HEAVY drinking as a young adult can have health effects lasting in to their 60s – even if someone gives up booze, according to new research.
Heavy drinking as a young adult can have health effects lasting in to their 60s
Researchers found that, of 664 male veterans, those who had symptoms of alcohol dependence for at least five years in young adulthood generally had poorer physical and mental health by the time they were in their 60s.
And that was true – even if they’d got over their drinking problems by the age of 30.
The findings, published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, were surprising, according to the researchers.
Study leader Doctor Randy Haber, of the Palo Alto Veterans Affairs Health Care System in the United States, said that it’s clear that people’s lives improve when alcohol dependence goes into remission.
But he said it’s not clear whether there are hidden consequences that remain after heavy drinking has ceased. For instance, evidence shows that both brain and body are affected by excessive drinking, but we don’t know how long these effects last.
Young adults with symptoms of alcohol dependency may see health effects decades later
The findings are based on men taking part in a larger study of Vietnam-era veterans.
Dr Haber’s team focused on 368 men who did not report any symptoms of alcohol dependence at any point in adulthood, 221 who had at least three symptoms of dependence in young adulthood and middle-age and 75 who had symptoms in early adulthood but not after the age of 30.
Overall, the study found that men who had alcohol dependence symptoms for at least five years in early adulthood scored lower on standard measures of both physical and mental health once they’d reached their 60s.
Those with alcohol dependence in young adulthood had, on average, three medical conditions in later life whereas those who didn’t reported two.
The scores of the veterans who drank heavily as young adults on a depression scale were about twice as high.
Study showed that people’s lives improve when alcohol dependence goes into remission
The reasons are unclear, but Dr Haber said other studies have shown that chronic drinking may injure parts of the brain involved in emotional regulation, self-control and decision making.
He said it’s possible that years of alcohol exposure in early adulthood could have lasting effects on those brain areas.
He said that people who not only quit problem drinking but also turn their lifestyle around – eating well, not smoking and just generally “taking care of themselves” – will likely see health benefits that last into later life.
Dr Haber said there is a “whole body of literature” showing that when people with alcohol dependence go into recovery, their lives improve in almost every area.
He added: “If you have entered alcohol dependence recovery, keep going. Live your life to its fullest.”