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Hangovers, Why - Atlantic Mobile

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The interest there is that everyone tends to think that hangover is a good thing because it stops you from drinking too much, it’s like the natural brake on drinking. And we all drink too much and that’s a big problem so anything that stops people from drinking too much is a good thing. That’s the kind of folk knowledge.

And yet, a number of studies have actually shown the opposite. If hangover is a natural brake on drinking, then alcoholics should get the least hangovers of anyone—that the reason they are alcoholic is that they don’t have that natural brake on drinking. But actually a number of studies in the U.S. have actually shown the opposite, that alcoholics get the most severe hangovers, even when you control for the amount of alcohol consumed. And so it seems like it’s a more complex relationship between being at risk of alcoholism and hangovers.

Do you have any insights so far in how it affects cognitive functioning?

Yes, we do. The preliminary data are much clearer on the cognitive functioning side. We used a range of cognitive tests, and several of them showed deficits. Which is kind of in-keeping with the wider literature, there’s been probably 20 or 30 studies now looking at the links between hangover and cognitive function.

One of the things that makes our study interesting is just a methodological detail. There are two ways of doing hangover research—one is to do very carefully controlled studies in a lab where you give people measured amounts of alcohol and look at the effects. But the problem with that approach is, apart from the fact that it’s very expensive and resource intensive, that you can only give people fairly mild amounts of alcohol, ethically.

The other way of doing it is a naturalistic study—you get people into the lab the morning after a night when they’ve been out drinking anyway, and look for the natural symptoms of hangover following that episode. The good thing about the naturalistic approach is it’s real drinking and it’s much more ecologically valid, it’s much more mimicking what happens in real life, and that you can get a greater range of alcohol consumption, with some people at the top end drinking much more significant amounts of alcohol than would be allowed in a carefully controlled lab study.


Ah. Ethics forced them out of the laboratory and into the natural habitat of  the drunk and then to lure the drunk back to the laboratory for study.

LOL at the thought that hangovers are nature's way of telling us to STAHP.

Or at least slow down.

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