Written by:
Amy Collins


Expert review by:
Dr Melissa Oldham

Ever wondered why you felt so able to shake off the effects of a big night out when you were young, but don’t find it so easy now? Well, here is why!

Over your entire lifetime your body will grow, develop and change – and with this comes some changes in how your body will process certain things, such as alcohol.

It is important to preface this article with the reminder that of course, all of this will depend on the amount of alcohol consumed – however, alcohol can have an impact on a multitude of bodily functions and organs, from the brain to the bladder, and our ability to process alcohol can be affected as we age.

Can’t handle your booze anymore?

Maybe you have noticed that it takes you less alcohol to feel a little wobbly these days? There are a few possible explanations for this.

The first is because as you get older, your circulation tends to slow down, meaning there is less blood flow to the liver and alcohol takes longer to be processed. This could lead to a build-up of alcohol remaining in your system for a longer period versus when you were younger. 

Additionally, as you age, your muscle mass and water distribution decreases, meaning the same amount of alcohol can lead to a higher concentration of alcohol in the bloodstream of older drinkers.

Finally, as you age some of the enzymes involved in breaking down alcohol diminish, meaning your body processes alcohol less efficiently.

Memory troubles after drinking?

You may also have noticed that your memory of nights out (or in!) have become a little more hazy as you have gotten older. This is because as a natural part of aging, parts of our brains begin to thin or shrink, and age related brain changes can impact memory. Often consuming alcohol only exacerbates these symptoms.

How’s your head?


Okay so now you know why your tolerance for alcohol seems to have declined, but what about those awful hangovers? What about getting older seems to make them even less tolerable?

We already know that drinking alcohol makes you dehydrated – that happens to anyone at any age. However, the older you are, the more susceptible to dehydration you become. There are a few reasons for this, including a decreased thirst response, as well as reduced fluid retention overall. Add another dehydrating factor into this mix, such as alcohol, and you start to understand why you may be waking up with a dry mouth and a crashing headache. 

Did you sleep okay?

Many people think that having a drink will help them sleep and although alcohol acts as a sedative and may make it easier to fall asleep more quickly, alcohol is known to have a negative impact on the quality of sleep you get each night as it interrupts the restorative cycle of REM sleep – the one that actually helps you feel rested – meaning you wake up more during the night or don’t get the quality of sleep you need

Generally the number of people suffering with insomnia increases with age and as some try to self medicate with alcohol, their long term quality of sleep is put at further risk

So what is the good news?

It may sound as though the research findings into how we process alcohol as we age is kind of a party pooper, but the good news is that there are so many alternatives to alcohol on the market that mean taking a break from drinking, or reducing your overall alcohol intake becomes a lot easier. From AF beers, to AF wines, to other fun concoctions to enjoy in the sunshine there is no reason to feel as though you have to give anything up. In fact, if you don’t have your head between your knees for a few days after drinking, you have a whole lot more time to gain!

 

Take the challenge

 

Sources: 

Alcohol in the Aging Brain – The Interplay Between Alcohol Consumption, Cognitive Decline and the Cardiovascular System by Mende Melinda Alicia in Frontiers in Neuroscience 

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism No. 35; PH 371 January 1997

Moderate alcohol use is associated with decreased brain volume in early middle age in both sexes

Seddon JL, Wadd S, Wells E, Elliott L, Madoc-Jones I, Breslin J. Drink wise, age well; reducing alcohol related harm among people over 50: a study protocol. BMC Public Health. 2019

Alcohol, inflammation, and gut-liver-brain interactions in tissue damage and disease development

The association between alcohol consumption and sleep disorders among older people in the general population

ROBERTS KE. Mechanism of Dehydration Following Alcohol Ingestion. Arch Intern Med. 1963;112(2):154–157. doi:10.1001/archinte.1963.03860020052002

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