Why your 'never again' post-hangover promises never work


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Sometimes the promises hardest to keep are those you make to yourself. Ever had cause to say “never again” after a beverage too many? Well, new research proposes that neither the uneasiness of your stomach nor the bpm of your headache will affect the amount of time before you next imbibe. The joint study by the University of Missouri and the Brown University School of Public Health suggests that hangovers have little or no effect on the frequency of drinking.


The morning after

It is a popular belief that a little “hair of the dog” will help relieve the symptoms of over-indulgence. The researchers wondered if this palliative drinking would lead to an overall raised intake. At the same, if a nasty hangover acts as a deterrent to another session, you might expect to see an increase in drinking in those least affected by intoxication. The results of the study seem to dispel both these ideas.

The researchers looked at the experiences of 386 “community-based frequent drinkers” over a period of three weeks. The participants kept diaries in which they recorded 2,276 “drinking episodes.” They were asked to record, the morning after, their likelihood for drinking later that same day.

"Our main finding,” says Thomas Piasecki, co-author of the study, “is that hangovers appear to have a very modest effect on subsequent drinking." Indeed, the figures showed that, even while suffering a hangover, the average drinker might only postpone another round by a few hours.

The researchers discovered that hangovers had less effect on drinkers than social plans, opportunity and sobriety’s greatest nemesis, the weekend.


Straight to your head

The driving factor behind the desire to drink again, it seems, is psychological, not physical. Piasecki’s colleague, Damaris Rohsenow, notes that "it is well-known in psychology that immediate positive or negative effects of a behavior are far more powerful than delayed effects in affecting whether people engage in that behavior again."

Because the “reward” of drinking is instantaneous and the “punishment” deferred, the overall experience is a positive one and therefore likely to be repeated. Psychologically speaking, the immediate pleasure of drinking outweighs the delayed suffering of a hangover.

This seems be borne out by the evidence. In a 2006 study, an alarming 15% of American workers — about 19 million people — admitted to drinking before or during work or to punching in with a post-punch-drunk hangover at least once a month. The personal, sociological and economic effects of such behavior are obvious.


Where did we go wrong?

The physical unpleasantness of a hangover is caused in general by two factors: the diuretic properties of alcohol, which lead to dehydration of the body, and the (relatively) mild toxic effects of alcohol poisoning. Though no proven “cure” for a hangover exists, you can help by regularly drinking water to keep the body hydrated.

As Piasecki advises: "Remember that hangovers are 100% preventable by abstaining from alcohol or drinking responsibly." Maybe the best way to avoid breaking that promise to yourself is to force yourself to make it before you get hungover.