We don’t hear enough about how drug and alcohol addiction affects the aging process. Currently, many alcohol rehabilitation centres are full of people who have been abusing their bodies for many years. 

So says clinical psychologist Dr. Sandrina Haeck, who explains how they affect our brains, skin, organs, nutrition, and sleep. According to Haeck, alcohol abuse shrinks the brain, causing poor memory, visual issues, and confusion. Excessive drinking directly impacts the frontal lobe, which is responsible for higher-order functioning, reasoning, and logic. Alcohol is also known to dehydrate the body.

“This causes pale, grey, and dry skin,” adds Haeck. “Dry skin equates to a lowered production of collagen and a reduction of elasticity, which inevitably results in wrinkles.”

Here are just a few of the major complications caused by alcoholism:

Addiction | Longevity LIVE

  • The weakening of the heart muscles.
  • Irregular heartbeat.
  • Increased risk of stroke.
  • High blood pressure.
  • cirrhosis and fibrosis of the liver.
  • Cancers of the lungs, throat, esophagus, and liver.
  • Increased risk of pneumonia and tuberculosis.
  • Weakened immune system.
  • Increased risk of diabetes.
  • Fertility complications.
  • Sexual dysfunction.

Addiction damages neurotransmitters

Normal aging slows the production of dopaminergic, serotonergic, and glutamatergic neurotransmitters. However, drug use causes them to work overtime, producing serotonin and dopamine at faster rates and in larger amounts.

Haeck explains: “This causes neurotransmitters to slow production much sooner than in non-drug users. It results in depression and mood disorders, as well as premature aging of the brain.”

Addiction increases stress

We know that being over-stressed ages us, but when the abuse of alcohol or drugs is added to the mix, the stressors quadruple. “This speeds up the aging process and may lead to chronic diseases and premature death,” she says.

Addiction and eating disorders

Drug and alcohol use also directly affect our eating habits. This can cause rapid weight loss, resulting in vitamin and mineral depletion, and an inability to heal properly from wounds or surgeries.

“Malnutrition can also lead to severe weight loss, which results in a loss of hair and bone density, ulcers, and reduced muscle mass. It increases the risk of heart, liver, and kidney failure. It can also affect vision, leading to macular degeneration and vision loss.”

Addiction and sleep

Addiction | Longevity LIVEHaeck adds that alcoholism and drug abuse significantly impact the amount and quality of sleep we get, which affects our health and the aging process.

“Without restful sleep, moodiness, fatigue, and cognitive impairment can affect our day and, over time, affect how we age.”

The road to recovering your health

Follow Haeck’s tips to reverse some of the physical damage done by drugs or alcohol addiction:

  • Get help in order to remain sober for as long as you can, to allow your body to heal.
  • Take a daily multivitamin.
  • Exercise regularly will allow you to fight oiliness and build immunity.
  • Eat a healthy diet. You will notice that your weight starts normalizing and your muscle tone begins to improve. It will then be much easier to prevent injuries and ward off oiliness.

Following these tips will allow you to start down the road of recovery – healing not just your mind, but your body too. Reaching out for help from detox centers such as Bright Future Detox Centre can also be the way to go when it comes to recovery.

Click here to find out how Harvard Health describes the way addiction hijacks your brain.


Joy Mphande

Joy Mphande Born and raised in Pretoria and known on the airwaves as Joy Gracious, which is a combination of her first and second name. Joy is a vibrant, opinionated and highly competent individual who aspires to thrive in the media industry. Joy has done first year media practices at Boston Media House, but was unable to complete the course so she decided to opt for a shorter course by enrolling at a presenting school called ‘Oncue Communications’, in that doing the 21-year-old stride taker qualified herself as a Radio presenter. A day after getting her radio presenting certificate she began interning as a technical producer and voice-over artist at a community radio station called Radio Today, three weeks into her internship she swooped up a co-presenting and content producing slot on an urban culture show called ‘The Ultimate Shutdown’ with two other mail presenters. This media personality is qualified as an arts journalist by the training and development programme of the 18th annual Jazz festival where she was mentored and trained by journalist and author of ‘yakhal’inkomo’ Percy Mabandu and journalist Gwen Ansell. Joy has also co-presented and produced a breakfast show called ‘The Tom London’s show’ which also broadcasted from Radio Today with radio legend Tom London.

The content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.