We've all been there; awoken from a boozy night and, while nursing a thunderous headache or resisting the urge to vomit, proclaimed: "I am never drinking again".
But do hangovers keep us sober for longer, or send us back to the bar for a hair of the dog?
According to US research conducted on a group of young, regular drinkers, the punishing effects of hangovers did little to delay their next drinking session.
"On average, the time between drinking episodes was extended by only a few hours after a hangover," said Thomas Piasecki, one of the researchers and a psychologist from the University of Missouri.
With his colleagues, Professor Piasecki had 386 regular drinkers, many of whom were regular smokers as well, keep electronic diaries about their drinking habits and intentions over 21 days.
Participants were asked to record each time they initiated a drinking session and the number of drinks that followed. And every morning they were prompted by their electronic diary to rate the likelihood they would drink later that day.
"It was striking that ratings made on hangover and non-hangover mornings did not differ," Professor Piasecki said.
It did not matter how much the person suffered from their hangover, the consequences appeared not to influence their future intention to drink again, he said.
"No doubt this reflects the fact that drinking behaviour is determined by a host of factors, like day of the week, opportunity, and social plans."
Danaris Johsenow, the associate director of the Centre for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at Brown University, said in psychology it was well known that immediate positive or negative effects of a behaviour were far more powerful than delayed effects in affecting whether people engaged in that behaviour again.
"People who drink heavily generally experience pleasurable effects while drinking, and that is what drives the decision to drink heavily again," she said.
The pain of a hangover was temporary, said Professor Johsenow, who was not involved in the research. "And may be considered a nuisance rather than an important negative consequence," she said.
While the study, published in the Alcoholism:Clinical and Experimental Research journal, found that hangovers did not strongly discourage drinking in the group tested, the authors suggested that hangovers may be an indicator of other risk factors associated with heavy drinking such as a person's sensitivity to alcohol or their propensity to lose control over their drinking.
"The message here for clinicians is that it is probably a waste of time to discuss hangovers when trying to motivate a problem drinker to drink less or drink less often," Professor Johsenow said.
- Sydney Morning Herald
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