Hangovers aren’t just a nasty consequence of a wild night out.
A bad hangover, it turns out, may be a consequence of your genetic makeup, which ultimately may limit your risk for alcohol dependency.
Whereas previous studies have focused on how our genes affect how intoxicated we become or how susceptible we are to abusing alcohol, two studies published this year have examined the effect of genetics on a hangover’s potency. The first looked at the heritability of horrendous hangovers. After analyzing data (mostly answers to alcohol-related questions) collected in 1972 from 13,511 male twins who were also World War II veterans, researchers concluded that the heritability of alcohol intoxication was around 50% and the heritability of hangovers was around 55%. In other words, how easily you become intoxicated and whether or not you experience hangovers may depend on how your parents handled their liquor.
Another study digs a little deeper. Here’s Sally Adams, writing for The Guardian:
A second study examined genetic influences on several measures of alcohol hangover (frequency, resistance and susceptibility) in 4,496 male and female twins. Results indicated that genetic factors accounted for 45% of the difference in hangover frequency (how many days in the past year you did not feel well the day after drinking) in males and 40% in females, in line with the previous study.
Interestingly, this study further shows that the heritability of hangover resistance (having no hangover the morning after being drunk) is around 43%, regardless of gender. This suggests that our genes may contribute to our ability to drink alcohol without falling victim to a terrible hangover. This is an important finding given that individuals who show a reduced response to alcohol intoxication (they need more alcohol to get drunk) may be at greater risk for alcohol dependency. Resistance to hangover may also be an important indicator of increased risk.
What’s impressive about this second study is that it illustrates the heritability of the severity of a condition, not just the heritability of the condition itself. On the other hand, they haven’t identified any specific hangover genes. Moreover, the data used in these studies was entirely self-reported, so the participants’ answers may not tell the whole story.
Regardless, before you go out this weekend, you may want to give your parents a call to see how they cope with alcohol—especially the next day.
Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)