WEDNESDAY, Dec. 5, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- If you feel especially hung over after a night of drinking, you may have to blame more than the booze: New research suggests that smoking while drinking may worsen hangovers.
The findings, published online Dec. 5 in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, don't confirm that smoking makes hangovers more intolerable. And even if it does, it's not clear why that might happen or what might counteract the effect, other than not lighting up in the first place.
Still, it's important to understand how hangovers work because they can affect workplace safety and academic performance, said study co-author Damaris Rohsenow, an associate director at Brown University's Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies.
Overall, she said, the study provides "another reason why heavy drinkers may want to quit smoking, both to reduce the discomfort of a hangover and reduce the brain dysfunction that happens when heavy drinkers smoke."
Hangovers may not be a popular topic in the world of scientific research, but they're certainly discussed in society at large. The research that has been conducted suggests that hangovers kick in for more than half of people after their blood alcohol level reaches about 0.11, she said. That's slightly above the legal limit for driving in the United States.
However, she said, about 20 percent to 25 percent of those who drink enough to get a hangover actually don't experience them.
In the new study, researchers used online surveys to track 113 students from an unidentified American university for two months. The students recorded happenings like drinking, smoking and hangovers.
After adjusting their statistics so they wouldn't be thrown off by other factors -- like tobacco-using students drinking more overall -- the researchers found that students who smoked on the same days that they drank were more likely to suffer from hangovers and to have worse ones when they did.
The design of the study didn't allow the researchers to pinpoint exactly how much worse they were, but Rohsenow said the hangovers remained in the mild range even among the smokers. "It's not a whopping effect," she noted.
There's no proof of a cause-and-effect relationship between smoking and worse hangovers. It's possible that something other than smoking -- like, say, the diets of smokers -- could explain the difference, she said.
If smoking while drinking does worsen subsequent hangovers, it may have something to do with the parts of the brain that process both tobacco and alcohol, she said. Or smoking could add to the sleep-depriving effects of drinking too much.
Other research has shown that smoking and drinking together worsen the effects on the brain of alcohol alone, she said.
What should you do if you have a hangover?
According to Rohsenow, doctors recommend drinking plenty of water, taking something to calm your stomach and taking a painkiller such as aspirin or ibuprofen -- but not acetaminophen (Tylenol) -- for a headache. Alcohol may raise the risk of liver damage from acetaminophen.
As for the "hair of the dog" -- downing more booze -- Rohsenow said that hasn't been officially studied. But common sense suggests it's a good idea to stay away from bottles -- not to mention cigarettes -- the day after a night of heavy drinking.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has details on hangover treatments.