Drinking too much as a young adult may put you at risk for ‘serious health problems’ decades down the line, even long after the problem has been controlled, a new study warns.
Examining more than 600 male veterans in the US, researchers found that those who reported symptoms of alcohol dependence in their younger years suffered more medical conditions than non-drinkers, and scored twice as high on the depression scale.
The researchers say drinking heavily as a young adult may have ‘hidden consequences’ for both physical and mental health by the time a person reaches their 60s, despite the improvements that occur when drinking is curbed by the age of 30.
In a study published to the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, researchers investigated the effects of drinking among 664 US male Vietnam-era veterans.
Of this group, 368 did not report any symptoms of alcohol dependence at any point in their adulthood, while 221 had at least three symptoms of dependence in young adulthood, and 75 had symptoms only before the age of 30.
The researchers found that participants who had reported alcohol dependence symptoms for at least five years during their early adulthood were in poorer physical and mental health in their 60s.
Compared with an average of two medical conditions reported by non-drinkers in the study, those who had experienced alcohol dependence as young adults had an average of three.
And on the depression scale, these participants scored twice as high.
These findings were present even in those who had curbed their drinking problem by the age of 30, the researchers found, suggesting there are ‘silent but permanent’ injuries that result from the condition.
According to lead researcher Randy Haber, PhD, of the Palo Alto Veterans Affairs Health Care System in Menlo Park, Calif, the findings are ‘surprising.’
While the improvements that result after a person gains control over their alcohol dependence may be obvious, less is known about how long the effects on both the brain and body will linger.
Later in life, this condition can lead to serious health problems, the researcher says.
Previous studies have found that chronic drinking can harm areas of the brain involved in emotional regulation, self-control, and decision making, and the researcher notes that years of alcohol abuse as a young adult may have lasting consequences for these regions.
Still, Haber points out that recovering from alcohol dependence can cause a person’s life to improve almost across the board, and by incorporating other aspects of a healthy lifestyle – like eating well and not smoking – the health benefits of quitting will also carry into the later years.