Age, alcohol metabolism and liver disease

Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2008 Jan;11(1):21-6. doi: 10.1097/MCO.0b013e3282f30564.


Purpose of review: Alcohol consumption among the elderly has increased. Alcohol metabolism changes with age and the elderly are more sensitive to the toxic effects; this increased consumption is therefore of great clinical relevance.

Recent findings: Metabolism of ethanol changes with advancing age because activity of the enzymes involved, such as alcohol and acetaldehyde dehydrogenase and cytochrome P-4502E1, diminish with age. The water distribution volume also decreases with age. Both lead to increased blood concentrations of ethanol. Also, elderly people take more drugs, and ethanol and these drugs may interact; therefore, alcohol consumption can modify serum drug concentrations and their toxicity. Finally, elderly people may suffer more frequently from other types of liver disease, and alcohol may exacerbate these.

Summary: Over recent decades alcohol consumption has increased among those who are older than 65 years. Alcohol is more toxic in the ageing organism because of changes in its metabolism, distribution and elimination, which lead to central nervous system effects at lower levels of intake; also, ageing organs such as brain and liver are more sensitive to the toxicity of alcohol. For these reasons, alcohol should be used in moderation, especially among those of older age.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / metabolism*
  • Alcohol Drinking* / adverse effects
  • Alcohol Drinking* / epidemiology
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury
  • Drug Interactions
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions
  • Ethanol / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Liver Diseases, Alcoholic / etiology*
  • Liver Diseases, Alcoholic / prevention & control
  • Male
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / metabolism


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • Ethanol