The long-term effects of alcohol consumption are anything but beautiful. It dulls our skin, accentuates fine lines and wrinkles, robbing us of our youthful glow; it stains our eyes and our teeth yellow; it can make us appear bloated and blotchy. But drinking can also impact another physical feature that influences how attractive we are perceived to be: our hair.
How Much Hair Loss Is Normal?
Hair is made up of tough proteins called keratin that are anchored in place by delicate hair follicles. Both the proteins and follicles on our scalp can be affected by a number of factors. It’s normal to lose about 100 hairs per day, an amount that can be greater depending on your styling routine (physical contact), genetics, hormonal changes, or simply your age.
While this might sound like a lot of hair to lose daily, the effects of this natural shedding usually aren’t noticeable. The average person has between 80,000 and 120,000 of them on their scalp. Signs of excessive hair loss (androgenic alopecia), however, are a just cause of concern and can look like:
- Losing handfuls of hair when combing, washing, or gentle tugging
- Patchy bald spots
- Receding hairline
- Broader gap where hair is parted
- Hair loss on the body as well as the scalp
How Does Alcohol Cause Hair Loss?
Technically, drinking in and of itself does not affect the hair follicles (where hair comes from) or otherwise cause hair to fall out prematurely. The most accurate way to describe the relationship between alcohol and hair loss is that it’s an indirect one. The lifestyle of a person with a heavy or compulsive drinking habit can contribute to internal and external factors that impact not just hair loss but growth as well.
The primary culprit of alcohol-induced hair loss is nutrition, or to be more accurate, the lack thereof. Alcohol has virtually no nutritional value. It’s mostly water with a lot of sugar and a lot of carbs—a dietician’s nightmare.
Chronic alcohol consumption often results in proper meals falling by the wayside and being replaced by copious amounts of alcoholic beverages (this is one of the hallmark signs that someone might be an alcoholic). As such malnourishment, a condition when a person’s diet does not provide enough nutrients to the body is common amongst alcoholics.
What does nutrition have to do with hair? Everything. You are what you eat, after all, and research has hinted that deficiencies in zinc, copper, iron, and of course, protein, may have the most impact on the fullness of our locks. These shortages can affect our body’s ability to produce hair (not to mention, our overall health).
It may be what’s on the inside that counts, but what’s happening on the outside can be just as harmful to your hairline. Drinking alcohol can contribute to an unhealthy lifestyle that is conducive to hair loss and impairs future growth.
Smoking, a common pastime that frequently accompanies social drinking, has been linked to baldness. The study found that the smoke itself is what damages delicate hair follicles and can interrupt the hair growth cycle. Even if you don’t smoke, your drinking habit might frequently find you in settings where others around you are, putting your locks at risk.
Another sneaky way that drinking can sabotage your hair: stress. The stress hormone corticosterone was found to have a direct correlation with hair follicles by inhibiting growth. While many people associate drinking as a way to unwind, having one too many can actually tip your body’s nervous system in the other direction. The long-term effects of alcohol on your life such as the loss of your job, straining a marriage, or financial difficulties can also be a significant source of stress that perpetuates the acute stress of a drinking session.
Don’t Risk Your Hair, It Means A Lot (Literally)
What we rock on the top of our heads can significantly influence how others view us; how we see ourselves; and how we view the world. Hair is one of the most commonly referenced features used to describe a person, and one of the first to be noticed in the formulation of the all-important first impression. It’s associated with virility, fertility, sexuality, and vitality and can also clue us in to a person’s social status or class.
The hair on our heads conveys a lot about us so it can be devastating when we lose it. Alcohol can take an extended period of time to cause such dramatic displays of hair loss (if you experience any of these kinds of hair loss in a short period of time you should see a dermatologist immediately) but that loss is real and can add up over time. Once hair follicles are damaged, they can never produce hair again. The best way to prevent this is from cutting back your alcohol consumption.
If you think you might have a drinking problem, learn how to recognize the signs and, more importantly, what you can do about it before you lose your crown and glory.