Alcohol Consumption in One’s Youth Now Connected to Another Health Harm Later in Life

Man on a street, alcohol problems

Recent findings from a United Kingdom study show an alarming potential connection between heavy drinking throughout one’s life and frailty later in life. The findings suggest that, even if people drink heavily in their youth, they may suffer from advanced muscle loss as they age.

Heavy Alcohol Consumption and Loss of Muscle Mass

Research from the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the United Kingdom recently concluded an alarming finding: People examined in the study who had consumed alcohol heavily while younger (and who in some cases still consumed it) exhibited frailty and significantly more loss of muscle mass than people in the same age bracket who were not currently consuming alcohol heavily and who did not do so in their younger years.

Using data from the UK Biobank of nearly 200,000 people, researchers at UEA found that those people studied who had the lowest amount of muscle mass were drinking about a bottle of wine per day. To ensure other factors did not influence the findings, the researchers accounted for factors like participants’ body size, protein consumption, and physical activity.

Skinny elderly woman

The correlation between heavy alcohol consumption and loss of muscle mass played out the same, even when other variables were adjusted for. “Most of the people were in their 50s and 60s. We found that those who drank a lot of alcohol had a lower amount of skeletal muscle compared to people who drank less after we took into account their body sizes and other factors,” said Jane Skinner of UEA’s Norwich Medical School. “We saw that it really became a problem when people were drinking 10 or more units a day.” Ten units of alcohol per day is equivalent to about one bottle of wine or five pints of beer.

The muscle mass of study participants was measured simultaneously (and not over time) so researchers couldn’t prove a causal link, but the correlation is enough to warrant concern. “This study shows that alcohol may have harmful effects on muscle mass at higher levels of consumption,” said Ailsa Welch, also of UEA’s Norwich Medical School. “We know that losing muscle as we age leads to problems with weakness and frailty, so this suggests another reason to avoid drinking high amounts of alcohol routinely in middle and early older age.” While some degree of muscle loss is a natural part of aging, people should still be mindful of participating in activities (like heavy drinking) that might speed muscle loss as they age.

Finally, the researchers pointed out that young people should be mindful of their alcohol consumption. It’s easy enough to think, “I have plenty of years to improve my behavior.” However, the researchers noted that even in the elderly individuals examined in the study group who had notable muscle loss but who were not drinking alcohol to excess currently did admit to drinking alcohol excessively and frequently in their younger years. That finding suggests repeated heavy alcohol use can have harmful effects in one’s senior years, even if that pattern of drinking does not continue into one’s senior years.

Alcohol Abuse is a Growing Problem for the Elderly

Elderly man drinks alcohol

Heavy alcohol use should be avoided for all age groups, as evidence shows it is harmful no matter one’s age or physical health. However, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the size of the older adult population is increasing, and this population is also increasingly consuming alcohol in greater quantities and more often than previous generations of seniors. NIAAA estimates approximately 20% of adults aged 60-64 and around 11% over age 65 report current binge drinking.

Sarcopenia, the medical term for muscle loss, is a serious medical problem that is connected to a long list of other health problems and risk factors. For example, people who experience significant muscle loss as they age will experience a weakened musculoskeletal system, a major factor in increased frailty, falls, fractures, and other injuries. People with sarcopenia are more likely to lose their independence and need long-term care. They’re more likely to be hospitalized, to require surgeries, and to experience major health complications that can lead to death.

Muscle loss is just one of many problems that older adults seem to face when they drink alcohol to excess. Heavy drinking can make existing health problems far worse, including common health problems faced by the elderly, like diabetes, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, liver problems, osteoporosis, memory problems, and mood disorders.

The Need for Treatment for Those Addicted to Alcohol

At any age, heavy drinking, binge drinking, and daily drinking should be avoided. When people drink to excess, they significantly increase their risk for alcohol addiction. If you know someone who is using alcohol and who cannot stop using it on their own, please help them find and enter a qualified residential alcohol addiction treatment center as soon as possible. Please do not wait until it is too late.


  • USNews. “Heavy Drinking Could Raise Your Risk for Frailty: Study.” US News, 2023.
  • NLM. “Alcohol Consumption and Measures of Sarcopenic Muscle Risk: Cross-Sectional and Prospective Associations Within the UK Biobank Study.” National Library of Medicine, 2023.
  • NIAAA. “Older Adults.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2023.



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.