Alcohol and Aging—What’s the Relationship?

Written and Reviewed by: Elysium Health

alcohol and aging

Key Takeaways:

  • Even one drink a day has been shown to be associated with reduced global brain volume.

  • Excessive drinking is associated with accelerated biological aging as determined by epigenetic clocks.

  • There’s a rise in the sober-curious movement, with 58% globally drinking more non- and low-alcoholic cocktails (NoLo) than a year ago, like the zero-proof Billows & Thieves recipe included in this article.

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While scientific research once supported the health benefits of moderate drinking, recent studies have made a case for abstinence. One study found that even one drink per day was associated with reduced global brain volume and two years of brain aging for an average 50-year-old [1]. Another large global study put it quite simply: “No level of alcohol consumption improves health” [2].

Now epigenetic clocks are helping us answer the question of whether alcohol is harmful or helpful. Several studies in the past two years look at the relationship between alcohol and biological age—and they seem to reinforce and clarify what we know: excessive drinking is associated with accelerated biological aging, including in the brain [3,4]. 

Enter Dry January, a movement to cut back on alcohol right during the heart of New Year’s resolution season. It’s supported by science, too, with studies finding that temporary abstinence has long-term impact [5]. According to the Bacardi Cocktail Trends Report for 2022, “There’s a rise in sober-curious consumers, happy to switch between sober nights and drinking occasions, with 58% globally drinking more non-alcoholic and low-ABV cocktails (NoLo) than a year ago.” Bartenders and brands are pitching in with sophisticated alcohol-free cocktails, craft beer, sparkling water infused with juices and herbs, and even non-alcoholic wine. 

Whether you’re going “dry” or not, we’ve got a zero-proof drink recipe you’ll love: Billows & Thieves. It’s a surprising combination of coffee, citrus, and spices created by bar director Mike Di Tota of The Bonnie in New York City, courtesy of author Julia Bainbridge and her popular book, Good Drinks: Alcohol-Free Recipes for When You’re Not Drinking for Whatever Reason


Billows & Thieves

Mike Di Tota - The Bonnie, Queens, New York


Former Bonnie bar director Mike Di Tota’s wife, Chelsea, doesn’t drink, and this was her favorite cocktail on his menu. When I met her at the bar to try it out, I was skeptical: iced coffee and grapefruit juice? In a word: YES. Mike tried all the other citrus fruits in combination with coffee, but the bitter-on- bitter of grapefruit juice just worked. Make sure you shake hard to get that creamy froth on top.

  • 3 oz freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
  • 1⁄2 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 oz cold-brew concentrate, such as Grady’s
  • 1⁄2 oz Black Cardamom–Cinnamon Syrup (recipe follows)
  • Small pinch of smoked sea salt 
  • Freshly grated nutmeg, for garnish

Combine the juices, cold-brew concentrate, syrup, and salt in a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice, seal the shaker, and shake vigorously for 20 seconds, until the shaker is ice cold. Double-strain into a coupe and finish with a grating of fresh nutmeg.

Black Cardamom–Cinnamon Syrup

Makes about 1 1/4 cups, enough for 20 drinks

  • 2 cinnamon sticks, cracked
  • 3 black cardamom pods, cracked
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup maple syrup

In a small saucepan over medium heat, toast the cinnamon sticks, occasionally shaking the pan back and forth, until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the cardamom, water, and maple syrup and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool completely. Fine-strain and discard the solids. Store the syrup in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Reprinted with permission from Good Drinks: Alcohol-Free Recipes for When You’re Not Drinking for Whatever Reason by Julia Bainbridge, copyright © 2020. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Photography copyright: © 2020 Alex Lau.


Referenced studies: 

1. Daviet R, Aydogan G, Jagannathan K, et al. Nat Commun. 2022;13(1):1175. Published 2022 Mar 4. doi:10.1038/s41467-022-28735-5

2. Burton R, Sheron N. Lancet. 2018;392(10152):987-988. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(18)31571-X

3. Topiwala A, Taschler B, Ebmeier KP, et al. Mol Psychiatry. 2022;27(10):4001-4008. doi:10.1038/s41380-022-01690-9

4. Oblak L, van der Zaag J, Higgins-Chen AT, Levine ME, Boks MP. Ageing Res Rev. 2021;69:101348. doi:10.1016/j.arr.2021.101348

5. de Visser RO, Robinson E, Bond R. Health Psychol. 2016;35(3):281-289. doi:10.1037/hea0000297


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