You might think you know all there is to know about hangovers. You might have experienced the well-known symptoms more than once, even. Headaches, nausea, generally feeling like crap – you name it. Other than drinking a little too much, you might also be aware of certain risk factors and effects that hit you the morning after a big night. For example, you might have heard that alcohol tolerance diminishes as we grow older and most people just can’t party like they used to when they were younger.
However, research suggests the opposite is the case. A study of 51,645 Danish men and women found that older participants were less likely to experience severe hangovers after binge drinking, even when similar food quantities are consumed and participants drank at a similar pace. One common perception of hangovers that has been backed up by science, however, is that hangovers mess with our ability to focus. Studies by the Alcohol Hangover Research Group show hangovers cause about 5-10% working memory loss, and people make 30% more errors in certain tasks when hungover.
Interestingly, this inability to focus also affects driving so even when you’re no longer drunk, it might be safer to stay off the road while hungover. Hungover drivers in a study were just as bad in a driving simulator as those whose blood alcohol content was higher than 0.05% — the standard international measure for drunk driving. (This is, however, 0.08 in many parts of the US). Drinking also affects our immune system, which is responsible for fighting off diseases. A study showed that taking four or five shots of vodka seriously disrupted the regular function of participants’ immune systems and this disruption persisted up to five hours after the shots were taken. In summary, A LOT is going on in your body when you’re hungover. No wonder you feel like crap.
So we know how being hungover makes us feel, and what it does to our body but what exactly causes it? Most of us might understand being hung over as a product of dehydration. Certainly, that’s the most popular hangover advice I hear. Drink water, they say. Drink loads of water. However, being hung over is more than just being dehydrated.
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