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Why Hangovers Are Worse When You’re Older, According to Science

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Once you hit a certain age, you just can’t party like you used to. Late nights feel later and, worst of all, hangovers feel more intense. Turns out it’s not all just in your pounding head. Science says your hangovers actually do get worse as you get older, and part of the reason is because older people drink less in general.

As people drink less, they reduce their tolerance for alcohol, Lara Ray, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, recently told The New York Times. “Age may be a proxy for regularity of drinking,” Ray said. “If you haven’t gone to a party for two to three weeks, it might be less about being 40 and more about your drinking history.”

Like an old car struggling to start after a period of dormancy, your body takes some time to kick into gear. Once it’s running, it’s easier to keep running.

Another reason for worse hangovers has to do with physical fitness and a slower metabolism. Muscles degrade as we get older and fat often takes its place. A body with more fat will have a stronger negative reaction to alcohol than a leaner body with more muscle. Alcohol is water soluble, and muscles have a higher percentage of water than fat does, causing alcohol to absorb into muscle tissue faster. More alcohol in muscle tissue means less alcohol in the bloodstream at once, so you get drunk less rapidly.

Solving hangovers is an age old problem, and it seems like everyone and their favorite celebrity chef has a hangover cure. The best practice, however, is to not overdo it and to drink plenty of water. And if you want to make drinking in your 40s the new drinking in your 20s, follow Ray’s advice to stay fit and maintain moderation.

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