Whether or not you have a hangover after a night of overindulgence may have less to do with what you had to drink than your age. That's the upshot of new research out of Denmark that finds older people experience fewer hangovers than younger drinkers.
The findings, published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, suggests older adults who binge drink may do so to a lesser intensity than younger adults, but other factors may also be at work.
"While it is true that a hangover is mostly referred to in a humorous way, we could also say they are the most frequent alcohol-related [health condition]," said Janne S. Tolstrup, a research program director at the University of Southern Denmark who helped conduct the study. "Millions of Euros are wasted each year due to absence from work caused by hangovers. Also there is some evidence that hangovers, rather than being a natural curb on excessive drinking, may actually be a gateway into alcoholism."
For the study, Tolstrup and her colleagues examined health information gathered by the Danish Health Examination Survey about the diet, smoking, alcohol, and physical activity habits of more than 51,600 Danes, between 18 and 94 years of age.
"We found that the tendency to have hangovers decreased by increasing age," said Tolstrup. "The first explanation that pops up is that this finding would be due to differences in drinking pattern in different age groups. However, trying to account for such differences as much as we could, did not even out the differences in hangover tendency.
"In other words, while it is true that older individuals on average binge-drink less often than younger individuals, we did not find in our data that results were due to differences in drinking patterns."
Jonathan Howland, a professor of emergency medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine, noted scientists don't fully understand what causes hangovers or why they differ in severity among individuals.
"It appears as though not everyone is equally susceptible to hangovers, and it is possible that resistance to hangovers plays a role in the development of drinking problems," he said. "Furthermore, neurocognitive impairment such as attention/reaction time appears to be a residual next-day effect of intoxication in the presence of a hangover, but not in the absence of a hangover. This could have implications for occupational performance and safety."
Tolstrup added that the findings are particularly relevant for younger drinkers. "From a medical point of view, binge drinking is never a good idea," she cautioned. "A low to moderate alcohol intake is shown to have beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system, especially among mid-aged individuals. Some research indicates that this beneficial effect is reversed if the alcohol is taken in binges."
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