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A new study from psychologists at the University of Bath highlights the true impact of heavy drinking on our ability to plan, set goals and make decisions the following day. To date, few studies have explored how a hangover effects key cognitive processes, the so-called ‘core executive functions’, which we use in daily life to plan, set goals and make decisions. Published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine [1], the new study provides evidence as to why hangovers cost the wider economy so much.

A recent report from the same team found that as many as 89,000 people may be turning up to work hungover or under the influence of alcohol every day, costing the UK economy £1.4 billion a year in wasted productivity.

The latest study involved thirty-five 18–30-year-olds who had reported experiencing a hangover at least once in the past month. Individuals completed measures whilst experiencing a hangover, which assessed their ability to switch attention between tasks, to update and process information from multiple sources, and to guide and plan behaviour.

Their findings show how, when hungover, individuals have a reduced ability to retain information in their short-term memory (for example, retaining a telephone number whilst taking a message at the same time). They also highlight impairments when it comes to individuals’ ability to switch attention between tasks and focus on a goal.

Lead author Craig Gunn of Bath’s Department of Psychology explained: “We know that hangovers can have a big economic cost, but we did not know how hangover affects our ability to switch attention from one task to another, update information in our mind, and maintain focus on set goals. Our study asked participants to complete tasks measuring these processes when they had a hangover and again when they had not consumed alcohol. The results suggest that all of these processes are impaired by a hangover, which could have consequences for other aspects of our lives.”

Senior author, Dr Sally Adams from the Addiction & Mental Health Group at the University of Bath explained that the data show that this impairment is likely the result of reduced capability in several core executive functions. The result is that hungover individuals may experience reduced performance of daily tasks, such as planning activities and dividing attention between several tasks.

The authors suggest that these findings could also have important implications during the current crisis. Alcohol sales have soared since the lockdown. Alcohol Change UK estimated that 8.6 million adults in the UK are drinking more frequently. Those drinking heavily at home are at increased risk of experiencing a hangover the next day, which may impact their ability and productivity when working at home.

[1] ‘The Effects of Alcohol Hangover on Executive Functions’ is published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine: https://www.mdpi.com/2077-0383/9/4/1148

If you are concerned about a family member’s drinking habits, AlphaBiolabs can provide a number of alcohol testing solutions including continuous alcohol monitoring. For more information, please call 0333 600 1300 or email us at info@alphabiolabs.com