Ending Addiction for Good

Hangovers Hit Harder As We Age

The effects of alcohol amplify as we age. Hangovers worsen, research tells us.

Are you thinking of going at the partying hard this New Year’s Eve? Or maybe not like you did in your twenties, but still tying one on? You might want to think again. Research shows that hangovers are amplified with age, so a night of immoderate drinking could really hurt in the morning.

"All of the effects of alcohol are sort of amplified with age," says David W. Oslin, a professor of psychiatry at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. "Withdrawal is a little bit more complicated. Hangovers are a little bit more complicated."

There are number of reason why alcohol hits harder for people in their 40s and 50s:

  • Changes in body composition. Those with more fat and less water and muscle have more alcohol circulating in the blood.  Also, hormonal changes in women during menopause increase sensitivity to alcohol.
  • Brain sensitivity. Some people swear that certain types of alcohol are a problem and it’s true that people can develop sensitivities as they get older, but there is no scientific proof that one type is worse than another. There is proof, however, that our brains become more sensitive to alcohol on the whole as we age. As people age, "neurons are not as efficient. So you impair them with a little bit of alcohol, they are that much more inefficient," says Dr. Oslin. "Somebody who goes to a cocktail party at 65 can have one or two drinks and be really impaired."
  • Liver functioning. The majority of all alcohol is absorbed in the liver. As we age, the liver gets larger and becomes less efficient.
  • Lifestyle factors. As we get older, we become more family- and job-oriented. We spend more time and energy on those things and less time “partying” than we did in our 20’s. Drinking less lowers our tolerance to alcohol.
  • Taking more medication. Heart burn medication increase blood alcohol levels. Acetaminophen combines with alcohol to damage the liver. Drinking itself increases blood pressure and irritates the stomach lining, causing problems, especially for those with stomach issues.
  • Troubles with sleep. Alcohol wrecks REM sleep for people of all ages. But for people with sleep issues, the resulting hangover can be an all-day-in-bed result.

As in all things, it is best to err on the side of moderation. If choosing a full out binge, best keep the baby sitter through the following afternoon to give you time to recuperate and rest. Binge drinking isn’t pretty as we age.

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Constance Scharff, Ph.D. is the Senior Addiction Research Fellow and Director of Addiction Research at Cliffside Malibu Treatment Center.

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