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Like A Fine Wine, Hangovers Get Better With Age

Morning after, senior man with hangover
Morning after, senior man with hangover

Many older people report being unable to bounce back from a night of drinking as quickly as they did when they were younger.

But, contrary to popular belief, older people actually are less likely than younger people to complain of a hangover following a night of drinking, according to a new study from Denmark.

Researchers looked at the drinking habits of 52,000 people aged between 18 and 94, which included how often they experienced a hangover after binge drinking -- defined as consuming more than 5 alcoholic drinks in one sitting. They found that people are not as prone to hangovers after binge drinking as they age.

Janne S. Tolstrup, a research program director at the University of Southern Denmark, noted that this is the only really large population-based study that has included information on hangovers.

Hangovers are characterized by headaches, exhaustion and queasiness. And the cause is primarily dehydration.

"We found that the tendency to have hangovers decreased by increasing age," Tolstrup said in a press release. "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," she said. "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."

According to the research, the chances of experiencing a hangover after binge drinking were 11 times greater among men aged between 18 and 29 compared with men aged 60 or over. For women, the chances of experiencing a hangover were 8 times greater among those 18 to 29 compared to those 60 or over.

Richard Stephens, a senior lecturer in psychology at Keele University and a co-author of the study, pointed out that researchers didn't assess intensity of binge drinking -- just frequency.

"Given what we know about drinking patterns across the lifespan, it's likely that our younger drinkers' binges would have been of greater intensity, involving more alcohol, than those of our older drinkers, even though the average weekly consumption was about the same," Stephens said in a press release. "This is one possible explanation of the reduced hangover incidence with increasing age that we found."

Tolstrup added that these findings are particularly relevant for younger drinkers. "From a medical point of view, binge drinking is never a good idea," Tolstrup 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."

Stephens emphasized that hangovers predominantly affect younger, less experienced drinkers.

"Younger drinkers in their late teens and 20s are several times more likely to get a hangover than older, more experienced drinkers," Stephens said. "In light of links between hangover and risk of alcoholism, younger drinkers should beware."

A study released earlier this summer pinpointed the precise age at which people suffer the worst hangovers: 29. That study claimed that, as people neared the age of 30, they may still drink with the carelessness they had in their 20s even though they don't boast the same stamina.

Complete results of the new study will be published in the February 2014 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research and are currently available at Early View.

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