Does Hangover Sensitivity Predict or Prevent Future Alcohol Abuse?

A majority of college students have consumed alcohol during their college experience. Many have consumed enough to result in a hangover. This unpleasant physical state occurs after the body has processed the alcohol and the breath alcohol concentration falls to zero. It is accompanied by symptoms that include fatigue, dehydration, nausea, headache, and general feelings of being unwell. Hangovers can be a deterrent for people, and some people who experience severe hangovers are highly sensitive to them and find that they no longer want to drink in excess. Others, who are quite insensitive to the effects of a hangover, may choose to engage in elevated consumption because they believe they are not as vulnerable to the negative effects of alcohol.

Although alcohol sensitivity has been studied as a predictor of alcohol misuse, hangover sensitivity has not. To determine if people are more likely to drink heavily as a result of their insensitivity to hangovers, Damaris J. Rohsenow of the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at Brown University recently conducted a study on 134 college students. The participants were all college seniors and were self-admitted heavy drinkers. Students were given a weight- and gender-appropriate dose of alcohol in a laboratory setting, and later their sensitivity to the subsequent hangover was evaluated. The participants were contacted again during the next several years and were questioned about their alcohol use.

The second contact revealed that the participants who were most sensitive to the hangovers at Time 1 were least likely to have drinking problems at Time 2. The least sensitive participants reported heavier alcohol use. Although it was not significant enough to demonstrate a trend, the increased alcohol use in the least sensitive participants could predict future alcohol problems and alcohol addiction. Rohsenow believes that individuals who are less sensitive to hangovers are not deterred as easily by the negative consequences of drinking for several reasons. First, they do not experience significant discomfort due their tolerance for the effects of the hangover. And second, the hangover usually occurs several hours after the drinking binge, which lessens the impact the consequence has on the behavior. Despite the fact that the results are relatively small, the researchers believe that these findings are still clinically relevant. Rohsenow added, “Thus, hangover sensitivity could be a marker for physiologic factors that predispose one to future alcohol abuse or dependence.”

Rohsenhow, D. J., Howland, J., Winter, M., Bliss, C. A, Littlefield, C. A., Heeren, T. C., et al. (2012). Hangover sensitivity after controlled alcohol administration as predictor of post-college drinking. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 121.1, 270-275.

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  • Marianne


    April 24th, 2012 at 3:49 PM

    Oh for me all it took was one good hangover to come to the conclusion that alcohol was not for me and I did not want to do anything more to try to make it my friend!



    April 25th, 2012 at 12:20 AM

    Interesting topic for research..And I think a brilliant one!

    What I would like to say here is the hangover sensitivity can depend on a lot of factors-your mood,the people around you and the events surrounding the experience. If all this is not that bad then the sensitivity would go down and probably result in higher consumption in the future..

    A dry nice way to predict future alcohol usage and dependance!

  • Loren


    April 25th, 2012 at 4:21 AM

    If someone wants to consistently drink until they feel hung over then there is something going on that they are afraid to deal with or face. They aren’t going to care if they feel sick afterwards because all they are concerned with is blotting out the pain in the here and now.

  • Jake


    April 25th, 2012 at 12:39 PM

    In my own experiences with alcohol I have learned that the more you drink the less likely oyu are to be bothered by the hangovers much anymore. It all seems worth it when you think about the might that you had before. Until you can’t even remember the night that you had before because all the drinking has started to numb the brain! I felt like this in college til I literally couldn’t take it anymore. I was tired of feeling in a daze all the time, because the sharpness of the initial hangovers began to blur into this kind of haziness that one day was not distinct from the other. I think that it is this that really drives some people to drink more, to try to create something memorable again, but for me It had the opposite effect so I cose to quit it altogether.

  • lucas


    April 26th, 2012 at 4:25 AM

    Unfortunately, by the time that many kids get to college the damage has been done and for many of them their drinking patterns ahve already been well established. I think that it is hard for many parents to realize but most kids have been sneaking drinks from the liquor cabinet for a long time now. They have already developed a taste for it by the time they go to school, and the freedoms that college has to offer only enocurages them to drink even more. maybe we could think about doing more alcohol and drug education for them at an even younger age, because studying the trends while they are in college does nothing to bring down the numbers of them who may eventually be harmed by their drinking habits.

  • Ski


    January 15th, 2013 at 1:15 PM

    I drank early in college, at first with no hangovers. Then started getting hangovers and it was hell. That slowed down my drinking a little. Then the ‘hangover’ started moving closer and closer to the time I was drinking so I would start feeling queasy when I was drunk. Then the queasy feeling started coming after a few drinks, even before I felt drunk.

    This process occurred over about 2-3 years.

    I barely have more than a few drinks at a time now cause otherwise it just makes me feel like s**t.

    So yes, bad morning after hangovers did curb my drinking, but didn’t affect it as much as instant sickness/hangovers.

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