Hangovers get less severe with age, study suggests

Alexandra Thompson
·3 min read
Front view of a teen with tousled hair suffering head ache sitting on a couch in the living room at home
That splitting headache after a heavy night may ease with age, research suggests. (Posed by a model, Getty Images)

Many complain they can't party like they used to, however, new research suggests hangovers actually become less severe with age.

Hangover studies have largely focused on younger people, with experts being less clear how the nauseating symptoms change throughout our life.

To learn more, scientists from Utrecht University in the Netherlands had 761 people aged 18 to 94 complete a survey about their alcohol consumption.

Results reveal the "severity" and "frequency" of hangovers declined with the participants' age.

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"Subjective intoxication" was also less pronounced among the older participants, suggesting a person's alcohol tolerance could improve over time.

"Pain sensitivity" is also often less sharp in old age, potentially numbing the nausea, dizziness and splitting headache that comes from having "one too many".

Alcohol can cause dehydration, triggering those nauseating symptoms. (Stock, Getty Images)
Alcohol can cause dehydration, triggering those nauseating symptoms. (Stock, Getty Images)

Hangover symptoms are said to set in when ethanol, a chemical compound in alcohol, reaches a level of zero in the blood. It may therefore be the break down of alcohol that triggers that splitting headache.

Alcohol also causes a person to urinate more frequently, triggering dehydration.

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To better understand how the intensity of hangovers change over time, the Utrecht scientists sent out the survey via Facebook.

The results reveal the younger participants consumed more alcohol than their older counterparts.

The men, who made up two in five of those surveyed, also had a higher intake than the female participants.

Differences in the sexes' "subjective intoxication" and "hangover severity" became "significantly smaller or absent" in the older age groups.

The older participants also reported feeling less drunk after a heavy night, with their hangovers being not as intense or frequent.

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"Our study confirms both subjective intoxication and hangover frequency decline with age," the scientists wrote in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism.

"An age-related decline in sensitivity to pain may in part explain the observed negative relationship between ageing and the frequency and severity of alcohol hangovers."

The NHS advises both men and women to not regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week. In the UK, one unit contains 8g or 10ml of pure alcohol.

A unit equates to a single shot of spirits, a half pint of normal to lower strength beer, or a 125ml glass of wine made up of 12% alcohol. 

Those who regularly drink up to 14 units of alcohol a week are advised to spread their intake out, with some alcohol-free days.

How to avoid a hangover

Be cautious of your alcohol intake and do not drink on an empty stomach. Food, particularly if rich in carbohydrates and fats, slows alcohol's absorption into the body.

Alternate wine, beer or spirits with water or a non-fizzy drink. Carbonated beverages speed up alcohol's absorption.

Be sure to also drink a pint of water before bed and keep a glass nearby to sip during the night.

How to ease a hangover

If you overdo it, painkillers can help ease any discomfort. Drinking plenty of water also rehydrates the body, ideally consumed before you nod off.

Sugary foods may ease any trembling, while water-based soups are easy to digest on a fragile stomach.

"Hair of the dog" is never advised, with the NHS recommending people allow at least 48 hours after a heavy night before drinking again.

Watch: Avoid alcohol before bed for a better night's sleep