Will a Killer Hangover Delay Your Next Drink? (Hint: Probably Not)

Hangovers are bad, but are they bad enough to keep you from drinking again?

Headache. Dizziness. Nausea. Fatigue.

Hangovers are the absolute worst. Many of us have been there – and even vowed to ourselves we’d never drink again. But even if we wholeheartedly believe the promise when we make it, do our hangovers actually influence the time to the next drink?

A recent study tackled this question…and the answer may not be what you’d expect.

A Surprising Conclusion

“Our main finding is that hangovers appear to have a very modest effect on subsequent drinking,” said Thomas M. Piasecki, a professor in the department of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri, as well as corresponding author for the study.

“On average, the time between drinking episodes was extended by only a few hours after a hangover. Even when the drinkers were acutely suffering a hangover, it didn’t seem to affect their conscious drinking intentions. No doubt this reflects the fact that drinking behavior is determined by a host of factors, like the day of the week, opportunity and social plans.”

To arrive at their conclusion, Piasecki and his colleagues recruited 386 frequent drinkers to carry electronic diaries for three weeks and report on drinking behaviors and desires. Participants made a diary entry each morning and were asked to rate their likelihood of drinking later the same day. The researchers analyzed data culled from 2,276 drinking episodes, including 463 episodes that were followed by self-reported hangovers in the morning-diary entries.

“People who drink heavily generally experience pleasurable effects while drinking, and that is what drives the decision to drink heavily again,” said Damaris J. Rohsenow, a professor of behavioural and social sciences at Brown University School of Public Health.

“The pain of hangover is temporary, and may be considered a nuisance rather than an important negative consequence. Some studies show that younger drinkers don’t consider hangovers to be a negative experience, and that many drinkers are willing to experience hangovers time after time.”

Back To the Drawing Board

So what’s the takeaway message from this study? “It is probably a waste of time to discuss hangovers when trying to motivate a problem drinker to drink less or drink less often,” added Rohsenow.

“Drinkers do not seem to be bothered that much by the temporary discomfort of a hangover, since it does not get them to delay their drinking in any meaningful way, and since other studies show that young drinkers often perceive hangovers to be neutral or positive experiences.”

Results were published in the May 2014 online-only issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

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