Are Your Drinks Getting Stronger, or Are You Just Getting Older?

KEY POINTS 

  • you getting more sensitive to alcohol as you age.
  • After age 65, your circulation starts slowing down.
  • Blood pressure medications don’t control hypertension, and risks of stroke and other problems increase.

Does it seem like you’re getting more sensitive to alcohol as you age?

You’re not imagining things.

“The basic process by which alcohol is metabolized doesn’t change, but after age 65, several factors can alter the way you process it,” says family medicine specialist Donald Ford, MD.

After age 65, your circulation starts slowing down. “Less blood is flowing through your liver, so the process slows, and more toxic metabolites may accumulate,” says Dr. Ford.

“And because we lose lean muscle mass with age, a higher concentration of alcohol remains in the bloodstream. So you feel more effects from the same amount of alcohol.”

By this time, you’ve probably also developed a few chronic conditions. “Needing lots of medication for different conditions can cause lots of interactions with alcohol,” he says.

Alcohol competes with medicines for processing by your liver — and wins. As a result:

Sedatives, taken for anxiety or insomnia, become far more potent.

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Blood pressure medications don’t control hypertension, and risks of stroke and other problems increase.

Alcohol augments the effect of blood thinners, increasing the risk of serious bleeding.

“Alcohol also compounds the sleep difficulties that are common after age 65,” notes Dr. Ford.

Many people use alcohol to fall asleep, he says, not realizing that it interrupts sleep, makes sleep less restful, and causes earlier awakenings.

As we age, we’re also more prone to falling. “The consequences of alcohol-related falls tend to be more serious after age 65,” he says.

“Tripping on a stair and hitting your head is far more likely to cause significant injury when you are older.”

Nevertheless, as you’re given more prescription medications in your late 50s and 60s, be aware of how they interact with alcohol.

And to enjoy good health over time, maintain your cardiovascular health, control your blood pressure and cholesterol, and exercise to preserve your lean muscle mass, advises Dr. Ford.

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