How Does A Hangover Affect Your Brain?

Your brain may still be affected the day after a night of excessive drinking, new research found.

Researchers from the U.K. and the Netherlands studied people's cognition after heavily drinking the night before. Published August 25 in Addiction, the study analyzed people's memory, coordination, attention, and driving ability during their hangovers.

The scientists analyzed data from 19 previous studies, adding up to more than 1,100 people. Each of these studies looked at people's cognitive abilities the day after they had been drinking heavily when their blood-alcohol level had dropped to 0.02 percent. Some of the studies gave participants specific amounts of alcohol, while in others, the researchers studied people after a typical night of social drinking, where they naturally became drunk.

"Our findings demonstrate that [having a] hangover can have serious consequences for the performance of everyday activities such as driving, and workplace skills such as concentration and memory," Sally Adams, senior study author and assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom, said in a statement.

The research suggests that even the next day, people had poorer memory, attention, and coordination. Some of the studies even tested people's driving with a driving simulation and found that their ability to control the vehicle was impaired.

The scientists note that the studies didn't consider sleep deprivation or smoking from the night before, both of which could potentially affect cognition the next day. In fact, a 2013 study found that smoking the day you drink could actually make hangovers even worse, possibly because smoking could make someone feel like they can drink more.

Alcoholic Drinks on Tray
Discarded drinks sit on a tray at Bar Convent Brooklyn, an international bar and beverage trade show. The research suggests that even the next day after drinking, people had poorer memory, attention, and coordination. SPENCER PLATT/GETTY IMAGES

Hangovers impact more than just your cognition. The Centers for Disease Control found that in 2010, excessive drinking (more than four drinks for women and more than five drinks for men) cost the U.S. economy almost $250 billion. This economic cost was primarily from people not showing up to work or not performing well at work due to the hangover.

"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 wellbeing, but also more widely at the national level for safety and the economy," Adams said. The team hopes that next they can study the health and economic costs of hangovers and continue to look at the next-day effects of heavy drinking.