If you’ve ever found yourself asking why the aftermath of heavy drinking seems far more punishing now compared to your younger years, you’re not alone. And don’t worry – it happens to many people, and it’s not just in your head.
In this article, we’re tackling a question that has likely crossed the minds of many after a heavy night of drinking alcohol – why do hangovers get worse with age?
What is a Hangover?
A hangover is the term used to describe the uncomfortable feeling you get after drinking too much alcohol.
It’s a pretty common experience, but it’s different for each person. For some, it might be just a slight inconvenience the next day, and for others, it can be a more challenging experience. The effects of a hangover start to kick in once the initial effects of alcohol wear off, typically the morning after a night of heavier drinking.
What’s interesting is that the severity of a hangover isn’t just about how much alcohol you drink. It also depends on factors such as your body’s ability, overall health, body composition, and even your drinking habits. For example, someone who rarely drinks might experience a hangover differently than someone who drinks more frequently.
Another thing to consider is the type of alcohol you consume. Different drinks have different ingredients and alcohol concentrations, which can influence how you feel afterwards. Plus, if you mix alcohol with other substances (e.g. certain medications or drugs), it can affect your hangover too.
What Causes a Hangover?
Ethanol is the main active ingredient in alcoholic beverages, which is a potent diuretic leading to dehydration. Dehydration contributes significantly to hangover symptoms like headache, dizziness, and dry mouth.
Hangovers begin after blood alcohol levels start to fall. At this point, symptoms such as fatigue, headache, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound may occur. The body’s response to alcohol’s direct effects on the blood sugar, gastrointestinal tract, and sleep patterns also contributes to the overall hangover experience.
Additionally, typically speaking, When alcohol is made, it creates some extra chemicals called congeners. These are more common in dark drinks (e.g. whiskey and red wine). And they can make hangovers worse.
So, drinks that are lighter in colour, such as vodka, usually cause less severe hangovers because they have fewer of these chemicals.
Common Hangover Symptoms
The symptoms of a hangover vary from person to person, but signs that you’re experiencing one commonly include:
- Headaches and dizziness are often attributed to dehydration and the dilating effect of alcohol on blood vessels.
- Nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain. Alcohol increases the production of stomach acid and delays stomach emptying, which can lead to an upset stomach.
- Weakness and fatigue are also common, and it’s typically because disrupted sleep patterns and depletion of energy stores result in a feeling of general fatigue.
- Sensitivity to light and sound. This is due to the neurological effects of alcohol and the physiological stress that a hangover has on our bodies.
- Decreased ability to concentrate and mood disturbances. Alcohol can affect brain chemistry, leading to impaired cognitive functions and mood swings.
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure are also common signs you’re experiencing a hangover. Alcohol consumption can temporarily increase heart rate and blood pressure, which can also make us feel anxious. So, if you experience hangxiety – it’ll probably be down to this.
At What Age Do Hangovers Start to Feel Worse, and How Long Do They Last?
There isn’t actually a specific age that hangovers feel worse. However, generally speaking, you can expect hangovers to have more of a sting when you reach the age of 40. In terms of how long they last, the minimum tends to be a day – but they can last longer (around a couple of days), especially if you don’t tend to binge drink frequently.
Why Do Hangovers Get Worse With Age?
So, why do hangovers get worse with age? Well, there are actually several reasons for this.
- Slower alcohol processing. When we get older, our livers tend not to work as fast as they used to. The liver is like a cleaning service for our blood and getting rid of toxins, which includes alcohol. As we age, this cleaning process slows down. So, alcohol stays in our bodies longer, making us feel its effects more intensely and for a longer time.
- We’ve got less water in our bodies. Believe it or not, as we grow older, our bodies hold less water. This is important because when we drink alcohol, it gets diluted in the water in our bodies. So, with less water in our system, the alcohol concentration is higher, leading to stronger effects.
- We’ve got more responsibilities and stress. If you’re already dealing with a busy life, a hangover can feel much worse. Plus, stress can make any kind of discomfort, including hangovers, feel more intense.
- We need more time to recover. Younger people tend to bounce back quickly from just about anything – including late nights and drinking. So, the recovery from a hangover might take longer once you reach your 40s.
- Other health issues can play a role. Often, older adults have other health issues or take medications. These health issues can make hangover symptoms feel worse. Also, some medications don’t mix well with alcohol, which can intensify the hangover.
How to Get Rid of a Hangover
Although there’s no foolproof remedy for a hangover, there are a few bits of advice to keep in mind that’ll help with alleviating some of the symptoms, making them a little more bearable.
- Stay hydrated. Drinking water or electrolyte-replenishing beverages can combat dehydration.
- Rest, rest, rest. Allowing the body to recover through rest and sleep is essential if you want the hangover to pass.
- Eat well. Consuming bland foods like toast or crackers can raise blood sugar levels and settle the stomach.
- Pain relief. Anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen can relieve headaches and muscle pains. However, be sure to use them cautiously, as they can irritate the stomach.
- Avoiding darker-coloured alcoholic drinks. As we highlighted earlier, these contain more congeners – which can worsen hangover symptoms.
- Take vitamins and supplements. Certain supplements, such as vitamins B and C, might help reduce hangover symptoms, although scientific evidence is mixed.
- Give yourself some time. Ultimately, time is the best healer. The body needs time to process alcohol.
Find Support Today
We hope you’ve found our article useful. And remember, the best way to avoid frequent hangovers is by drinking alcohol in moderation or not at all.
If you’re struggling with your relationship with alcohol and feel as though you would benefit from some advice on alcohol abuse, get in touch today. Reach out to us at 0800 012 6088 today, and our team will talk you through all of the available options.
-  expect hangovers to have more of a sting when you reach the age of 40 - https://www.wsj.com/articles/drinking-after-40-why-hangovers-hit-harder-1384820001
-  our bodies hold less water - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10255140/#:~:text=Older%20people%20are%20more%20susceptible,in%20older%20people%20%5B51%5D.