Lighting up and drinking go hand in hand on a night of revelry, but smoking can make hangovers worse.
That’s what researchers from Brown University found after studying a group of college students who had varying reactions to drinking episodes, with some suffering from unbearable hangovers complete with headaches, nausea and fatigue, while others coasted relatively pain-free after a night of drinking. About a quarter of people who drink heavily enough to trigger a hangover don’t seem to be affected by the morning-after payback.
The scientists asked 113 college students to complete an online survey detailing their smoking and drinking habits as well as hangover symptoms over an eight week period. When students really indulged—consuming around five to six cans of beer in an hour—and also smoked during the same day, they were more likely to report nursing a hangover the following morning. The symptoms also worsened if they smoked that morning as well.
“Research indicates a loss of productivity in the workplace due to hangovers and that students report problems with academic performance due to hangovers, so there is a public health reason for us to study them,” says lead study author Damaris Rohsenow of the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at Brown University. “One of the puzzles we’ve had is what predicts an insensitivity to hangover, and what predicts a severe hangover.”
It’s not clear what connects smoking to worse hangover symptoms, but previous research suggests that nicotine receptors in the brain can also have an effect on our responses to alcohol, such as triggering the release of dopamine, a brain chemical responsible for the feelings of satisfaction drinking can generate. Another theory holds that nicotine may influence the release of cytokines, released when the brain experiences injury, causing inflammation that can lead to headaches and nausea.
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Together, smoking and heavy drinking can be a real pain. “This is another reason for people who drink heavily to quit smoking,” says Rohsenow. “It’s not just that the smoking will increase their discomfort the next day, but it may be increasing brain problems in the long run. The fact that smoking aggravates hangover may be a warning sign that people should heed.” At least if they want to avoid a hangover.
The study is published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.