THE OLDER YOU GET, THE LONGER ALCOHOL STAYS IN YOUR SYSTEMA pioneering Danish study found that tee-totallers got pregnant much sooner than even very light 'social' drinkers and they had a lower miscarriage rate… ‘Alcohol affects just about every system because it’s a small molecule that goes everywhere in the body,’ says Paul Wallace, emeritus professor of public health at University College London and medical director of the charity Drinkaware. ‘From the gut to the heart, the blood vessels to the skin, its effects are all pervasive.’ But why does it feel like the effects of drinking are so much worse post-40? ‘The organs that metabolise alcohol such as the liver and the stomach shrink as you get older, so alcohol stays in your system longer,’ says Dr Tony Rao, consultant old age psychiatrist at the South london and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. This could explain that wretched two-day hangover post-40. ‘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.’
Brain - ‘Alcohol gets through the blood-brain barrier where it works as a depressant,’ says Professor Wallace. ‘We feel quite excited and stimulated when we drink because it’s having a depressing effect on controlling behaviours such as judgement, self-monitoring, planning and reasoning’, he says. It explains why what seemed like great idea the night before is not so much the morning after. ‘Over time this gives you a higher propensity to mood problems such as anxiety and depression.’ In his NHS clinic specialising in alcohol problems, Dr Rao sees people in their 60s with subtle alcohol related brain damage after a lifetime of casual drinking. ‘I always say to my patients ‘Your brain is affected a lot earlier than your liver’’, he says. ‘Before we see the cirrhosis we see depression and problems with impulse control, moodiness, problems making complex decisions, say with finances and their children or spouses might say ‘Oh that’s just so-and-so being a silly old bugger,’ so the problems are missed.’ Good news is, the damage can be reversed after just six months of not drinking, he says. of these substances later in life."