This Is Why Hangovers Are So Much Worse When You’re Older

No, you’re not imagining it – hangovers are getting harder. But as much as we protest and deign that we’ll never drink again, the hangover the following morning tends to tell another story. There are a lot of uncertainties surrounding the history of hangovers – including the very real yet mysterious question of why they happen – but one certainty is the fact that hangovers are somewhat inevitable. And that they’ll get increasingly worse as you get older. Ugh, thanks science.

While you wallow in the fact that social drinking now has to come with a side serving of cancelling plans (really, how important are tomorrow’s activities?) it’s interesting to know why exactly it is that hangovers get worse as we age – and maybe there’s an answer, right?

OK, deep breaths. Here’s what we know (thanks to NY Mag) about the link between hangovers and your age.

#1 We’re slower

One of the major reasons why hangovers are worse as we get older is because our body becomes less efficient at breaking down and processing alcohol. When you’re younger, the process is smooth – a liver enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase converts the alcohol into a compound called acetaldehyde which is then broken down by another enzyme and turned into acedate, which then becomes carbon dioxide and water. (Sidebar: the human body is awesome).


When we’re young, those liver enzymes work like a charm, but after a few years (and a couple thousand drinks) our enzyme levels decrease. This means the nasty acetaldehyde stays in our system longer, causing headaches, nausea and other symptoms associated with hangovers.

#2 We’re heavier

Generally, as you grow older, you’re more likely to build up body fat. As fat doesn’t absorb alcohol, there’s less space for alcohol to dilute in the body – this can often mean you get drunk quicker and hangovers will be worse. This is often the reason why women, who generally have more body fat than men, also tend to have a lower tolerance for booze.

Similarly, we lose a lot of water as we age. At 20, you have more water in your system than when you’re 40, which means alcohol won’t break down as easily, and there can remain more concentrated in your system.

#3 We’re weaker

Our systems aren’t actually as strong as they used to be – that’s just part of getting older. Research suggests that even though our bodies are still recovering and healing, they’re just not doing it as quickly as they used to. Remember as a kid how quickly a scraped knee healed, or a heavy session at the gym didn’t make you sore for almost a week? The National Institute on Ageing refers to this as “immunosenescence,” or the gradual weakening of your immune system as you age.


Life is so great right now.

While our body is trying its best to help process the toxins from our liver and clear out our hangover, it takes longer.

#4 We’re busier

Lifestyle plays a big role too. When the only thing to look forward to on a Sunday morning is Netflix and leftover pizza, we’re more likely to go hard the night before. But if your Sunday agenda is filled with brunches, museum visits, yoga workshops and a bunch of life admin, then that morning-after headache becomes a whole other battle.

But don’t worry, it’s not all bad news. We’ve collated together a few expert tips on nursing you back to health from a hangover. Read it now. Bookmark it for later. Just make sure you’re across it before your next big shindig – let’s just say your future self will thank you.

Rebecca Russo is a freelance writer, editor, community radio dabbler, occasional hiker and celebrity autobiography enthusiast. She has written for online publications including Junkee, AWOL, Fashion Journal and Tone Deaf. Find her online here.

h/t NYMag