Now that it’s December and we’re officially counting down to Christmas, party season is in full swing. You might remember a time when weekday drinking followed by early mornings for work or university, or partying a second night in a row, was pretty easy, no matter how many gin and tonics you’d had the night before.
If you find yourself saying that you can’t drink like you used to, and your pounding head is ten times worse than five or ten years ago, it’s not your imagination – hangovers really do tend to get worse with age.
GP Clare Morrison from online doctor and pharmacy MedExpress says there are several reasons behind it.
Firstly, it might simply be down to the fact that you drink less regularly, so the liver isn’t primed to cope with alcohol, she says. “With regular alcohol intake, liver enzymes are produced in greater quantities, allowing alcohol (and its toxic by-product acetaldehyde) to be metabolised more efficiently.”
Hangover-free drinking isn’t as great as it sounds though. Morrison adds: “This doesn’t prevent excess alcohol from causing damage, but it may make young people feel impervious to its effects, and make the recovery time seem shorter.”
So what changes in our late twenties or thirties to give us such day-ruining hangovers?
Morrison explains that as we get older, our body composition changes – with a greater proportion of fat and less water. “This is mainly due to declining muscle mass, and increasing abdominal fat. As alcohol is more water-soluble than fat-soluble, it becomes more concentrated in the blood.
“Alcohol acts as a diuretic, making the kidneys produce more urine. Because older adults already have less water in their bodies, this diuretic effect can more easily lead to dehydration.”
This dehydration is responsible for that banging headache, which is therefore likely to be worse in your 30s.
“In addition, as people approach 30, lifestyles often become more stressful, and pressure from careers, mortgages and young children, can affect sleeping and eating patterns, making one less resilient to the effects of alcohol,” she says.
Into your 50s and 60s for example, existing medical problems might also make you less tolerant of a lot of booze – alcohol irritates the lining of the stomach so older adults are more likely to find that drinking causes indigestion and nausea. A lot of medications including antidepressants and antibiotics affect the body’s ability to metabolise alcohol and some interact with it, Morrison explains.
However your hangovers aren’t just down to how much you drink, but what you drink too. “Some drinks, such as red wine and brandy, contain more congeners than say vodka or gin. These chemicals [produced during the fermentation process] contribute to the malaise and headache suffered after drinking,” she says, “and drinks containing them tend to be more popular with slightly older drinkers.”
So what’s the answer? Other than giving up drinking and going to bed at 9pm every night?
Morrison advises: “As you get older, you are well advised to avoid drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. Mitigate the effects by drinking plenty of water or mixers with your drinks, and do make sure you have something to eat.
“Check that any medication can be safely taken with alcohol and try not to burn the candle at both ends.”
- Press Association