Although many people say having another drink will help cure a hangover, others think a hangover will delay further drinking. In this study of nearly 400 frequent drinkers, researchers found the unpleasant after-effects of overindulgence have little effect on the timing of the next alcoholic drink.
"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," said Damaris Rohsenow, a professor of behavioral and social sciences at Brown University School of Public Health.
"People who drink heavily generally experience pleasurable effects while drinking, and that is what drives the decision to drink heavily again," Rohsenow said. "The pain of hangover is temporary, and may be considered a nuisance rather than an important negative consequence."
According to the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a hangover can include fatigue, thirst, headache and muscle aches, and nausea and vomiting.
The study, published online March 3 in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, involved 196 men and 190 women who drank frequently. The participants carried electronic diaries for 21 days to record their drinking episodes and other related experiences.
After examining information collected on more than 2,000 episodes of drinking, the researchers found 463 resulted in a hangover. Every day, the participants rated how likely they were to drink that day. These ratings did not differ on mornings when people woke up with a hangover and when they didn't.
"Our main finding is that hangovers appear to have a very modest effect on subsequent drinking," said the study's corresponding author, Thomas Piasecki, a professor in the department of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri.
"On average, the time between drinking episodes was extended by only a few hours after a hangover," Piasecki said in a news release from the University of Missouri. "We looked to see whether there were particular subgroups of drinkers who might show distinctive patterns like 'hair of the dog' use [drinking sooner in the hopes of feeling better], but we didn't find clear evidence for that."
Since experiencing a hangover did not influence people's intentions to drink on any given day, the researchers concluded drinking habits are determined by other factors such as the day of the week, having the opportunity to drink and social plans.
The message here for health care providers? "It is probably a waste of time to discuss hangovers when trying to motivate a problem drinker to drink less or drink less often," said Rohsenow. "Drinkers do not seem to be bothered that much by the temporary discomfort of a hangover."
The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism provides more on how alcohol affects your health.