Mind & Body

Hangovers Can Be Just as Dangerous as Being Drunk

No one feels their best when they're hungover. You're nauseous and headachey and feel like every light source is the sun itself. Hangovers are actually more than a feeling, though — they're a measurable impairment. This morning-after feeling isn't so different from drunkenness, according to a new study.

Related Video: Here's Where the Most Popular Hangover Cures Came From

What Is a Hangover?

Basically, it's drunkenness without the alcohol. In other words, hungover people would pass a breathalyzer test with flying colors — but physically and mentally, they're behind the curve in much the way drunk people are, according to a systematic review published in the journal Addiction.

This manifests in a ton of different ways. According to the review, the day after a night of heavy drinking, people have impaired motor skills — so they're less coordinated, and react less quickly, than regular sober people — and impaired memory, both short- and long-term. They also have trouble paying sustained attention to ... well, anything. Except maybe chicken-fried diner food. When people say they're "too hungover to get out of bed," they might really be onto something. Like, medically.

Historically, we've thought of hangovers sort of like hangnails. They're not something you want, but they're ultimately more of a (humorous!) personal inconvenience than a public health issue. This study could mark a serious shift in how we see hangovers, though — and call a lot of basic assumptions into question.

Should Hungover People Drive?

Right now, people can drive legally (and, we assume, safely) if they can pass a breathalyzer test. You might need a designated driver when you're out at the bars, but once the alcohol leaves your bloodstream, you're perceived as sober and cognitively ready to roll.

This study says otherwise and suggests that maybe hungover people shouldn't be allowed to drive. For similar reasons, we might need new regulations in the workplace. The study's authors point out that most offices have some sort of employee handbook clause about not being drunk on the job (fair!), but coming to work hungover is rarely explicitly discussed. But this could be key, especially in jobs where safety is a central concern — say, if you're operating a forklift, or working with children, or conducting surgery.

Of course, some things need to be hashed out before everyone bans hungover driving and hangovers at work. For instance: What causes hangovers? (It's not just alcohol; there are a lot of other factors, including mental state; age, potentially; and a certain x-factor no one understands.) Do you have to feel hungover to be hungover? And how do you measure how hungover a person is if breathalyzers won't do it? Do any hangover cures alleviate the symptoms laid out in this study? Maybe the whole "hair of the dog" theory doesn't hold water, but what about this fancy new hangover-busting treatment?

There are more questions than answers at this point, but as researchers explore them, you can definitely look at this study as an excuse to take it easy while you're hungover. No working, no driving — nothing but Netflix. Just to be on the safe side!

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Got a hangover? You might as well make the best of it with Milton Crawford's "The Hungover Cookbook," which categorizes the awful sensation into six hangover types and offers satisfying recipes for each. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Mae Rice September 19, 2018

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