The Appearance Effects of Alcohol
Whether it be drinking in moderation or binge drinking, alcohol is a large part of the United States’ culture. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2020 over 177 million Americans aged 12 and older reported past-year alcohol use.1
While many of-age adults partake in drinking in moderation, which, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, involves drinking 2 or fewer standard drinks a day for men, or 1 or fewer standard drinks a day for women, some drink more than that and can become addicted to alcohol consumption.2 According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, more than 50% of adults surveyed in the United States reported alcohol use in the previous 30 days.3
Even when drinking responsibly, there can be significant short- and long-term effects on the body. Specifically, heavy and binge drinking is linked to numerous health problems, such as chronic diseases (e.g., cirrhosis of the liver, cancer, hypertension, and mental illness), unintentional injuries (e.g., fatal or serious car accidents, falls, burns, and drowning), and increased risk for violence.2 Additionally, alcohol consumption can interfere with your brain’s communication pathways—ultimately affecting how your brain looks and works over time—as well as affect your bone density, and reduce your immune system, leaving you vulnerable to illness.4
While many people are aware of the serious effects of alcohol on mental health and physical health internally, not everyone thinks about the drastic effects of alcohol on appearance.
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The Different Effects of Alcohol on Physical Appearance
Every person is different, meaning that no two people will be affected by any substance, including alcohol, in the same way. As indicated above, the short- and long-term effects of alcohol on the body can be devastating. These changes, whether internally or externally, can become increasingly noticeable over time.
Some of the potential appearance effects of alcohol include changes to your:
Effects of Alcohol on Skin
Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning that it dehydrates your body and can strip your body of essential vitamins and nutrients.5 Some of the alcohol effects on skin that are caused by dehydration include a higher risk of your skin becoming dry and wrinkled. As alcohol causes your body and skin to lose its fluid and nutrients (e.g., vitamin A, an essential skin vitamin), it becomes more prone to wrinkling and becoming dull and/or gray.5
Effects of Alcohol on the Face
Now that you know what alcohol does to your skin, you may be wondering what alcohol does to your face. When you’re drinking alcohol, you may realize that you start to have a red face. Some people have an alcohol flush reaction, a physiological response, and type of alcohol intolerance, where they have a flush in their face after drinking.6 Additionally, another short-term effect, particularly the day after drinking, includes having a puffy face from alcohol. Having a face bloat from alcohol is caused by water retention due to alcohol consumption.5
Beyond these short-term effects of alcohol on the face, some long-term skin problems due to prolonged alcohol consumption include acne and rosacea flare-ups, broken blood vessels, dull skin, and facial redness.5 And, because your face has skin, you may experience more wrinkles on your face as the alcohol dehydrates your body.
Alcoholic nose, also sometimes referred to as drinker’s nose, is an outdated term use to describe rhinophyma, which is also known as end-stage rosacea. Rhinophyma is the disfiguring nasal deformity and may involve nodules, fissures, and pedunculations that conceal the normal contour of the nose.9 Rhinophyma is often linked to chronic alcohol use, although no direct causal relationship between the two has been substantiated. A red nose from alcohol is an inaccurate depiction, and while alcohol may cause flushing of the face there is no proof that drinking causes “alcoholic nose.”
Effects of Alcohol on Hair
Dehydration due to alcohol consumption doesn’t just wreak havoc on your skin; it can also affect your hair.5 Yes, alcohol and hair loss are related. Chronic alcohol consumption can cause dehydration, which can cause your hair to dry out and thin, leaving it more prone to breakage and splitting. Additionally, because alcohol strips your body of its essential vitamins and nutrients, hair-health vitamins may be flushed and stripped from your body, causing your hair to look unhealthy and dull.
Effects of Alcohol on the Eyes
Alcohol affects the nervous system of the body, including your vision.7 In even moderate amounts of alcohol consumption, intoxication can cause irregular eye movements and activity, as well as affect your response time in situations.7 Following alcohol consumption, you may experience bloodshot eyes and/or sensitivity to light, as the optic nerves are recovering.
While these short-term effects may not seem too worrying, the long-term effects of alcohol on the eyes are serious. Chronic alcoholism has been linked to increased cases of age-related macular degeneration, age-related cataract, retinal vein occlusion, and other retinal conditions.7 There are other serious, alcohol-related ocular diseases, and research surrounding chronic alcohol use or alcohol use disorder on the ocular nerves is ongoing.
Alcohol & Weight Gain
Many hear the phrase “don’t drink your calories” and immediately think of sugar-laden drinks like soda and juice. But alcoholic beverages contain just as many, if not more, calories than some sodas and juices. The average glass of wine contains 185 calories, the average beer contains 182 calories, and a large gin and tonic contain 390 calories.8 If your drink of choice is a peach margarita, piña colada, or another mixed drink, the calories can skyrocket.
So, even though they may be “liquid calories,” so to speak, all calories add up and can cause you to gain weight. If you drink 1 beer a night, 5 nights a week, you’re consuming more than 1,000 additional calories, which, over time, can lead to someone developing a beer belly. Cutting back on alcohol can help you keep your calories in check.
Additionally, drinking typically lowers your inhibitions and causes you to overeat foods that aren’t particularly the best choices.8 When you’ve been drinking, you may be more likely to go out for late-night pizza or overeat at dinner. Over time, this can lead to you gaining weight from alcohol. Plus, regularly drinking heavily or having alcohol use disorder, which can lead to obesity, can leave you at risk for developing other health conditions that can perpetuate an unhealthy weight.
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Are the Effects of Alcohol on Your Looks Reversible?
If you’re concerned about effects of alcohol on your looks, you may be wondering whether any of them are reversible. Unfortunately, the answer is: it depends. Every person is different, and the true effectson your body vary. After damage occurs, it may not be reversible.
Talking to a doctor or specialist, which could include a dermatologist for your skin or an optometrist for your eyes, can help you determine what effects of alcohol on your appearance and body have occurred and whether they can be reversed. Some conditions, such as being overweight, may be able to be remedied if you cut back your alcohol consumption and make other healthy lifestyle choices.8 Additionally, some skin conditions, like rosacea, may improve after cutting back on alcohol.5 Talk to your doctor to learn more.
Prevention & Care
If you are concerned about the effects of alcohol on your appearance, there are some steps you can take to reduce or even reverse some of the damage. Keep in mind, though, that everyone is different, and some preventive care tips may work for better for one person over another.
Some things to consider when trying to remedy the appearance effects of alcohol include going to see a specialist. A dermatologist can help recommend products that may be able to reduce or reverse the effects of alcohol consumption on your skin and hair. For ocular concerns, be sure to see an optometrist or ophthalmologist. This type of doctor focuses on eye health and can review your specific concerns or conditions and make recommendations on how you can lessen, reduce, or prevent further damage to your eyes.
Finally, a primary care provider may be able to help you address the physical effects of alcohol consumption, including weight gain. They may suggest running tests to determine the extent of the effects you’re experiencing, but you may be able to use your health insurance to help cover some of these tests.
Most importantly, if you stop drinking, you are likely to see an improvement in your overall appearance. Reducing or stopping drinking altogether and implementing healthy habits, like prioritizing sleep, wearing sunscreen, drinking enough water, and eating a well-balanced diet may be able to help your body heal and recover from the effects of alcohol on your appearance and body. But, every person is different, and how long it may take to see results, if you’re able to see results at all, can vary. Talk to a doctor today to get started, and reach out to alcohol addiction treatment centers today to get started on your path to sobriety.