Five Lies You’ve Been Told About Hangovers

Does everybody really hate hangovers? Do they actually get worse as you get older? Let’s find out the truth.

The world is full of lies, and it’s hard to get through life without taking a few on board. Luckily, we’re here to sort the fact from the fiction, and find the plankton of truth in the ocean of bullshit. This week: Hangovers! Will they inevitably make you useless? Can a handy rhyming motto about drinks help you avoid them? If your head will stop spinning long enough, we’ll continue.

Lie #1: You’re Gonna Be Completely Useless Today, and You Probably Did a Whole Bunch of Things You Regret

While there’s honestly a very good chance that you did things (or people) you regret while blasted out of your mind, you never know; you might have achieved something amazing. Millions of people dream of writing a novel, for instance, and Stephen King — a man who used to really, really like the ol’ booze-juice, to the extent that he’s not allowed to drink it anymore — has one of those in his oeuvre that he has no recollection of writing. In his memoir, he wrote, “There’s one novel, Cujo, that I barely remember writing at all. I don’t say that with pride or shame, only with a vague sense of sorrow and loss. I like that book. I wish I could remember enjoying the good parts as I put them down on the page.” 

He also did some of his finest writing on a hangover, telling the Paris Review, “During the day I would work on whatever was fresh and new, and I was pretty much straight as an arrow. Hungover a lot of the time, but straight. At night I’d be looped, and that’s when I would revise. It was fun, it was great.” 

Again, the odds are still pretty high that everyone you saw last night thinks you suck right now, and that you have a day of being completely rubbish ahead of you (hungover workers cost the U.S. billions per year, while Brits spend a whole year of their lives hungover), but… you never know?

Lie #2: Proper Drunks Don’t Get Hangovers

They certainly do, making the “I can’t possibly be an alcoholic, because I feel like shit” excuse less than watertight. A long-term study of alcoholics (and people at high risk of alcoholism) found that they actually had worse hangovers than more casual drinkers. Another found that worse hangovers in young drinkers coincided with a higher likelihood of developing serious drinking problems. As for why, one theory is that really dreadful hangovers make embracing the hair of the dog — i.e., getting right back on the booze the next day — more likely, leading down a very slippery slope.

Lie #3: Beer Before Wine, You’ll Be Fine

Like most rhyming credos, this isn’t true. The person who smelt it isn’t always the one who dealt it, and there’s no correlation between denial and supply — it’s just fun to rhyme words: Gin mixed with tonic, kick ass at Sonic; beer before cider, turn into a spider; whisky then mezcal, make out with your bez pal. It’s all nonsense! 

The beer before wine one, though, was properly tested by scientists at Cambridge University. They got 90 German students drunk on multiple occasions, both on wine followed by beer and beer followed by wine. Twenty-one of them barfed at some point during the experiment. The conclusion was that hangover severity wasn’t affected in any way by the order drinks were consumed in, and the most reliable predictor of a hangover was, when asked “How drunk are you?,” responding along the lines of “Extremely drunk.” 

Oh, and the “beer before liquor” version is kinda bullshit, too

Lie #4: Everyone Hates Hangovers

A hangover might be some people’s idea of hell, but not being at 100 percent the morning after can be a good thing, if being at 100 percent for you generally sucks. The r/hangovereffect subreddit is populated by people with ADHD, depression, anxiety and similar conditions, all of whom find that a hangover alleviates some of their symptoms. Essentially, they say, during a hangover their minds don’t have the energy to fuck with them in their usual way, or are blocked from doing so. 

One user writes, “It’s so odd that when I’m hungover I can participate in life and I feel like ‘me.’ It’s painful to experience that lucidity because I know it’s fleeting. Every day I feel that my opportunity for an engaged life is slipping into this fog.” As such, they’re looking to recreate certain neurological elements of a hangover through pharmacology, skipping the middleman of spending the previous night wandering around like the Pisswasser guy from GTA IV.

Lie #5: “I Can’t Do This Anymore, My Hangovers Are So Much Worse Than They Used To Be”

They might not be, in reality — a study of more than 50,000 Danish pissheads published in the journal Alcoholism found that older people (60 and above) were significantly less likely to get bad hangovers after binge-drinking than younger people. Instead, your increased suffering is probably a growing-up thing — you just don’t have the luxury you once did of sleeping till noon and getting through your hangover with pizza, video games and self-abuse. If you’re awake at silly o’clock in the morning and off to work while sweating tequila, or wrangling children into their school clothes while barely able to focus, you’re obviously going to feel shittier than if you were semi-conscious with one hand on your junk and one on a PlayStation controller. 

That’s just science.