Hangovers: Do They Have an Influence on Time of Next Drink?

HangoversHangovers have happened to many, if not most, people at least once in their lives. They bring about nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and an intense headache. Following a hangover, some people swear off drinking for a short period of time, while others seek to “cure” it with a “hair of the dog.” A new study has examined whether a hangover following a drinking episode can influence the time to a future drink.[1] Surprisingly, they found that the influence is minimal.1

“If hangovers motivate ‘hair of the dog’ drinking to alleviate hangover symptoms, perhaps they play a direct role in the escalation of problem drinking,” said Thomas M. Piasecki, Department of Psychological Sciences professor at the University of Missouri. “On the other hand, if hangovers punish or discourage drinking, why wouldn’t we find that the people at the highest risk of problem drinking are those who actually experience the fewest hangovers?”1

Two previous studies of hangovers suggested that they have implications for future drinking problems.1 One found that having frequent hangovers was a sign of problem drinking, and the second found that resistance to experiencing hangovers was a sign of problem drinking.1

“The two findings may be compatible,” said Piasecki. “For example, we have found that drinkers who reported being relatively insensitive to the intoxicating effects of alcohol were actually more likely to their ‘lightweight’ peers to report having one or more hangovers during the study period. This is consistent with other research suggesting that being less sensitive to alcohol promotes heavy drinking. People who do not experience as much intoxication when drinking may have difficulty learning their limits and therefore may be more prone to drink to hangover-inducing levels.”1

In psychology, it is well known that the immediate positive or negative effects of a behavior are more powerful than the delayed effects when it comes to whether or not people will continue to engage in that behavior.1 Therefore, people who drink heavily experience pleasurable effects while drinking, which leads them to drink heavily again and again.1 The discomfort of a hangover is temporary, and may be considered more of a nuisance, something that heavy drinkers are willing to experience from time to time to achieve the immediate pleasurable effects.1

Piasecki and colleagues conducted a study of 386 individuals who were frequent drinkers.1 They carried electronic diaries for 21 days, reporting on their drinking behaviors and other experiences.1

“Our main finding is that hangovers appear to have a very modest effect on subsequent drinking,” said Piasecki. “On average, the time between drinking episodes was extended by only a few hours after a hangover. We looked to see whether there were particular subgroups of drinkers who might show distinctive patters like ‘hair of the dog’ use, but we didn’t find clear evidence of that. Participants made a diary entry each morning, and they were asked to rate their likelihood of drinking later the same day. It was striking that ratings made on hangover and non-hangover mornings did not differ.”1

Piasecki continued, “No doubt this reflects the fact that drinking behavior is determined by a host of factors, like day of the week, opportunity, and social plans.”1

As hangovers don’t appear to have an effect on the time of the next drink, they are instead a good marker  for other risk factors, such as the inclination to lose control over drinking habits.1

“Remember that hangovers are 100 percent preventable by abstaining from alcohol or drinking responsibly,” said Piasecki. “Of course, experiencing frequent hangovers is a warning sign that should probably prompt you to reflect upon your drinking, and to consider seeking help if you are having difficulty drinking within safe limits.”1

[1] Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. (2014, March 3). Hangovers do not seem to have much influence on the time to next drink. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 7, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140303163617.htm

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