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Family History of Alcoholism Affects Memory of Hangovers

By Kelly Burch 03/27/17

Researchers wanted to examine whether hangovers had an effect on people who already had a predisposition to drink too much. 

Man holding his head in front of a mirror.

A family history of alcohol use disorder can make the memory of painful hangovers more powerful, even if the person who experienced the hangover doesn’t have a drinking problem, according to a new analysis. 

The research, entitled "Does familial risk for alcohol use disorder predict alcohol hangover?” and published in the journal Psychopharmacology, looked at data from two studies. One asked people about the frequency of their hangovers and found that people with a family history of alcohol abuse reported more frequent hangovers, even when researchers controlled for the level of drinking. 

A second study interviewed people after a night of drinking and found that people with a family history of alcohol abuse did not experience worse hangover symptoms than people with no family history. It had previously been thought that people with a family history experienced worse hangovers, but study author Dr. Richard Stephens pointed out that there were methodological issues with the studies that reached that conclusion. 

Stephens was studying hangovers in people with a family history of alcohol use disorder, because it is already established by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) that people with a family history of alcoholism are four times more likely to develop a drinking problem. Stephens was curious whether hangovers had an effect on people who already had a predisposition to drink too much. 

"We started off this research by questioning whether hangovers might impact on problem drinking, either positively by providing a natural curb on excessive drinking, or negatively should some drinkers feel compelled to drink through a hangover, known as ‘the hair of the dog’ drinking,” Stephens said in a press release

Although people with a family history were not more likely to experience hangovers, they were more likely to vividly remember the pain they experienced after drinking. 

"Taken together with findings from prior research it appears that people who are predisposed to develop problem drinking are no more susceptible to developing a hangover after a night of alcohol than people who are not predisposed. However, we found that such people appear to remember their hangovers more lucidly,” Stephens said.

Those memories of the unpleasant effects of hangovers could serve as a deterrent to problematic drinking, Stephens said. 

“It may be possible to exploit this lucid memory for hangovers to curb excessive drinking. Reminding problem drinkers of the negative consequences of incapacitating hangover, for example, letting down family members due to abandoned plans, may help them to manage their alcohol consumption."

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

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