You might call it the miserables, the boozer’s gloom or just deserts. The only good thing about the dreaded hangover, it seems, is that those head-pounding, post-drinking symptoms may lessen with age.
That’s right — in a study published in the journal of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, researchers challenge what they call the “generally held belief” that hangovers get worse as people get older, an idea that they say has not been sufficiently tested. A team led by Janne Tolstrup, a biologist at Denmark’s National Institute of Public Health, collected drinking and hangover symptom data from 15,000 people in the Danish Health Examination Survey to examine the experience of over-indulging across age groups.
Participants were asked how often they binge drank, or consumed five or more alcoholic beverages in one sitting, and how often their binge drinking led to nine hangover symptoms such as exhaustion, vomiting, fast heartbeat and headache. Controlling for other factors like smoking, eating while drinking, the frequency of binge drinking and the amount of alcohol imbibed, they then looked at how the “morning after” played out for both young and old.
Mean alcohol intake was highest among the youngest and oldest respondents, and the youngest drinkers were more likely to go on a binge. But they also found that men and women reported fewer hangover symptoms after binge drinking as their age increased, with 21% of women between the ages of 18 and 29 feeling nausea always or almost always, compared to 3% of women over 60, for example.
Of course, binge drinking could mean different things for different age groups; for a 62 year-old, binge drinking might be swilling a bottle and a half of wine at a garden party. At age 22, it might involve hours of beer pong, punctuated by shots and washed down with, well, who could possibly remember? So it would make sense that one doesn’t leave as painful a legacy the following morning as the other. “It seems likely that older adults who binge drink do so to a lesser intensity than younger adults and consequently experience fewer and less severe hangovers,” they write.
But it’s also possible that other factors may be at work. Older people, for example, have more “drinking experience,” and their bodies may be physiologically more tolerant of alcohol’s effects. Older people might also have learned better ways of avoiding hangover symptoms, such as drinking water along with the booze. And there may be a “natural selection process” at work, they say, meaning that people who are more prone to terrible hangovers have simply stopped drinking by the time they’re going gray.