Increased Alcohol Intolerance With Age

The risk of developing alcohol intolerance and potentially severe side effects from drinking even small amounts of alcohol increases significantly with age.

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Dr. Manish Mishra, MBBS

Medically Reviewed By: Manish Mishra, MBBS


When you’re younger, alcohol consumption doesn’t in a single instance may not affect your body too harshly — at least not in comparison to heavy, chronic alcohol abuse.

But as you age, certain physiological factors and immune system deterioration work against you.

Older bodies retain water at a slower rate — your body is already slightly hydrated. And one drink may make you feel buzzed faster when you’re 40 than when you were 20.

You’re likely to develop an alcohol allergy (hives and histamine reaction) or alcohol intolerance as you grow older.

Older adults have less than average aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH2), an enzyme that aids alcohol metabolism.

That, together with sulfites, preservatives, and other allergens in alcoholic drinks, may increase alcohol sensitivity or cause an allergic reaction in older adults.

How Age Affects Alcohol Intolerance

Here are some of the main factors that contribute to increased alcohol intolerance with age:

More Body Fat

As you age, your body loses muscle mass and gains fat. Fat doesn’t absorb alcohol well. That means it takes longer for your body to metabolize alcohol after consuming it.

Diminished Liver Function

Your liver’s ability to metabolize alcohol also decreases as you age. That means it takes longer for your body to process alcohol and eliminates it from your system.

Older people have acetaldehyde dehydrogenase deficiency, which slows down ethanol metabolism.

It is also important to note that symptoms of alcohol intolerance, such as a stuffy nose and high blood pressure, are common among people of East Asian descent.

Effects Of Alcohol Intolerance In Older Adults

It helps to understand the effects of alcohol intolerance in older people.

Once you know how and why these issues emerge for older adults, you can take steps to help prevent them from affecting your quality of life.

Higher Blood Alcohol Concentration

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), your body becomes less efficient at breaking down alcohol as you grow older.

Even if you drink a small amount of alcohol, it can take longer to process, and your blood alcohol level will be higher than someone younger drinking the same amount.

If you have a lower tolerance for alcohol, even one glass of wine could push your BAC above 0.08%, the legal limit for driving in most states.

Increased Cancer Risks

The liver is one of your body’s primary organs for processing alcohol. As you age, your liver becomes less efficient at breaking down alcohol.

Even small amounts of alcohol can linger in your system and increase your risk of developing cancer.

Drinking just one alcoholic beverage per day increases your risk for esophageal and gastric cancer.

Premature Aging of The Brain

One of alcohol’s main effects is to inhibit GABA production, a neurotransmitter that helps control your brain’s activity. Your brain loses some of its ability to produce GABA naturally with age.

That makes it more difficult for your brain to control its activity, leading to cognitive decline and memory loss as you get older.

Medication Interactions

Alcohol consumption can increase your risk of developing interactions between medications and alcohol.

For example, drinking alcohol with certain medications, such as insulin, can be less effective.

You are more likely with age to be taking multiple medications at once, increasing the risk for these side effects.

Treatment Services For Alcohol Addiction

The first step in alcohol addiction recovery is often detoxification, which involves refraining from drinking to allow the body to rid itself of any traces of alcohol in the circulation and organs.

Your doctor may also prescribe medications to help with liver disease, mental health problems, high/low blood pressure, and other life-threatening conditions.

Over-the-counter drugs, such as antihistamines and certain supplements, can help alleviate the symptoms of alcohol intolerance, such as a runny nose and skin flushing.

Cognitive and dialectical behavioral therapies are usually part of an overall treatment plan.

Alcohol addiction treatment plans may also include individual counseling, group therapy, and mutual support groups.

Find Treatment For Alcohol Abuse At Bedrock Recovery Center

One of Bedrock Recovery Center’s goals is to help people with alcohol abuse lead a successful and fulfilling life.

Our rehab center offers unique, evidence-based treatment methods that address underlying causes of substance abuse and prevent issues that come with addiction.

Call us today for more information on how we can help you or someone you love reach lasting recovery.

  1. The British Medical Journal
  2. National Cancer Institute
  3. National Institutes of Health

Written by Bedrock Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2024 Bedrock Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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