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


One could say that the literature on performance effects of the alcohol hangover resembles a Catch 22. Each of the two methodological approaches employed in this literature has its own interpretative problems. Controlled-intake laboratory-based studies appear to lose a significant quantity of variability attributable to user-controlled aspects of social drinking. On the other hand, data from naturalistic alcohol consumption studies are likely to be contaminated by expectancy effects. Currently there is little definitive empirical evidence determining what, if any, effects on performance arise as a result of the alcohol hangover. In this respect, the hangover and performance literature resembles the acute alcohol intoxication and performance literature, which has also yielded largely inconclusive data. Future research must overcome the shortcomings of previous research identified in this review if a full understanding of the performance effects of the alcohol hangover is to be gained.

For naturalistic drinking studies, the main issue is controlling expectancy effects. A novel approach would be for future studies to exploit the predictability with which social drinking occurs, e.g. on Friday evenings. Such regularity could be used to assess hangover effects in individuals believing that they are taking part in research with other aims, by simply inviting them to attend for testing on mornings likely to follow an evening spent drinking, and on mornings likely to follow an evening of abstinence. Not all participants would have hangovers but those that do would arrive in the laboratory in a frame of mind similar to any hungover person arriving at work or college - aiming to have a reasonable go under the circumstances. This scenario is potentially very useful for understanding hangover effects and could contribute a further strand to a convergent alcohol hangover and performance literature.


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