You're Not Dying, You're Just Not 21 Anymore. Why Hangovers Get Worse As We Age

When you turn 30, it's almost as if a switch somewhere hidden inside your body flips on by itself, all of a sudden causing your bodily functions to go haywire. You can no longer run on four hours of sleep like you used to, your metabolism starts moving at a glacial pace, and the most sinister change of all: your hangovers are exponentially worse.

Anyone who's survived a night out after hitting their universe-mandated quarter-life crisis can attest to the fact that hangovers hit harder when you're older. Following a night of slurping down shots of tequila, jager bombs, and carafes of sangria, your body ceases to move as it should, making so much as opening your eyes a chore. Your limbs turn to jelly, you get the urge to hurl every five minutes, and your head feels as though it's been hit by Thor's mighty hammer. You also feel fatigued for the rest of the day, and your mood sours to the point that you snap at anyone that dares to say a word. Sometimes, the hangover even lasts days.

Hangovers suck in general, but they suck even more as you age. But why is this the case? It's not like you're doing anything differently. You're still chugging more or less the same stuff, but why do you feel like you're on the brink of death the morning after? Hate to break it to you, but it's just your aging body betraying you.

Your body can't metabolize alcohol as quickly when you're older

Just as your body may struggle to digest the cheeseburger you inhaled around midnight, it also has a tougher time metabolizing your mojitos and negronis when you're older. Gastroenterologist Dr. David Kahana explained to Real Simple that your liver doesn't work as hard processing alcohol, which causes acetaldehyde, the toxic chemical derived from booze, to stay in your body longer. "Aging involves a gradual decline in our body's resilience and ability to recover from stressors and a reduced ability to bounce back from the effects of alcohol," he said. Meanwhile, Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, a family medicine specialist, told Bustle that it could also be because the water content in your body decreases as you age. "As a result, this could cause higher blood alcohol concentrations, leading to worse hangovers," she noted.

Funnily enough, your mind may be playing tricks on you, too. Dr. Richard Stephens, a senior psychology lecturer at Keele University, shared with Self that it likely only feels like your hangovers are getting progressively worse because you no longer drink as often as you used to. In other words, you forget how awful they are because you experienced them more way back then, making your subsequent hangovers feel worse than they actually are. Plus, since you're older, you're a more responsible drinker. In the few times that you accidentally go overboard with the G&T and do end up with a hangover, it's likely a shock to the system because they happen more sporadically.

How to avoid a horrible hangover

Even though you're not a big fan of getting hangovers, you sometimes just want to get sloshed. Hey, we get it. But there's a way to enjoy your booze without feeling gross the next day, and it starts with — you guessed it — filling your stomach before downing your first glass of wine. "When you drink alcohol on an empty stomach, it just passes the alcohol right to your intestines and then it's absorbed into the bloodstream very quickly," Dr. Robert Swift, associate director of the Brown University Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies told Cosmopolitan. Food helps absorb alcohol, so when your stomach is full before you drink, the less awful your hangover will be.

It also goes without saying that hydration is key to dodging alcohol-induced suffering. Try to drink a glass of water in between cocktails and shots so the alcohol is diluted when it goes through your digestive tract. "You're less likely to have inflamed intestines or an inflamed stomach lining," Dr. Swift shared with CNN. What's more, general physician Dr. Chun Tang advised Women's Health that you're better off veering away from darker drinks like rum and whiskey since "they can especially irritate blood vessels and make a hangover worse." The same goes for fizzy drinks, which are notorious for exacerbating hangovers by "increasing the absorption of alcohol into the body."

Or, you know, you can always practice a damp lifestyle and drink in moderation. Cutting back on drinks is a foolproof way of kicking hangovers to the curb.