Hangovers do more than make us feel sick

It’s the morning after a big night out. Not only do you feel sick, but it feels like you can’t think straight either. Most people put it down to a headache or nausea. But, it turns out it might be a little bit more than that.

New research from Swinburne University has found that hangovers reduce our brain function and memory – which probably comes as not much of a surprise to anyone who has had a hangover.

Higher alcohol concentration equals slower test scores

The research was conducted in the central entertainment district of Brisbane and involved breathalysing and interviewing participants at the end of a night out.

The following morning, more than 100 participants who had consumed alcohol that night completed an online survey and cognitive test, while experiencing varying degrees of hangovers. The test measured brain function, particularly memory and executive function.

The research found that those who had a higher breath alcohol concentration (BAC) on the previous night, spent more time drinking, reported worse hangover symptoms and performed the test slower than more sober counterparts.

One of the authors of the study, Sarah Benson from Swinburne says that the results aren’t surprising.

“Not surprisingly, the more alcohol that is consumed, the worse the hangover and impairment to the brain.”

It’s important to understand limitations when hungover

While they’re not great for us, hangovers are normally harmless. But, Benson adds that its important for people to understand their limitations while hungover, and how they can create problems in everyday life.

“It is important to learn more about the causes and consequences of a hangover because not only are hangovers very commonly experienced, but they also have potentially huge negative effects on day-to-day activities,” she says.

“For example, our study proves that hangovers reduce ability to engage in complex behaviours, and thus ability to drive, work, study or conduct other activities are impaired by hangover.”

Testing hungover people can be tricky

The team behind the research does acknowledge that more research into the effects of a hangover needs to be done.

A problem they had was that one third of the sample dropped out and didn’t attempt the test the next day.

“Getting people to complete the next-day measures can be tricky, as hangovers can prevent participants from completing the prescribed test,” says Benson.

“By having our participants complete the next-day measures online, we made it relatively simple to take part but we are still looking towards better ways to improve engagement.”

This article was first published on Australia’s Science Channel, the original news platform of The Royal Institution of Australia.

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