Hangovers. Even among people who drink moderately, hangovers can be a huge pain (literally). But do they actually get worse as you get older?
Do hangovers get worse with age?
People often ask whether their hangovers are actually getting worse with age, or if they’re just imagining it. After all, everything else seems to hurt more or be harder, so is drinking really any different? Sadly, the answer may be yes. Your hangovers possibly are getting worse as you get older.
The full mechanisms behind what’s causing your hangover and why they feel so awful are not fully understood. However, studies suggest that hangover severity may be related to how quickly a person’s body eliminates alcohol. It has also been established that our bodies process alcohol more slowly as we age. So if processing alcohol slowly may increase the severity of hangovers, and aging slows our ability to process alcohol … it is certainly reasonable to expect that hangovers would wind up getting worse as we get older.
What causes a hangover anyway?
Well, as mentioned earlier, we’re not entirely sure. However, there are some ideas about what the contributing factors are. It is thought that several things might be involved, from neurotransmitter alterations and inflammatory factors to mitochondrial dysfunction. There are other things that have been shown to be linked to hangovers being worse, but not the actual cause of the hangover itself. Some of these things include smoking, sleep deprivation, health status, and congeners (found in dark liquor). Perhaps surprisingly, markers of dehydration were NOT associated with more severe hangovers, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t continue to stay hydrated and drink water between drinks.
What can I do to feel better?
As with so much of the science regarding hangovers, there is conflicting evidence. Some studies suggest that there are remedies that may be helpful, though usually not for all of the symptoms of a hangover. One study found that red ginseng, Siberian ginseng, or Korean pear juice may help with symptoms of tiredness, stomachache, or nausea and vomiting. However, another recent study looked at 82 different products marketed as hangover remedies and found that there was no evidence to support the use of any of them. It also found that some of these products may not be adhering to regulatory guidelines regarding their use. Considering the science about what causes hangovers is still lacking, it makes sense that we don’t have easy access to truly effective remedies.
Unfortunately, the only real cure for a hangover is preventing it by not drinking in the first place.
I still want to drink, though! Does that mean there is nothing that we can do to help feel better after a hangover?
We do know some things that can make a hangover worse, so eliminating them while drinking may help. That is, make sure to get lots of sleep, avoid/quit smoking, and avoid liquor high in congeners (usually dark liquor). And as mentioned above, some limited research suggests that a few folk remedies like ginseng may help somewhat with feelings of fatigue or stomach discomfort, although there is not evidence that they help with other hangover symptoms.
There is also quite a bit of anecdotal evidence for the use of things that can be considered “supportive therapy” or harm reduction:
- Getting plenty of rest can oftentimes help one to feel more refreshed the next day.
- Hydration the night before as well as the day of your hangover is generally good practice for feeling your best.
- People also commonly mention eating a hearty meal before you start drinking, as well as the day after.