Why can’t you drink like you used to? It’s a very common question we ask as our bodies age and our livers grow weary.
We get drunk easier and easier, and get more and more hungover.
The you of yesterday could drink 4 or 5 or 6 or more drinks in a night with reckless reckless abandon and wake up to a reasonably productive day. Now, with the same level of indulgence, you’re completely couch-ridden with nausea and a headache, and your day is obliterated. Work is out of the question.
On top of that, you don’t know how your night got to that point so quickly. You thought you knew your limit, but you seem to have shot past it quickly. And now last night is blurrier than you would have expected. Your credit card confirms you consumed an amount of drinks that would have seemed quite reasonable 5-10 years ago.
What Causes a Hangover?
Knowing what actually causes a hangover is a good place to start. A hangover is primarily caused by a combination of 3 things:
1) Dehydration: Alcohol is a diuretic which, as you may have noticed, means more frequent trips to the bathroom. All that liquid isn’t hydrating you, but doing the opposite, and that leaves you very dehydrated the next morning, which can cause headaches and fatigue.
2) Lack of Sleep: On top of the fact that you may have been up late, alcohol heavily impairs sleep, leaving you sluggish and your brain slower than usual.
3) Acetaldehyde: When we drink alcohol, it is converted into a compound called acetaldehyde, a serious toxin. Acetaldehyde can really mess with our bodies and cause inflammation. It is this inflammation that is the major contributor to the nausea and discomfort that you feel when hungover.
Now That I’m Older, Why Do I Get More Hungover?
Why do hangovers hit home harder when we’re older? Let’s break it down.
First, as people age, energy tends to decline. As life and responsibilities pick up, we typically get less exercise and less sleep on top of our natural drop in energy. So when we drink and really mess up our sleep cycles, it is a lot harder to bounce back. Drinking can throw off sleep dramatically.
Many people believe that their newfound sensitivity is the liver slowing down. They would be right, as this is a major factor. The acetaldehyde toxin we discussed above is metabolized by enzymes and detoxified by antioxidants in the liver. As we get older, we produce less and less of these protective antioxidants, which means the acetaldehyde has more time to venture around the body causing destruction.
The enzymes themselves may be functioning more poorly as well. As we age, and particularly as we get out of shape, our livers can accumulate fat. This is much worse if you have been a regular drinker for a long time, as fat builds up in the liver more aggressively when drinking. In addition to fattening up the liver, long-term alcohol consumption leads to a build up in scar tissue. Fat and scar tissue in the liver cause the liver to not work as well as it could, as cells are less healthy, and there is less fluidity in the organ.
So, the takeaway message is that our livers do get worse, and this can slow our ability to process that nasty acetaldehyde toxin. This allows the toxin to take more laps through our body, stirring up the inflammation of a hangover.
Why Do I Get Drunker Than I Used To?
So now we know why we feel so much worse the next day, but why does the alcohol hit us so much harder the night before? There are 3 factors at work here: 1) our bodies have less water, causing a higher Blood Alcohol Content, 2) we are out of “drinking shape” and have lower tolerance, and 3) we’re not as ‘good’ at being drunk as we used to be.
- As we age, our bodies carry less water and a lower blood volume. This means that after drinking the same amount of alcohol, you will have a higher Blood Alcohol Content than you did when you had your younger body. The higher percentage of alcohol in the blood, the more intoxication we feel.
- We get drunker because our tolerance to alcohol is lower. But what’s going on there? When you drink more often, your body produces more of the enzymes that break down alcohol to keep up. As we get older, we tend to drink less, and our body doesn’t produce as much enzyme, so we simply break down alcohol more slowly. As our tolerance goes down, we get drunk faster and stay drunk longer.
- There is another side to tolerance that is more psychological. The more time we spend intoxicated, the more comfortable we become in that state. When you are less used to being drunk, you’ll feel even drunker when your Blood Alcohol Content is the same, because your mind isn’t as well trained under the influence as it may once have been.
No More Drinking Like a Champ.
It seems inevitable… and it likely is. As we get older our bodies become less capable of handling the beer, wine, and liquor we used to pour into it. Some of this is directly due to what we’ve done to our bodies and liver, and part of it is just natural aging. In a way, our bodies are sending us a message to watch how much we’re drinking these days. With age comes a new awareness of the importance of health and how we treat our bodies. Alas, we must accept our new vulnerability and learn to accommodate it.
How Can I Drink Without Feeling Awful the Next Morning?
The easiest advice is to drink less than you think you can. Reducing the amount of alcohol we drink will help limit all of the forces that cause hangovers. But there are other things you can try too:
-Drink Slowly: The more slowly we drink, the more time our body has to process both the alcohol and the acetaldehyde. This means acetaldehyde won’t accumulate quite as quickly and we have a little more time to manage it before it wreaks havoc.
-Eat a high carbohydrate, high protein meal before drinking. Having a full stomach can slow alcohol’s rate of absorption in the stomach.
-Don’t eat high fat meals before or during drinking. Fat is metabolized through the same pathway that alcohol is, and that pathway can only handle so much at one time. When there is a lot of fat coming in from the diet at the same time, this will slow the breakdown of alcohol and acetaldehyde.
-Exercise more. The more muscular tissue we have, the lower our blood alcohol content will be with the same amount of alcohol. On top of that, when we have more lean tissue (muscle), we can burn that alcohol faster because our muscular tissue needs much more fuel than our fatty tissue.
-Fight off Acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde does the damage that leads to some of the more painful parts of a hangover. It is also responsible for damage from drinking in your younger years that leaves you a little less capable now. Delta Nutrassentials sells Essential AD2, a daily health product that is clinically proven to relieve acetaldehyde accumulation when drinking. If you want extra protection from the acetaldehyde toxin, Essential AD2 is a great option. Essential AD2 also protects against ALDH2 Deficiency and Asian Glow when taken daily and before drinking alcohol.