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50+: Live Better, Longer

Older Age May Mean Fewer Hangovers

But study doesn't show why seniors suffer less headache, nausea than younger people after heavy drinking
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Hangover symptoms after heavy drinking were much more common in the younger people. Sixty-two percent of men aged 18 to 29 reported exhaustion after drinking, for example, compared with just 14 percent among those aged 60 and older. Nausea was much less common (1.5 percent vs. 10 percent) among older men, as was dizziness (1.5 percent vs. 8 percent) and stomachache (1.4 percent vs. 6.2 percent).

The results for women were more closely matched: Nausea was only half as common (11 percent vs. 21 percent) in the older women compared to the younger ones. Headaches were somewhat less common: 21 percent vs. 27 percent.

The researchers said three factors -- amount of alcohol consumed, frequency of heavy drinking and amount of food eaten with booze -- don't throw off the basic findings.

What's going on? One theory is that a form of "natural selection" is at work, Stephens said. Perhaps heavy drinkers who suffer the worst hangovers simply quit drinking too much.

Dr. Robert Swift, a professor of psychiatry and human behavior who studies substance abuse at Brown University, said another possibility is less smoking -- which appears to worsen hangovers -- in older people.

"The study adds another bit of knowledge about hangovers," Swift said. "However, we still do not understand the cause."

Swift also said there's no evidence that hangovers actually make people less likely to drink.

The study appeared online Sept. 12 and will appear in an upcoming print issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

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