-3 on one occasion. If you stay within or below these limits, alcohol should not lead to health consequences and may have a positive effect on your heart. There is good science indicating that these recommendation will help avoid health problems in the future.

Again, any amount of alcohol does put you at risk for an injury or motor vehicle crash, so use it wisely.

In terms of how alcohol causes one to age faster, alcohol has effects on all of our organ systems. So for those individuals who drink above these recommended limits, they may experience problems with sleep, depression, anxiety, stomach problems such as gastritis or heartburn. For college students, we know that they are more likely to get into fights, engage in unwanted sexual behavior, get poorer grades, and skip classes. For women, drinking any alcohol when they are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant is not recommended as it can lead to birth defects. If you drink over these limits stated above you may experience blackouts or memory loss. The problems listed above are short term consequences. If one continues to drink above these limits for a long period of time, e.g. several years or more, one can experience further and more serious health consequences such as high blood pressure, neurological damage, memory loss, depression, enlarged heart, and have greater risk of stomach, liver, and pancreatic cancer.

So as you can see, alcohol in small quantities is fine, but beyond that it can cause many problems that are best avoided. I am so glad you asked now so you can adjust your drinking habits to a reasonable limit. 

For more information:

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Response by:

Janice Dyehouse, PhD, RN
Adjunct Professor
College of Nursing
University of Cincinnati