Anatomy of a Hangover: Women Suffer More

Hangovers Could Be an Important Factor in the Development of Drinking Problems

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on September 15, 2003
From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 15, 2003 -- Ladies, don't even try to go toe for toe with a guy at the bar -- or you'll pay for it later.

Drink for drink, women are more likely to be hit with hangover symptoms than men. That's just one of the findings of a new study that analyzes the anatomy of a hangover -- symptom by symptom.

Yes, despite its ubiquity, researchers say the common hangover has actually received little attention in scholarly research.

In order to rectify this glaring omission, researchers have now designed a new hangover symptom scale to measure the physical and psychological effects of hangovers and to measure susceptibility to them.

The scale rates the prevalence and severity of 13 different hangover symptoms, such as dehydration, tiredness, headache, nausea, weakness, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, and trouble sleeping.

"We were surprised to discover how little research has been conducted on hangover because the research that does exist suggests that hangover could be an important factor in the development of problem drinking," says researcher Thomas Piasecki, PhD, of the University of Missouri-Columbia, in a news release.

Defining a Hangover

To test the new hangover symptoms scale, researchers surveyed 1,230 college students about their drinking behavior and hangover symptoms over the past year. The students also reported their history of alcohol use, alcohol-related problems, and family history of alcohol-related problems.

The results are published in the September issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Researchers found that 26% of the students reported at least one hangover symptom once a month or more. The most commonly reported hangover symptom was feeling extremely thirsty/dehydrated, and the least common was trembling.

The study showed that only three hangover symptoms were experienced by more than half of college drinkers in the past year:

  • Feeling extremely thirsty/dehydrated
  • Feeling more tired than usual
  • Headache

Researchers say that these three hangover symptoms may represent low-threshold responses to alcohol indulgence, and other hangover symptoms may require a larger dose of alcohol to emerge.

Some Suffer More Than Others

The study also showed that women were harder hit by hangover symptoms, even after accounting for differences in the amount of alcohol consumed.

Researchers say that makes biological sense since women tend to weigh less than men and their bodies contain less water, which increases the risk of intoxication and subsequent hangovers.

In addition, students who had personally experienced alcohol-related problems or had a parent with a history of alcohol-related problems were more likely to report hangover symptoms after drinking.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Slutske, W. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, Sept. 14, 2003. News release, Clinical and Experimental Research.

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