Why do hangovers get worse with age?

Jonathan Goodall / 02 December 2014 ( 12 October 2017 )

Saga Magazine's drinks writer reports on how hangovers affect us as we grow older and proposes some rescue strategies.

Back in my student days a hangover was dismissed as ‘feeling a bit shabby’. Nowadays, if I’m foolish enough to incur the wrath of a hangover, I wake to a cacophony of demons drilling rivets into my brain, an oil slick in my stomach and a tongue like Gandhi’s flip-flop.

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What I wouldn’t give for a little shabbiness. So I was surprised by the reams of misleading press coverage given to a University of Southern Denmark study claiming that hangovers get less ghastly with age.

Most of these journalists failed to mention that the survey’s findings hinged on its definition of binge drinking as ‘five drinks or more’. To paraphrase, the study conceded that mature drinkers are less likely to hit the Jägerbombs after eight pints of lager with whisky chasers, and are more inclined to call it a night after five glasses of Chablis with a nice bit of fish. But this won’t sell newspapers.

Why hangovers get worse as you get older

As we age, both our lean body mass (muscle) and water content decrease, meaning a higher blood-alcohol concentration from the same amount of alcohol consumed, as well as a reduced capacity to process it. In layman’s terms, it means you are more likely to require sunglasses when opening the fridge door.

Perhaps we can take some solace from another report that claims we are more likely to experience our worst hangovers around the age of 30, when our alcoholic aspirations and our ability to deal with them are most out of kilter. Despite almost all of us claiming to have the perfect personal remedy, there is, sadly, no known ‘cure’ for a hangover other than abstinence, and where’s the fun in that?

Read Jonathan's guide to preventing or curing a hangover

Totting up the units of alcohol in your drink

New British Government guidelines issued in January 2016 recommend that men should not drink more than 14 units of alcohol each week, the same level as for women, and everyone should abstain for two or three days a week. What’s surprising is just how quickly units can add up in a social situation.

  • 2 small (125ml) glasses of champagne = 3 units
  • 2 pints of ‘premium’ lager =  5.7 units
  • 3 single G&Ts = 3 units
  • 3 pints of Guinness = 6.8 units
  • 2 large (250ml) glasses of 13%ABV Rioja = 6.5 units
  • 1 standard (175ml)  glass of cava = 2 units
  • 2 pints of 4%ABV ‘cooking bitter’ in the pub = 4.5 units
  • 1 alcopop (if you really must!) = 1.4 units

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.