Why hangovers get worse with age

·Contributor, Yahoo Life UK
·5 min read
A new survey has revealed the age hangovers start to get worse. (Getty Images)
A new survey has revealed the age hangovers start to get worse. (Getty Images)

We've long believed hangovers get worse with age, but new research has confirmed that truth revealing the specific age the morning after gets much harder to bear.

In your twenties you seem to be able to knock back the beers, pop a couple of headache pills and get on with your day. But as you head into your thirties, hangovers seem to become distinctly less bearable.

And now it seems there could be an actual age at which they crank up a couple of notches.

According to survey of 1,500 people aged from 18 to 65, commissioned by greeting-card company Thortful, people feel like 34 is the age when hangovers really start to bite.

Meanwhile, just a year later, at 35, respondents reported that hangovers started to last two full days. Yikes!

When it comes to finally starting to know our limits it seems we have to wait until the ripe old age of 37 to understand we really shouldn't order that extra glass of vino.

Depressingly, 38 is considered the age when people start feeling too "old" to go out, and at 39, people reported that they started feeling more drunk after just two drinks.

Read more: Benefits of beer: The humble pint's surprising health benefits

Science has proven hangovers really do get worse with age. (Getty Images)
Science has proven hangovers really do get worse with age. (Getty Images)

So what's going on? What is happening to our bodies after a night on the booze and why do hangovers get so much worse as we age?

Dr Deborah Lee, of Dr Fox Online Pharmacy, says that hangovers are due to the breakdown of alcohol and the persisting presence of its toxic metabolite – acetaldehyde – in the body.

“Hangovers are likely to worsen with age because the activity of the key enzymes involved in alcohol breakdown – alcohol dehydrogenase and cytochrome P4502E1 – becomes less efficient with age," she explains.

"Also, older people have less muscle and more fat, plus the distribution of water within the body alters as we age."

The end result, she says, is higher levels of blood alcohol which take longer to metabolise.

Watch: 'I don't really remember that much': Rita Ora took three days to recover from Oscars after party hangover

In order to dive a little deeper into why our hangovers feel so much worse with age, it is important to understand what causes that dreaded morning after feeling in the first place.

"When you drink, alcohol enters the bloodstream and inhibits the body’s production of vasopressin, a pituitary gland hormone which tells the body to retain water in the kidneys," explains Dr Kathryn Basford at ZAVA UK.

"Without this, water goes directly to the bladder (which is why drinkers make lots of visits to the loo) and leaves the body dehydrated."

Read more: How different types of alcohol can affect your mood

Two day hangovers start kicking in age 35, new research has revealed. (Getty Images)
Two day hangovers start kicking in age 35, new research has revealed. (Getty Images)

According to Dr Basford the headache that often signals the hangover is the brain’s reaction to this loss of fluid, while the nausea and lack of energy that accompanies the headache is the body’s response to low blood sugar levels and the loss of the minerals and electrolytes which help the body to function properly.

"The more you drink, the more likely you are going to feel these effects, and the longer you might take to recover," she adds.

There are some biological reasons why it is harder for the body to recover from excess alcohol consumption as we get older.

"The body’s ability to process alcohol can worsen with age," Dr Basford continues. "It has been suggested that a worsening hangover can also be linked to declining supplies of alcohol dehydrogenase, the enzyme which metabolises alcohol and breaks down its toxins, which is thought to lower with age."

Dr Basford also points out, however, that it’s more likely to be lifestyle factors which play the biggest part in making us feel worse during a hangover.

"The commute, work pressures and juggling family commitments for example, all increase post-drinking discomfort and are arguably more of a struggle than lounging in your student house ordering another round of pizza," she adds.

"In addition, many people drink less, and less regularly, as they get older, and so when they do have a big night on the booze, they tolerate it much less well."

Read more: Binge drinking just once a week raises the risk of health problems almost fivefold

Why do our hangovers get so much worse when we get older? (Getty Images)
Why do our hangovers get so much worse when we get older? (Getty Images)

Thankfully, there are some steps you can take, no matter your age, to help you fend off the hangover from hell.

Dr Basford's tips to get ahead of a hangover:

- Keep track of how much you’re drinking and how strong each drink is (the ABV - alcohol by volume - will be either on the label or you can just read up in advance to know how strong different drinks are and what you’re really drinking)

- Choose clear spirits (e.g vodka or gin) over dark spirits (e.g rum) and red wine as the latter contain a chemical called congeners, which are thought to worsen hangover symptoms

- Drink at a pace that’s comfortable for you, rather than keeping up with a group

- Stay hydrated with water, in between drinks and at the end of the night, to dilute alcohol in your stomach and slow absorption

- Eat a meal before drinking, ideally including carbohydrates, so you’re not drinking on an empty stomach, which increases the likelihood of vomiting or diarrhoea

"If it’s too late for prevention, catching up on rest will help alleviate the tiredness felt after a poor night’s sleep," Dr Basford adds.

"Top up with plenty of water to prevent dehydration and foods which replenish lost minerals and amino acids, like bananas, eggs or porridge.

"If the hangover triggers a headache or muscle ache too, painkillers can ease these symptoms."

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