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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