New Study: Hangovers Impair Thoughts & Performance Even After Alcohol Leaves the Bloodstream

According to a recent study, the effects of a hangover from heavy drinking on our thoughts and performance may last longer than originally thought.

The study, published in the journal Addiction, indicates that impairments in cognition observed in drunk individuals still occur the day after a session of heavy drinking, when little to no alcohol present in the bloodstream.

The researchers behind the study at the University of Bath, found that hungover individuals have poorer attention, memory and coordination than when sober. Impairment of psychomotor skills can also occur during a hangover when compared to sober.

The researchers suggest their findings have important implications when it comes to activities performed when hungover, including driving.

For example, while hungover, individuals might assume there’s little to no alcohol left in their system and get behind the wheel of a car. This study suggests there may still be impairment of the cognitive processes necessary for safe driving, even after alcohol is no longer in the bloodstream.

Researchers also warn that such impairments can show up at the workplace. Though most American workplaces have policies regarding intoxication at work, few have policies impairment from hangovers. The study’s authors suggest that employers consider revising those policies for worker safety.

A new report from the Center for Disease Control finds that excessive drinking costs the U.S. economy nearly $250 billion annually. The most significant cost was the lost productivity of hungover workers who either showed up for work barely able to function, or who were unable to show up at all, which cost nearly $90 billion. In total, all forms of lost productivity accounted for about $179 billion of alcohol-related costs.

Craig Gunn of the Department of Psychology and lead author of the study at the University of Bath said, “In our review of 19 studies we found that hangover impaired psychomotor speed, short and long term memory, and sustained attention. Impaired performance in these abilities reflects poorer concentration and focus, decreased memory and reduced reaction times the day after an evening of heavy drinking. Our review also indicated limited and inconsistent research on alcohol hangover and the need for future studies in the field.”

Senior author Dr Sally Adams added: “Our findings demonstrate that hangover can have serious consequences for the performance of everyday activities such as driving and workplace skills such as concentration and memory.

“These findings also highlight that there is a need for further research in this field where alcohol hangover has implications at the individual level in terms of health and well-being, but also more widely at the national level for safety and the economy,” Adams said.

The researchers are currently examining the true health and economic costs of hangover and associated risks with the next day effects of heavy drinking.