Why do hangovers get worse as you get older? According to experts, the feeling that hangovers get worse with age isn’t just a psychological phenomenon. In fact, from our distinguished livers to our matured brains, there are myriad physiological reasons that help explain the seemingly inexplicable transition from the bright-eyed-bushy-tailed-babes-in-the-woods-style hangovers of our early twenties to the death-bed-never-drinking-again-for-real-this-time 48 hours of misery that seem to hijack our bodies sometime in our late twenties. Read on to find out the O’Doul's-soaked truth of why hangovers get worse with age.
Your Liver Just Can't Hang Like It Used To
Part of the reason why your deathly pallor and pounding head are taking longer to go away than they used to is probably because your liver just can’t hang. When we drink, our livers produce enzymes that break alcohol down into a toxin called acetaldehyde. From there, they break acetaldehyde down even further into a nontoxic substance called acetate. However, livers of the more… seasoned... variety take more time breaking down acetaldehyde into acetate, processing about one drink per hour. This means those toxins are headed straight into our wizened bloodstreams.
Your Water Game Is Weak
Yeah, yeah, your water game has actually gotten stronger with age, you say. You drink from one of those massive water jugs with the straw that guarantees you get the recommended eight glasses a day, you say. Well, kudos to you, but unfortunately, as we age, our bodies simply can’t retain water like they used to. In order to keep our aged bodies hydrated and curtail prolonged hangovers, experts recommend drinking a glass of water or juice in between each alcoholic drink. “Pacing,” as the kids like to call it.
Added Cushion Increases Your BAC
More bad news for finely vintaged drinkers: blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) and body fat percentage go hand-in-hand. With age, many people acquire some additional cushioning, which increases their body fat percentage. And, even those who don’t necessarily gain weight, often change their physical proportions such that they still increase their body fat even without a noticeable change in pounds. Increased body fat leads to higher BACs. Add this to slower liver speeds and dehydrated bodies - well-oiled physical machines, not so much.
Your Brain Has Matured, but Not the Way You Want It To
If you can muster the energy in between swigs of Gatorade, you can put some of the hangover blame on your prefrontal cortex. In our early twenties, our brains are good at doling out rewards but not so great at chastising us for irresponsible decisions. However, in our mid-twenties, the “stress system” parts of our brain reach maturity and begin punishing us for bad choices - like, perhaps, break-of-dawning it with friends instead of indulging in a couple episodes of Nurse Jackie and a responsible bedtime. This mature brain, combined with the actual, adult responsibilities that wicked hangovers can prevent us from getting done, kind of rains on the drinkie parade.