Here’s Why Hangovers Get Way Worse As You Get Older

There’s a scientific explanation for your pain.


(Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures)

Remember when you were in college and could shotgun a six-pack, chase it with six shots of tequila, guzzle some jungle juice, boot and rally, and still be a fully-functioning member of society the next day?

It’s not so much like that anymore, is it? No, it’s not. With each passing year, we feel the wrath of a night out a little more, and sometimes even experience the dreaded two-day hangover where we think the end is nigh and death is impending.

You might be thinking, “Why? What did I do to deserve this? Why do you hate me, body??”

Well, when we’re young, our bodies are pretty damn good at processing alcohol, but as we get older, our livers unfortunately lose some mojo and struggle to break down all the booze we gulp down.

Here’s how the liver breaks down alcohol: an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase turns alcohol into acetaldehyde (this is the compound that makes you feel shitty and hungover), which then gets broken down into acetate with the help from the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase. 

The acetate then becomes carbon dioxide and water, meaning you’re not drunk or hungover anymore. Wow, science!

Our livers are superstars at doing this when we’re about 21, but after that, the necessary enzymes decrease, meaning the acetaldehyde is in our systems longer, and our hangovers are a lot worse.

Aside from that, many people gain weight as they get older thanks to slower metabolisms (and simply not giving a damn and eating everything), and more body fat makes people feel the wonders of alcohol more. That’s why women, who have higher percentages of body fat than men in order to bear children, get drunk quicker.

Very hungover.

Plus, a 20-year-old body is much more hydrated than someone at 40, and less hydration definitely means a worse hangover. Besides, it’s no secret that as the human body ages, it isn’t as good at bouncing back from disturbances, like breaking a bone or having surgery. Or getting tanked.

Time explains, “The National Institute on Aging refers to this as “immunosenescence,” or the gradual weakening of your immune system as you age. It’s not that your body doesn’t heal; in many cases, it just doesn’t heal quite as quickly, research suggests.”

So yeah, that’s why your hangovers get worse and worse as life goes on. To make your life a little easier, make sure to drink a lot of water while boozin’, because hydration helps hangovers. Say it with me, friends, “hydration helps hangovers.” 

Cheers to increasingly unpleasant hangovers!

H/T: Science of Us