Does being hungover make you slower to respond?

Most of us are familiar with the feeling of being hungover the day after a night of heavy drinking. Not wanting to get up, longing for a duvet day and deciding that today is the day to have that movie marathon that you’ve been meaning to have. However, reality is a b*#ch and work beckons. Can we really function properly with a hangover? Are we able to perform tasks properly, and can we still process the information needed? These are all questions being put to scientists across the globe who are researching alcohol hangover.

Having a hangover can make us react slower

Reaction time — simply put, the time it takes us to respond to things has been one area in which people are starting to investigate. This may not initially sound like ‘in-depth’ research, but we will soon see the implications this simple task can have for everyday life.

To measure reaction times, psychologists use a simple test, often on a handhold device, where participants will move a stylus to an ‘X’ which appears on the screen.

If you have experienced a hangover before, perhaps you won’t find it surprising that reaction time is often reported as being slower than when not experiencing a hangover (control condition). Perhaps something which you may find surprising though, is that people experiencing a hangover are slower in simple reaction time tests, than those with acute alcohol intoxification. In other words, we are slower at reacting to things when we are hungover than we are when we are under the influence of alcohol — at least at a dose of alcohol enough to get an average of 0.081% BAC (the legal limit in UK is 0.08% BAC). This “acute effect” on reaction time was still below the reaction time of no alcohol though, so don’t go thinking you can improve reaction times by drinking to the legal limit!

So what does this actually mean?

Reaction times are arguably important for most functions which we perform on a daily basis. If we are driving down the road, we have to react to the school children crossing the street, when making that all important morning coffee, we have to respond when the water reaches the right level in our mug. It wouldn’t take too much imagination to foresee the consequences of reacting a fraction of a second slower. That child could be knocked down, that boiling water could spill and burn. It is important to recognise this when starting out the day and if drinking the night before work, we should all take into account that our abilities may not be as good as they normally are.

Scientists have started to focus their attention on the impact of alcohol hangover on abilities such as driving and workplace operations, but from the studies into reaction time we are beginning to our skills of processing information may be effected. This could have profound implications in real world situations.

Have you ever noticed that you are unable to perform certain tasks when hungover? Share and comment below.

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