Even though the holidays are over, there’s always an excuse to party, and it’s easy to get carried away. But it’s also important to remember that hangovers aren’t what they used to be. They’re worse.
The medical term for a hangover is “veisalgia,” deriving from the Norwegian word “kveis,” meaning “uneasiness following debauchery.” Physically, that translates into headaches, nausea, fatigue, and in more extreme circumstances shaking and vomiting. Scientists don’t actually know for certain what causes hangovers, or why they get worse as we age, although they have some theories.
Dr. Rachel Vreeman, director of research at Indiana University’s Center for Global Health, says that the icky sensations of a hangover derive from your liver breaking alcohol down into a toxin called acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is way more toxic than alcohol itself. If you have about one drink per hour – beer, wine, or booze – your whole body breaks the acetaldehyde down further into non-toxic acetate. Drink any more than that, though, and your liver won’t be able to do its job. The acetaldehyde will leak into your bloodstream and make you feel like death warmed over if you’re not too careful.
Dr. Michael Oshinsky, a neuroscientist with the National Institutes of Health, has demonstrated that the acetaldehyde and acetate cause inflammation throughout your body, including in brain tissue, which is why hangovers cause those dull throbbing headaches.
South Korean toxicology researcher Young Chul Kim had some ideas about why hangovers get worse as we get older. “The liver capacity to cope with the toxicity of acetaldehyde decreases as we get old,” Kim says, adding that cells may not be repaired as rapidly due to a decrease over time of an antioxidant called glutathione.
There’s also the basic fact that hangovers always totally suck and the older we get, the less likely we are to feel like dealing with them. Quietly sitting through a college lecture is no fun with a hangover, but it’s far preferable to dealing with a boss, or children. It’s also less socially forgivable for grown people to be hungover than it is for younger people. Remember: Eating beforehand helps. So does drinking water along the way.
To make you feel better, here’s one of the all-time great hangover songs. From the 1971 concept album Cowboy In Sweden, here’s Lee Hazlewood: