We all know that drinking in excess has led to a number of serious health conditions including heart disease, strokes, and many forms of cancer. In the short term, alcohol misuse can lead to accidents and injuries, violent behaviour, and alcohol poisoning. So how do you know if you’re drinking too much? Does alcohol impact age groups differently?
Am I drinking too much?
A few drinks once or twice a week is perfectly fine, but drinking more than a certain amount is dangerous.
If you feel you should cut down on your drinking, have been criticised for drinking too much, or you need a drink to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover you are drinking too much.
The NHS says both men and women should drink no more than 14 units a week.
A unit of alcohol is eight grams or 10ml of pure alcohol which is about half a pint of lower to normal-strength lager, beer or cider.
A single small shot of a spirit is also one unit, and a small glass of wine is about 1.5 units.
That means you should drink no more than seven pints of beer, 14 shots, or nine glasses of wine.
If you drink about 14 units a week, it is better to spread this over three or more days rather than in one boozy night.
If you drink more, you need to cut down on the amount of alcohol you drink.
The best way to do this is to have several alcohol-free days a week.
Drinking too much alcohol is life-threatening for people of all ages, but alcohol affects people differently depending on their age.
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How alcohol impacts different age groups
PT and health practitioner Jason Briggs at the health and fitness brand Shoe Hero has revealed exactly how alcohol impacts people of different ages.
In general, younger people feel the effects of alcohol less and can recover more quickly.
However, that doesn’t mean drinking in excess is acceptable when you’re in your 20s.
Mr Briggs said: “The current climate may see us less likely to socialise and drinking at home has risen by 38 percent 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.
“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.
“Essentially, this metabolises the alcohol to reduce its impact on the body.”
Hangovers are less of a problem when you’re young, but that doesn’t mean it’s harmless.
Mr Briggs said: “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 sound, it is wise to drink responsibly in your 20s and early 30s.
“The body is still developing, and frequent binge drinking will lead to long term effects in the future.”
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Your hangovers really do get worse in your 30s.
Mr Briggs explained: “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 get older, our bodies are less able to process alcohol and heal itself.
Mr Briggs said: “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 two-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.”
Alcohol impairs our ability to make rational decisions by damaging the brain’s frontal cortex.
This can last several days when we drink in our late 30s and early 40s, Mr Briggs said.
He added: “Alcohol also slackens the neurotransmitters in the brain that are responsible for 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.”
In our 40s, sleep is more important than ever and we feel the impact of lack of sleep more at this age.
Mr Briggs explained: “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.'”
Those who drink too much throughout their lives and in their 40s and 50s are more likely to suffer from skincare conditions.
This is because alcohol is full of sugar, especially white wine, cocktails and syrup-based mixers.
Because alcohol is high in the glycaemic index, it spikes your blood sugar levels and causes inflammation.
Mr Briggs explained: “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.”
This age group will also find they are more vulnerable to general illnesses, since drinking regularly at this age damages the immune system.
Mr Briggs explained: “Alcohol affects 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’.
“It is wise to limit alcohol consumption and be mindful of how often drinking takes place as well as the volume consumed.”
Alcohol also damages the digestive system, and excessive drinking in older years can lead to stomach ulcers.
Mr Briggs said: “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.
“The tell-tale signs of damage to the digestive system are abnormal bloating, diarrhoea and excessive gas.”
Even the smallest consumption of alcohol can have extremely dangerous effects on those above 60.
Mr Briggs said: “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.”