A Review of the Literature on the Cognitive Effects of Alcohol Hangover

Richard Stephens; Jonathan Ling; Thomas M. Heffernan; Nick Heather; Kate Jones


Alcohol Alcohol. 2008;43(2):163-170. 

In This Article

Revisiting Laboratory Studies Lacking a Placebo Control

Earlier we argued that findings from laboratory studies that did not employ a placebo control were likely to be biased as any effects found were likely to be contaminated by expectancy effects, rather than genuine effects arising from the experimental treatment. However, we went on to review naturalistic alcohol consumption studies on the grounds that these studies do not employ the pharmacological model of drug action and so may have greater sensitivity relative to laboratory studies employing such models. Nonetheless, these naturalistic consumption studies also did not control expectancy effects. In the interests of balance the findings of the non-placebo controlled laboratory studies are considered in this section as further examples of suggestive hangover effects, albeit effects which may be primarily due to expectancy processes.

Yesavage and Leirer (1986) found evidence of poorer performance piloting a flight simulator in 10 male navy pilots 14 hours following administration of approximately 1 g/kg of alcohol served as ethanol added to a soft drink. Blood alcohol was zero. Taylor et al. (1996) did not show any decrements on a flight simulator in 23 male and female pilots 8 hours following ingestion of 0.6 g/kg of alcohol served as ethanol and diet soda. Individual blood alcohol levels were not reported, but the mean BAL had dropped to zero 1 hour prior to testing. Kruisselbrink et al. (2006) showed an increase in choice reaction time errors in 12 female students 8.5 hours following consumption of approximately 1.2 g/kg of alcohol served as beer, compared with after abstaining. Blood alcohol was zero.

In summary, these studies have shown decrements in ability to pilot a simulated aircraft and in attentional processing (choice reaction time) at alcohol doses ranging from 1 to 1.2 g/kg. The study employing a much smaller quantity of alcohol (0.6 g/kg) did not show any effect - probably due to the low alcohol dose. However, it must be remembered that these studies did not control expectancy effects pertinent to alcohol consumption, and this is likely to have biased these participants' performance to a sub-optimal level.


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