February 23, 2023

How Alcohol Can Accelerate the Aging Process and Damage Your Health

Anne Fernandez, Ph.D., is quoted in this USNWR article

link to the original article on the USNWR website 


“A majority of people who drank during the pandemic reported reducing their alcohol use relative to past years,” says Anne Fernandez, a clinical psychologist and an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Michigan. A smaller but significant number drank more, says Fernandez, who also serves as the associate director of the U-M addiction treatment service.


“People who reported drinking for social reasons were more likely to report reducing alcohol use, not surprisingly, because there’s a lot less opportunity for social contact and all of the things that go along with that,” Fernandez says.


“It’s undeniable that alcohol use can reduce some negative emotions on a short-term basis,” Fernandez says. “If you’re feeling really anxious and you have a few drinks, you may feel calmer because alcohol is a depressant and is going to lower your physiological state.”

Although you may feel better for a short period, you will feel worse in the long run, especially if you do that in a habitual way.

“If you’re using alcohol to cope, you’re not learning to use other tools to cope that are going to be more versatile and helpful,” Fernandez explains.

At any age, the potential for building up tolerance is a concern.

“The more alcohol you have, the more likely you are to develop dependence, which can actually cause more anxiety, more depression and more stress in the long run because of the various changes on the brain,” Fernandez adds.

As people become dependent on alcohol, they can become extremely anxious in drinking downtime.

“They’re drinking so much that their anxiety is completely out of control, essentially, when they’re not drinking, because their body is in withdrawal from alcohol,” Fernandez says. “When the depressant is out of your body, you’re in an overstimulated state. You’re jittery, your thoughts are racing and you’re sweating.”


"If a person has developed an alcohol use disorder, stopping or significantly reducing alcohol use on your own can be risky because of withdrawal," Fernandez says. "In its most severe forms, alcohol withdrawal can cause seizures, hallucinations and even death."

That's why seeking medical advice and care when trying to stop drinking is critical.

Although some people may be able to reduce or stop drinking on their own, Fernandez says other people will be recommended to go to a facility to do a detox that’s medically managed. In some cases, they can do an outpatient detox, depending on safety and various factors.

Being older can add to withdrawal hazards.

“Age is one of the factors that people are concerned about with alcohol withdrawal,” Fernandez says. “For older adults – especially depending on what medications you’re on, what kind of health conditions you have – stopping alcohol if you have dependence, on your own, is even riskier.”