Here's Why Hangovers Get Worse With Age

Dec 31, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. ET
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What is it about getting older that makes everything seem so much harder? Exercise gets harder. Sleep becomes more interrupted. Losing weight seems almost impossible. And recalling what’s on your to-do list definitely becomes a challenge. And then there are hangovers. Why do they become so much worse with age?

Another year older

The next-day effects of a drinkfest can last for several hours as your body tries to rid itself of the martinis and margaritas you had the night before.

More: How to Avoid the Dreaded Hangover Headache

It’s normal to experience headaches, thirst, fatigue, dizziness, nausea and some other not-so-pleasant side effects after consuming alcohol.

These hangover symptoms do seem to get worse as you get older, partly because your metabolism slows down. And it’s this slowdown that really messes with your body.

Just a few years ago, you might’ve been able to drink whatever you wanted, and now, just looking at a glass of wine triggers a hangover headache. What gives?

“The liver is the body’s natural detox engine,” says Dr. Fred Pescatore. It processes and filters toxins like alcohol from the bloodstream. Pescatore says as we age, this process is not as efficient, and it takes longer to break down alcohol.

Since alcohol is metabolized more slowly and the toxins remain in your system longer, you experience more severe hangovers, explains Dr. Ehsan Ali. Consequently, we experience more severe symptoms like fatigue, headaches, nausea and dizziness.

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And there’s the little issue of weight gain. If you’ve put on a few pounds with each passing birthday, there’s a good chance this increase in body fat is causing some of the problems. Fat cannot absorb alcohol, and the more body fat you have, the lower your tolerance of alcohol (and consequently, the higher the chances of a hangover).

So, what should you do to combat the effects of aging in regard to alcohol and hangovers?

More: How You Handle This Weekend's Hangover Depends on Your Genetics

Hangover help

While it’s not always a guarantee, there are some fairly common things you can do before and after drinking to help minimize the effects of a night out on the town.

  • Drink plenty of water before you start consuming alcohol.
  • Eat before you drink. Alcohol is absorbed more quickly if your stomach is empty. It may help to eat something before drinking alcohol.
  • Choose beverages with fewer congeners — such as light-colored beers and wine. These are known to cause fewer hangovers than beverages with more congeners, such as brandy, whiskey, dark beers and red wine.
  • While drinking alcohol, alternate between a glass of water and your alcoholic beverage. This can help you pace yourself, which is important as you age.
  • Before bed, try to consume a bottle or two of water or a beverage high in electrolytes, such as Gatorade or coconut water.
  • If you couldn’t quite get to the aftercare part of the protocol the night before and wake up the next morning with your head splitting open, try the coconut water or Gatorade before breakfast.
  • Taking the right vitamins and electrolytes in when drinking or recovering can be a huge help. Dr. Arielle Levitan says hospitals use a bright yellow-colored IV formulation called a banana bag to help combat the toxic effects of alcohol. This combination of thiamine, folic acid and magnesium seems to be very helpful in hangover prevention and treatment.

The truth is, if you're going to drink and are of a certain age, chances are you're not going to feel great the next morning — but at least now you know it's not all in your head.

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