Do Hangovers Get Worse As You Get Older?

No one likes a hangover, but you’ll hate them even more as you age. It’s true. Hangovers get worse as you get older.

The classic wisdom says that hangovers are largely the result of dehydration and irritation of the stomach lining. That’s true, but there’s more detail to it than that.

As you drink, your body metabolizes your beverages somewhere at the rate of one drink per hour. Of course, that depends on how heavy a hand you use to pour and your particular body.

As you imbibe, your liver does a two-stage breakdown of all the alcohol in all those White Claws. The first stage breaks the alcohol down into acetaldehyde, which is nasty stuff. It’s orders of magnitude more toxic than the alcohol itself. Stage two converts that into a non-toxic stuff called acetate. Hold this thought for a minute…

Cheap Dates

We’re not sure if this is a detriment or benefit, but the same intake of alcohol will generally have more “tipsy” effect on an older person than a younger one. As you age, your body metabolizes the booze more slowly, so it builds up and stays in your system longer.

Then, there’s the body mass issue. Older folks have less water in their system. The simple reason for this is while, in our youthful era, we often have more muscle than fat, that ratio tends to flip-flop as we age. More fat than muscle means less water in the body. Ipso factor e. Pluribus Unum, less water with the same level of alcohol means a higher concentration of Jaegermeister in the bloodstream. You’re drunk by 7 pm.

There’s some even worse news for the ladies. According to the National Institute of Health, aging effects from alcohol are worse for women than men.

Sorry, But You’re Deteriorating

Age certainly correlates with lower muscle and body mass, but there’s more. Consider the long list of stuff that just doesn’t work as well as it used to. Reflexes, your brain, and, well, pretty much everything. Add the higher probability of a new list of daily prescription medications to treat chronic illnesses, and you end up with the following result: drinking just isn’t as much fun as it used to be.


While there are plenty of exceptions (we’re looking at you, Ron White), most of us tend to drink less frequently as we get older. While biology is biology and alcohol has the same effects, there is a “tolerance” factor—we learn to handle the effects of alcohol with more practice, so to speak. As we age, the frequency of funneling beer generally decreases, so say buh-bye to any developed tolerance benefits.

Just to be clear, tolerance doesn’t mean you’re not impaired. It simply means your body is accustomed to being drunk. Don’t drive.

Even Lousier Sleep

Pop quiz! What percentage of older people (let’s call that any age over 40 for this discussion’s sake) complain about not sleeping as well as they used to? Can we agree on 100 percent?

Add to the inherent lower quality of sleep alcohol’s effects of making you tired but at the same time preventing your body from reaching really deep and restful sleep, and you’ve got a double whammy. You sleep worse before you drink, which then makes you sleep like Bernie Madoff the night before an IRS audit.

So, What About the Hangovers?

For starters, the fact that consuming alcohol hits older people harder than younger ones offers a pretty good explanation of why one feels lousy the day after just a couple of drinks.

But the real deal for the next day’s senior citizen hangover blues likely comes from the combination of several issues. Hydration is even more of a challenge. Less water in the system before the shots start only makes things worse the next day. Add to that an even lousier night’s sleep than you’re normally getting. Last but not least, remember that acetaldehyde produced in your liver as you metabolize alcohol? Some researchers believe your body can no longer make the substance that detoxifies it as efficiently, so the half-processed toxic junk your liver manufactures makes you feel even worse. At least higher levels of acetaldehyde are linked to cancer, so in addition to monster hangovers, we have that to look forward to.

Isn’t aging great?


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