Study looks at cognitive performance with a hangover

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Driving under the influence of alcohol may not be a good idea because one is not in control. A new study has shown that that driving with a hangover is also not a good idea. Researchers have found that the cognitive impairment that is caused by alcohol may last longer than previously thought and may spill over to the next day.

A Systematic Review of the Next‐Day Effects of Heavy Alcohol Consumption on Cognitive Performance. Image Credit: Vadim Zakharishchev / Shutterstock
A Systematic Review of the Next‐Day Effects of Heavy Alcohol Consumption on Cognitive Performance. Image Credit: Vadim Zakharishchev / Shutterstock

Psychologists from the University of Bath tested the attention, memory and psychomotor skills including coordination and speed among people with little or no alcohol in their blood, a day after their drinking episodes. The participants were found to perform poorly. They write that these findings are important for people driving or performing other activities while still being hungover. They explain that most workplaces have strict policies about alcohol intoxication at work but few are aware of the impairment that remains from alcohol even after it has left the blood stream. They add that in some cases, for example for heavy machinery operators, this may compromise safety and employers should reconsider their safety guidelines.

The meta-analysis titled, “A Systematic Review of the Next‐Day Effects of Heavy Alcohol Consumption on Cognitive Performance,” appeared in the latest issue of the journal Addiction.

Statistics show that hangovers cost the UK economy around £1.9 billion annually mainly due to absenteeism. It is known to one of the most common side effects of alcohol consumption. Despite these huge numbers, there has been little research on the actual physical effects of the hangovers, write the researchers. Lead author Craig Gunn explained that they gathered data from 19 studies and noted that hangovers “impaired psychomotor speed, short and long-term memory and sustained attention.” They looked at 770 relevant articles he said. He added, “Impaired performance in these abilities reflects poorer concentration and focus, decreased memory and reduced reaction times the day after an evening of heavy drinking. Our review also indicated limited and inconsistent research on alcohol hangover and the need for future studies in the field.”

Dr Sally Adams, senior author explained that this study shows that hangovers can have serious consequences in day to day performances such as “driving and workplace skills.” It can affect memory and concentration she added. She said, “These findings also highlight that there is a need for further research in this field where alcohol hangover has implications at the individual level in terms of health and wellbeing, but also more widely at the national level for safety and the economy.”'

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