This Is Why You Still Feel Drunk The Morning After Drinking Alcohol

It's not just in your imagination.
The effects of heavy drinking might last longer than you think, according to a new study.
gremlin via Getty Images
The effects of heavy drinking might last longer than you think, according to a new study.

Ever wake up the day after a few too many vodka sodas and feel like you’re still a little intoxicated? There’s a reason for that.

A recent meta-analysis published in the journal Addiction found that the cognitive impairments you experience when you’re drunk ― think terrible coordination and poor memory ― last well into your hangover. (As if the physical symptoms like a queasy stomach and splitting headache weren’t enough, right?) The study showed that the negative impact on your thoughts and performance occurs even if there’s little to no alcohol left in your blood stream.

Psychologists at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom examined 19 previous studies with 1,163 total participants that were conducted on the next-day effects of alcohol consumption. The authors looked at data on the severity of the participants’ hangovers, blood alcohol levels and cognitive performance. They discovered that hangovers influenced a person’s psychomotor speed, short- and long-term memory function and attention span.

“Impaired performance in these abilities reflects poorer concentration and focus, decreased memory and reduced reaction times the day after an evening of heavy drinking,” study author Craig Gunn, a faculty member in the department of psychology at the University of Bath, said in a statement.

What this all implies is that you may want to think twice before engaging in certain activities, like driving, when you’re hungover, according to the study’s authors. The results also provide insight into why it might be difficult to perform well at work while nursing a hangover (aside from the obvious reason that you’re not feeling well). Excessive drinking costs the United States economy around $249 billion, mostly due to lost workplace productivity, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There are some limitations with this study: It was a meta-analysis, meaning the researchers didn’t directly examine subjects and test their cognitive abilities in a controlled setting. Rather, they looked at previous research conducted on alcohol and hangovers and found that these effects occurred.

This particular study also doesn’t dive into how or why the brain takes more time to recover after drinking, it just suggests that it does. It likely is because alcohol strips the brain (and body) of essential nutrients and hydration, which are necessary for maximum performance. Alcohol also affects brain function and the central nervous system, which helps control coordination and memory.

What the new data does highlight is a need for more knowledge around the effects of hangovers. According to study author Sally Adams, “there is a need for further research in this field where alcohol hangover has implications at the individual level in terms of health and wellbeing, but also more widely at the national level for safety and the economy.”

The researchers hope to conduct similar studies that further examine the health and economic effects of hangovers.

And how exactly do you deal with these symptoms when you’re lying on your proverbial death bed wishing whiskey shots didn’t exist? Sadly, there are no magical cures for your hangover ― and the science surrounding them is slim and inconclusive. Experts say the best ways to nurse yourself back to health is to drink lots of fluids, get rest and eat nutritious foods.

And of course, take it easy the next time you go out. Research shows that alcohol consumption can cause damage beyond the bruise you might get the next morning thanks to your lingering lack of coordination. Drinking has been linked to an increase in cancers, cardiac issues, liver problems, stroke and more. It can also exacerbate mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.

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