Why is a hangover in your 40s way more brutal than a hangover in your 20s? In the somewhat depressing video below, WSJ health reporter Andrea Petersen delves into the reasoning behind why the effects of alcohol become amplified with age. One might think that it gets harder to metabolize alcohol because we become pussies drink less when we get older. But that’s not the whole story. There’s a lot more going on in our body that causes us to feel the effects of drinking way more intensely as we age, including changes in body composition, liver functioning, and brain sensitivity. Here’s what’s really going on:
Over 40, your body composition changes, and you lose muscle mass. You also have more fat in your body. Since muscle absorbs alcohol better than fat does, the older person will have more alcohol floating around in his or her body (which isn’t being metabolized), and as a result, he or she will get drunk quicker and feel worse in the morning.
A lot of older people are walking around constantly mildly dehydrated. When you get older, you have less body water, which makes hangovers a lot worse.
Age-related cognitive decline is a reality. Our neurons get sluggish as we get older. When you heap alcohol on that, you feel even more of the cognitive effects.
As you get older, more people tend to be on drugs (Tylenol, Zantac, Lipitor). A lot of these medications are metabolized by the same enzymes that work to metabolize alcohol. That can cause the liver to work harder.
Petersen says the standard recommendation for people over 40 is “moderate drinking,” which means up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men. Well, at least when you hit 40 you’ll be a cheaper date, right? Too bad those hangovers will be so incredibly gnarly.