Anyone who drinks alcohol can experience a hangover, but some people are more susceptible to hangovers than are others. A genetic variation that affects the way alcohol is metabolized may make some people flush, sweat or become ill after drinking even a small amount of alcohol. Research hasn't clearly shown whether light drinkers or heavy drinkers are more likely to experience hangovers. Frequent drinkers may build up a tolerance that decreases their risk of hangovers.

Factors that may make a hangover more likely or severe include:

  • Drinking on an empty stomach. Having no food in your stomach speeds the body's absorption of alcohol.
  • Using other drugs, such as nicotine, along with alcohol. Smoking and drinking together appears to increase the likelihood of next-day misery.
  • Not sleeping long or well enough after drinking. Some researchers believe that some hangover symptoms are often due, at least in part, to the short and poor-quality sleep cycle that typically follows a night of drinking.
  • Having a family history of alcoholism. Having close relatives with a history of alcoholism may suggest an inherited problem with the way your body processes alcohol.
  • Drinking darker colored alcoholic beverages. Darker colored drinks often contain a high volume of congeners — the chemicals used to add color and flavor to alcohol. Congeners are more likely to produce a hangover.

Drinks with a high congener content include:

  • Bourbon
  • Scotch
  • Tequila
  • Brandy
  • Dark-colored beers and beer with high alcohol content
  • Red wine

By comparison, drinks with a lower congener content — such as lighter colored beers, gin and vodka — are somewhat less likely to cause a hangover. However, while lighter colored drinks may slightly help with hangover prevention, drinking too many alcoholic beverages of any color will still make you feel bad the morning after.

Dec. 14, 2011