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Does Alcohol Tolerance Change As You Get Older (Read: Do Hangovers Suck More As We Age)?

Booze impacts you differently in your 20s vs your 30s

Whether you're in your twenties, thirties or forties, we'd wager a bet that you've noticed your hangovers have gotten a lot harder to recover from as you've gotten older (unless of course you're a sober Suzie). But for those who do enjoy a tipple from time to time, by the time you reach your thirties, those heady student days – where you could down triple vodka and cokes all night and still waking up feeling semi-fresh – certainly feel a distant dream.

For many, it's not just the physical side effects of drinking alcohol that seem to be trickier to contend with as you age either, but also the mental health repercussions (hangxiety sounding familiar, anyone?).

So, keen to discover if there's a bona fide scientific reason (bar maybe a general lack of tolerance?) as to why drinking at 25 vs. drinking at 35 is so different, we asked Dr. Giuseppe Aragona, GP and Online Doctor for PrescriptionDoctor.com, to share his expertise. Fingers crossed some of the below intel will help prevent you from searching 'Can you die from a hangover?' again any time soon...

How alcohol affects you in your 20s

"Most people would believe that it's ok to drink excessively in your twenties because you are young, and your body is able is able to manage the amount of alcohol in your system," says Dr. Agarona. "However this is not the case and in actual fact, drinking a large amount in your twenties (also known as binge drinking) can actually pose more risk to your future self."

It can lead to drinking problems in later life

The pivotal years of your twenties can often determine your relationship with alcohol as you get older. "People who drink excessively or have larger dependence on alcohol in their early adulthood and twenties are more likely to suffer from multiple physical issues when they reach their fifties and sixties," says Dr Aragona. "Your 20s are also a key point in your life when your dependence on alcohol will have a knock-on effect and will likely cement your relationship with alcohol through into your thirties and forties."

Your twenties are also a life stage where you're kind of, sort of, almost definitely getting to grips with adulthood (we say that in a very tongue-in-cheek way because honestly when does anyone ever feel like a proper grown-up?!) and think long and hard about the type of person you want to be, which may include re-evaluating your relationship with booze in the process. It's certainly a healthy conversation to have with yourself, at any age.

Your body is still changing

Not only that, but drinking in your younger years can affect your body as it grows. "You still have developmental processes occurring in your body when you are in your late teens and early-to-mid twenties, and this active growth is most likely to be disrupted if you are drinking a large amount of alcohol," explains Dr. Aragona. "For example, excessive alcohol consumption can largely increase the chances of developing oral cancers in young people, as well as heart and liver disease.

"A large alcohol consumption can also contribute to the development of osteoporosis in young people as the alcohol stops the bones ability to absorb calcium, a vital resource for healthy bones."

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There's a risk of excess

Drinking as you party with friends in your younger years can be fun, but for some it can lead to something more sinister.

"Another key risk in excessive alcohol consumption and binge drinking in young adults is the risk of overdose. Binge drinking is especially common in young adults and puts them at an increased risk of blood poisoning. The symptoms of alcohol poisoning are similar to that of an extreme hangover; nausea, vomiting and loss of consciousness, and so are not recognised as an emergency, and without urgent care alcohol poisoning can lead to seizures and possible death.

"Drinking excessive alcohol in your twenties can also reduce your fertility and cause damage to your reproductive organs. In rare cases ovulation can stop altogether."

How alcohol affects you in your 30s

Fast-forward, and those in their thirties are probably familiar with what happens after one too many cocktails. The effects of alcohol as you age may be more obvious in your physical appearance; your skin, eyes and hair is unlikely to bounce back the way it could 10 years ago - it can also have an impact that's more difficult to see.

Hangovers will be worse

Ok, so this one's obvious - but Dr Aragona explains the science behind it: "There are a number of factors which make drinking, even at 'normal' levels, increasingly risky as you age. As you get older your ability to metabolise alcohol declines, this decline is usually found from your late twenties and into your thirties.

"Older people have higher blood alcohol concentration than younger people; this means that as you age you have a lower volume of total body water and slower rates of eliminating alcohol from the body. So essentially, as you reach your thirties, your liver and body’s ability to eliminate alcohol from your system takes longer and in return you may find that your hangovers last longer, and even one night of drinking can leave you knocked out for days."

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Your senses could be affected

"Other physical implications that occur when you drink in your thirties are that your eyesight and hearing could deteriorate and your reflexes could slow down," says Dr Aragona. "These kinds of physical changes can make you feel high, dizzy or intoxicated even after only drinking a small amount. This means that older people are more likely to have alcohol related accidents such as falls, collisions whilst driving and other kind of accidents.

"Drinking can also affect many medical conditions which are common among older people such as high blood pressure. Furthermore, in your thirties you may start to take more medicines and supplements than younger people, and mixing alcohol with prescription drugs can be incredibly dangerous."

You'll take longer to recover

Yes, your two-day hangovers are very real and yes, they might even start to last longer. Sorry. "Physically, your body will take a number of days to return to normal after a heavy night of drinking in your thirties. Due to the bodies metabolic system slowing down and general degenerative processes, you may feel tired, achy, stiff in the days following a night of heavy drinking. Many people may not be able to exercise for a few days or may find it hard to concentrate on minor tasks.”

Your mental health may be impacted

This one can affect you at any age, and can be harder to spot. "Many young people today will suffer with mental health conditions, and many will turn to alcohol to cope with their emotions," says Dr Aragona. "However, alcohol worsens symptoms of mental illness including depression, anxiety and sleep disorders and so those who participate in binge drinking are putting their mental health at risk and increasing their chances of suffering with mental health issues in the future.

"Even though drinking large amounts in your twenties can leave permanent damage on your body for later life, drinking as you age is also just as bad and can have different implications on your physical and mental health."

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What are the differences between drinking in your 20s and 30s?

Along with the effects on your body and mind, as explained above, you'll notice societal differences as you age; for example, big nights out in your twenties may turn to dinner parties, or a glass of wine each night at home.

"You are more likely to binge drink in your twenties, because your tolerance is high, and you may not suffer with bad hangovers as you might in your thirties," says Dr Aragona. "However, this means you are likely to drink more, as well as binge drink. Research has shown that the effects of excessive alcohol consumption in you twenties can follow throughout your life."

 

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