Hangovers Hit Women More Often Than Men

Study finds controlling for differences in alcohol consumption doesn't change finding

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By
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 17, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Women may not be just imagining that they don't hold their liquor as well as their male drinking partners.

A new study finds hangovers are more likely to hit women than men, even after controlling for differences in the amount of alcohol consumed by each sex.

However, both men and women with a family or personal history of alcohol problems are more apt to be affected by the aftereffects of alcohol, the researchers report in the September issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

To reach those conclusions, the researchers used a new measurement tool, the Hangover Symptoms Scale, which they hope will help quantify the effects of alcohol intake in future research.

Despite the prevalence of hangover, "it has been neglected and understudied," says study author Wendy Slutske, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Her team evaluated 1,230 college students, all current drinkers, to find out how often during the past year they experienced the set of 13 symptoms described on the new scale. Besides fatigue, headache and dehydration, the list included vomiting, feeling weak and being unable to concentrate, among other symptoms. They also asked about a personal or family history of drinking problems.

Students were hung over between three and 11 times in the past year, typically. So Slutske says the good news is, hangover occurs rarely enough for most that it is unlikely to have a major ill effect on school performance.

But women had higher scores on the scale of symptoms than men, even after controlling for the amount of alcohol they drank.

Drinking behaviors between genders differed, they found. "Most of the men drank one to two days a week," she says. "The women drank less [often] than that."

"Men typically drank more than seven drinks per occasion," Slutske says. "Women typically drank four or five."

"If a man and a woman drink the same amount of liquor, the woman is more likely to develop a hangover," she says.

That's not surprising, given that women generally weigh less and can handle less alcohol, she adds.

But even after taking into account the typical quantity of alcohol consumed, women were more likely to experience at least one of the many hangover symptoms.

Regardless of gender, those with a parent with a drinking problem or a personal history of drinking problems were also more likely to have a hangover even when the amount of alcohol was controlled for, Slutske adds.

Why?

"We're not really sure," she says. "It could be the hangover is part of what puts people at risk [for future drinking problems]. It doesn't seem to be the sort of deterrent you would think. The one way to get rid of a hangover is to drink. But I don't think that is what is going on in the majority of cases. There could be other explanations."

Meanwhile, the new scale wins the praise of another alcohol research expert, Mitch Earleywine, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

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While there have been other questionnaires, he says, "this one looks like it will be more reliable."

In his research, he has also found that women tend to be hit harder by too much alcohol. "Women don't have as much of the enzyme that breaks down alcohol," he explains.

More information

For frequently asked questions on alcohol abuse, see the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Read this Time article on women and drinking.

SOURCES: Wendy Slutske, Ph.D., associate professor, psychology, University of Missouri-Columbia; Mitch Earleywine, Ph.D., associate professor, psychology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles; September 2003 Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research

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