Your Hangover is Getting Worse as You Get Older


This is due to many physiological factors.

The body breaks down over time.  Everything gets slower and weaker and worse.  This is not front-page news.  Yet it’s not obvious to everyone that hangovers are part of this phenomenon.  A lot of friends of mine has said that they swear they are having a harder time getting over hangovers as they get into their late forties or fifties.  This is scientifically observable and proven phenomenon.


OK, bear with me here—things are going to read like a science textbook for just a minute.  Friends, meet Acetaldehyde, a toxic product of drinking.  It is born when alcohol in your liver is broken down (which is done by an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase).  So now, you have a toxin in you, wreaking its havoc.  Then, other enzymes, one of them being glutathione.  So you have glutathione doing its good work.  But it will run out before long, which means if you keep chugging, you produce more Acetaldehyde than the glutathione, meaning high toxicity.  Your body can handle about one drink per hour.

It’s this toxicity that causes symptoms of a hangover, such as nausea, headache, body aches, other stomach irritations.

Worse with Age

A South Korean researcher, Young Chul Kim, did a study on the hangover issue with rats as subjects.  This found that our production of glutathione slows down as we age—and that answers that question.  Kim said that there could be added factors causing hangover problems with age, including change in weight, which cause the alcohol to be distributed differently, never in a way that is advantageous.  A helpful Wall Street Journal story tells us that doesn’t distribute through fat.  A person with a higher ratio of fat to muscle will have a higher concentration of alcohol in the bloodstream.  Older people are in this circumstance.

interior image, hang

Low Hepatocytes to Blame

Gary Murray, acting director of the Division of Metabolism and Health Effects at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse gives us some equally illuminating info.  He explains that when a person is in her 50’s, her liver loses its functional cells—you guessed it—hepatocytes.  Blood flow to the liver decreases, and this ultimately means a less efficient organ.

Drinking generally gets riskier as you get older because of all the changing and weakening of your body.  Another complication can be medications, which seem to always pop up among older folks.

When people list reasons for quitting drink, they list a pretty small selection: it is harming relationships, harming the person’s job, has involved a DUI or two.  Not a lot of people tally age among the key reasons to give up drinking.  I would ultimately say that if you have a problem, that’s the reason to quit.  It’s not the kind of thing you do out of rationality and planning for the future.  Instead, it’s from a deep need to improve.  However, there can be some calm and reasoned thought behind one’s desire to quit.  I know that aging and not being able to handle booze as well might not be a dramatic-enough reason to quit, but it’s absolutely something to take into consideration.

I am in my late 40’s and couldn’t imagine being a drinker now.  I am very conscious of the way my body has slowed down due to age, how I’m more sensitive to various things.

Yet, of course I feel exponentially better now than ever before.  In addition to having rid myself of  cocaine,  alcohol and its toxins, I am now running and eating healthy.  If you’re in your thirties or early forties, it’s high time to consider positive changes that will allow you to feel lighter and free and functioning at a high level.

Photo Credit Vinicius Mattoso on Flickr