Many people are aware of the myriad of issues that drugs and alcohol can cause in regards to a person’s health, safety, and even social aspects of their lives. What we don’t hear enough is how drugs and alcohol affect the aging process. It correlates directly with health, but let’s delve into it a little deeper.
1. Alcohol causes long term cognitive impairment
Alcohol can actually cause shrinkage in the brain which causes poor memory, visual issues, and confusion, direct results of cognitive impairment from the shrinkage caused by long term and binge drinking. Long term and binge drinking at younger ages can have a harsher effect on the brain due to the brain still being in developmental stages. George Koob, the director of the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, states that binge drinking and drinking in excess directly impacts the frontal lobe which is responsible for avoiding addiction. While the brain is still forming, addiction can sink in which in the end, will result in damage to the brain. There is still hope, however. The damage done to the brain can be reversed when the alcohol use ceases. Should alcoholism continue to be present, the damage to the brain can eventually lead to alcohol related dementia.
2. Alcohol and drug use destroy your skin, speeding up the aging process
Good morning and hello hangover! Not only do you have a throbbing headache but a thirst so strong you feel like you’ve just hiked the Sahara desert. This is the result of the alcohol dehydrating your body. The production of vasopressin, or your anti-diuretic hormones, lowers and the alcohol in turn forces your kidneys to work harder to rid your body of the alcohol which also removes water from your system as well. This causes pale, gray, and dry skin. Dry skin equals lowered production of collagen and a reduction of elasticity which inevitably results in wrinkles. Drug use can cause major aging of the skin in a short period of time. As toxins seep from your pores, the end result is acne and again, dull skin. Effects of meth can be even more damaging, leaving scars from picking and scabs.
3. Alcohol affects your physical health
Alcoholism causes deterioration of physical health. Internally, the damage being caused by alcohol is profound. Here are just a few major complications caused by alcoholism:
- Cardiomyopathy, or the weakening of the heart muscles
- Arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeat
- Increased risk of stoke
- High blood pressure
- Cirrhosis and fibrosis of the liver
- Cancers of the lung, throat, esophagus, and liver
- Increased risk for pneumonia and tuberculosis
- Weakened immune system
- Increased risk for diabetes
- Fertility complications
- Sexual dysfunction
These issues not only speed up the aging process, but they can occur at any age. None of these are reserved strictly to the older alcoholic.
4. Drug abuse causes damage to neurotransmitters
Normal aging causes production to slow in dopaminergic, serotonergic, and glutamatergic neurotransmitters. Drug use causes these neurotransmitters to work overtime, pushing out serotonin and dopamine into the brain and bloodstream at faster rates and in larger amounts. The overworking of the brain causes the neurotransmitters to slow production much sooner than non-drug users which can cause a whole host of issues like depression and mood disorders, as well as premature aging of the brain.
5. Abuse leads to stress and social problems
We all know that being over stressed already ages us, so when adding the abuse of alcohol or drugs into the mix, the stressors are amplified. For some, money, housing, and family may be huge factors for most of their stress. Where and how will I get money to pay for my drugs and/or alcohol? Will I have a place to sleep tonight? Even relationships with family members can be tense enough alone to trigger stress and aging. Not every drug user is homeless and going to extremes to acquire substances for their addictions. Some are silent abusers. “Functioning”. They hide it from friends, family, and coworkers. Fears of getting found out or feeling alone and having no one to turn to for help can cause great deals of stress. Stress, anxiety, and depression can actually speed up the aging process by shortening DNA strands which may lead to chronic diseases and premature death.
6. Abuse affects eating patterns necessary to maintain health to fight aging
Drug and alcohol use directly affect our diets and eating habits. Certain drugs will actually deter us from eating properly or at all. Rapid weight loss can occur resulting in depleting vitamins and minerals in the body. Malnutrition leads to inability to heal properly from wounds or surgeries. It can lead to cachexia, or severe weight loss which results in hair loss, bone density loss, ulcers, and reduced muscle mass. It increases the risks of heart, liver, and kidney failure. Alcohol depletes our bodies of vitamin A and vitamin C which are powerful antioxidants to help fight the aging process. A deficiency in vitamin C can actually affect vision as well, leading to macular degeneration and vision loss.
7. Abuse may lead to sleep disorders which speed up the aging process
Alcoholism and drug abuse significantly impact the amount and quality of sleep a person gets which affects health and the aging process. Alcohol consumption leads to frequent waking during sleep which disturbs the circadian rhythm, or our internal clock for sleep. Constant stirring in the night reduces the amount of REM sleep in which our bodies repair damage. Without restful sleep, moodiness, fatigue, and cognitive impairment can affect our day and over time, affect how we age. Chronic sleep deprivation from using certain drugs can have an even larger impact on the body. Studies show that chronic fatigue greatly increases your risk of anxiety and depression. Fatigue can also weaken the immune system and shockingly cause cardiovascular disease. A good night’s sleep is as important as being mindful of how we maintain our bodies while we are awake.
So we know that substance and alcohol abuse has a massive impact on our health, but it’s also important to know and understand how it affects the aging process. Most people think of aging and think mostly about physical appearance. Drugs and alcohol absolutely have an effect on physical appearance, but it’s not just skin deep. They wreak havoc on our vital organs and our brain causing premature aging by way of organ damage and failure. There is still hope; a way out. Removing these toxic substances will begin to reverse the damage done to allow you to carry on living a fulfilling, healthy life.
Netflix enthusiast, horrible speller, jiujitsu hobbyist, weekend drinker, and occasional poker player. Favorite quote is “[o]ut of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”