How Alcohol Affects Your Looks
Skin: The stereotypical image of a chronic drunk with a red, bulbous nose and mottled cheeks is due in part to classic films starring character actors like W.C. Fields. The fact is Fields had a severe form of rosacea called rhinophyma. Even so, the perpetuation of this myth has caused embarrassment and stigmatization for many people with rosacea, because others assume the redness is caused by drinking. Binge drinking and heavy alcohol abuse can lead to spider veins, which is associated with rosacea, adding to this misconception. And while drinking doesn’t cause the skin condition, it does lead to flare-ups in two of three individuals with rosacea. Red wine is the worst trigger, causing a rosacea flare-up in 76% of people with the condition.
Alcohol hinders the production of vasopressin (antidiuretic hormones), forcing the kidneys to work double time to remove excess water from the body, leaving the skin parched. In addition, alcohol causes the depletion of vitamins and minerals needed for a healthy complexion, so many people who drink excessively suffer from dry, discolored or heavily wrinkled skin. It is widely known that long-term alcohol abuse can damage the liver, which can also discolor the skin.
Eyes: Another stereotypical depiction of alcoholics is bloodshot eyes, but in this case, it’s true. Alcohol irritates and enlarges the tiny blood vessels on the surface of the eye (sclera), resulting in a "bloodshot" appearance. Even worse, excessive drinking robs the body of some of the key nutrients required to maintain eye health. Although it isn’t visually apparent, alcoholism can lead to a condition called toxic optic neuropathy, which impairs eyesight and can result in blindness over time. People who abuse alcohol and tobacco are at greater risk because they tend to be malnourished.
Bloating: Alcohol depletes the body of water and strips away important fluids and electrolytes. This can cause an increase in waist circumference related to overall weight gain, as well as swollen facial tissues, resulting in unflattering puffiness.
Gymecomastia: Alcohol abuse severe enough to cause liver disease can alter the way the body metabolizes hormones, resulting in breast enlargement in men and women. A single alcoholic beverage can increase estrogen by as much as 20% and decrease progesterone in premenopausal women. Obviously, the vast majority of men do not want large breasts and an increase in estrogen has health implications for women, including breast cancer.
Weight Gain: Some alcoholic drinks, particularly beer and sweet mixed drinks, are high in calories, which can cause visible weight gain. A large prospective study on male drinkers indicated increased alcohol consumption was associated with minor, clinically irrelevant weight gain. After adjusting for a variety of lifestyle factors, a dose-dependent relationship between alcohol consumption and weight gain was more notable in those who consumed in excess of two drinks per day, in particular men ages 55 and older.
A 2009 study refuted the common belief that beer targets the abdomen only, although it did confirm a visible association between beer consumption and increased waist circumference in men. A 2013 study did not yield adequate scientific evidence to assess whether beer intake at moderate levels (<500 mL/day) was associated with general or abdominal obesity.
Weight Loss: Chronic alcohol abuse can cause drinkers to lose their appetite, thereby stripping the body of essential nutrients and resulting in weight loss and a gaunt appearance. Nearly one-third of college students have “drunkorexia,” an unofficial name for the common practice of limiting food intake to be able to drink excessively without gaining weight.
If you notice a change in your appearance or that of a loved one and alcohol is to blame, seek professional help, which may include a medical detox program, as soon as possible. The visible side effects of alcoholism are minor compared to the long-term health effects, which take the lives of 88,000 people a year.