Drinking alcohol over 40: The real truth

-Nov 13, Sophie Vokes-Dudgeon, Health -


There’s nothing nicer than getting home at the end of a hard day of work or collapsing on the sofa after a busy kiddie bedtime routine, and filling up your glass of red wine or some other form of alcohol. Or maybe your kids are older, and have left home? Those long evenings, once full of homework supervision and endless meal making, are now quiet and stress-free. What better excuse for a nice G&T?

A recent YouGov survey found this is definitely the case. If you’re over 40 and live in Britain, you probably enjoy a drink. And ‘Empty Nester’ mothers are more likely than others in their age group to be indulging in a tipple or two. But there’s something about drinking as you age – it feels harder on your body. If you’ve over-indulged recently you’ll know that bouncing back after a heavy night out on the tiles is not a easy as it was when you were in your 20s.

In fact, according to the experts, there are scientific reasons why this is. But (and we’re sorry to be the bearer of bad news) these are also the reasons why those of us in our fifth decade and above, should be thinking about reducing, not increasing, our alcohol intake as our lives move into the next phase.

“The organs that metabolise alcohol such as the liver and the stomach shrink as you get older, so alcohol stays in your system longer,’ Dr Tony Rao, consultant old age psychiatrist at the South london and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust told the Telegraph earlier this week. “Plus, the total fluid in the body is a lot less – we get more dehydrated as we get older – so because alcohol is distributed in blood which will be more concentrated, it won’t be broken down as quickly as it would in the bloodstream of a 20 year old.”

Here’s a quick low down on what alcohol does to the body when you’re over 40.

Brain: Alcohol is a depressant, which is why it initially feels like a positive thing – it depresses self-control and reasoning in the short term. In the long term, though, you find yourself more likely to suffer mood disorders and anxiety.

Skin: When you drink, alcohol can cause a flush in the skin which over time can lead to permanent enlargement of blood vessels. Plus, alcohol dehydrates your skin, exacerbating wrinkles and puffiness round the eyes. And the excess sugar contained in wine and beer can damage DNA and collagen in the skin.

Heart: Those who regularly drink double the recommended daily limit of 3-4 units for a man and 2-3 for a woman, dramatically increase their risk of a stroke. Studies that have shown a glass of red wine a night is good for the heart, but experts warn any more than that will do you no good.

Liver: Liver disease has risen by 400% since the 1970s and doctors warn it’s not just alcohol abusers who are at risk. The first sign is a fatty liver – but if you don’t cut your drinking down at that point, cirrhosis or liver disease can follow. The British Liver Trust suggests allowing your liver 3 consecutive non-drinking days a week to allow your liver to heal after drinking.

With party season just around the corner, we were so taken aback by this that we wanted a professional’s take so if you’re interested in whether wine ‘o’ clock might not be as harmless as you think we have turned to an addiction expert who gives us her honest viewpoint. You can read that here. 

Yes, life is all about balance, but if the scales are tipping in favour of unhealthy then sometimes it’s worth taking stock of our drinking (and other) habits and seeing whether a few small, but effective changes are in order. 

What other tweaks can we do to ensure that we are all leading our best lives at every age? You don’t have to feel trapped in the same old routines if they’re not making you happy: How about a midlife reinvention? Here’s how to future-proof your body and do things now that will help you stay feeling fabulous in years to come. Are you tired all the time? – this might be why. And, if you’re nursing a broken heart find out how this woman healed after years of feeling down. If you’re tired, depressed, angry and have lost your sex drive, did you know that these could be early menopause symptoms and that you could be peri-menopausal even if you’re still having periods? – Here’s our expert’s guide to why peri-menopause could be the best thing that’s ever happened to you. 



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