Hangover Severity Depends on Age


A new study based in Denmark suggests that the older you get, the less severe your hangovers after a night of drinking alcohol become. The findings run counter to what most people believe about the link between aging and hangovers. Over 50,000 people between the ages of 18 and 94 were surveyed as part of the study, and reported their drinking habits as well as the frequency and severity of their hangover symptoms, including vomiting, racing heartbeat, headache and nausea.

Within the context of the new study, binge drinking was classified as drinking at least five alcoholic beverages in a single session. The study data was collected as part of the Danish Health Examination Study. Hangovers are believed to be caused by irritated stomach lining, increased urination causing dehydration, and low blood sugar.

Major Differences in Hangover Frequency Among Age Groups

Differences in hangover likelihood were extremely pronounced among different age groups. Men between the ages of 18 and 29 were a startling 11 times more likely to experience a hangover than men over the age of 60, while the differential for women of these two age groups was eight times.

Even among older men and women who did experience a hangover, they were less likely to experience certain hangover symptoms. Approximately 21% of women between the ages of 18 and 29 reported nausea after a night of binge drinking, while the same was true of only 3% of women over the age of 60. Roughly 10% of men in their twenties reported nausea after binge drinking, while just 1.5% of 60+ men reported the same.

In gathering the data, the researchers were careful to account for the subjects’ typical alcohol intake (since some individuals may drink well over six alcoholic beverages in a night) as well as how often they binge drank. Although younger subjects reported binge drinking more frequently than older subjects, average overall alcohol consumption among all age groups was about the same at 14 to 15 drinks weekly.

Why Do Older Adults Experience Fewer and Weaker Hangovers?

The researchers behind the study offered several suggestions as to why older adults may be less prone to hangovers than younger adults. For starters, older adults may consume fewer drinks in a single night of binge drinking. A recent U.S. study found that the average binge drinker between the ages of 18 and 24 consumes about nine alcoholic beverages in a single night of binge drinking, while the average binge drinker over the age of 65 consumes closer to six drinks.

In addition, since older adults have more drinking experience than younger people, not to mention more memories of severe hangovers and the uncomfortable symptoms that go along with them, they may be more conscious of techniques that preemptively reduce the severity of a hangover, such as choosing lighter colored drinks or drinking plenty of water before going to sleep for the night.

Still, the researchers aren’t sure whether hangover severity varies by age when the exact same quantity of alcohol is consumed by each age group, and said that this question could be answered by a future study. They also noted that their study was based on self-reported data, which is always prone to inaccuracies.

The Bottom Line

Older binge drinkers experience far fewer hangovers and milder hangover symptoms than younger binge drinkers, according to a new Danish study.

The full text of the study can be found online in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

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