With St. Paddy's Day approaching, here's why you can't drink as much alcohol as you used to

Yes, there is a scientific answer
With St. Paddy's Day approaching, here's why you can't drink as much alcohol as you used to
Posted at 4:05 AM, Mar 13, 2015
and last updated 2017-03-13 07:26:34-04

It's almost St. Patrick’s Day. To celebrate, you may be planning on heading to a local pub to toss back a few green beers with friends. Problem is, last year’s green beers left you feeling pretty miserable the next day, and, for lack of a better

You drank like a champ back in college, right? So what happened?

It seems for many of us, the older we get, the less we can drink. Why is that?

We sought out Dr. Daniel Schauer, who's in the division of general internal medicine at University of Cincinnati, for an answer to that urgent question.

Why does it seem like the older we get the less we can drink?

As people get older, they break down alcohol more slowly in the liver, and if people develop liver problems it kind of exacerbates that problem even more. So the same amount of alcohol they used to drink has a greater effect on them than it did previously, because they’re breaking it down more slowly. People also tend to drink less as they get older, so they have a lower tolerance than they did when they were younger.

So we get out of practice and lose our tolerance?

It was more frequent drinking that led to tolerance. Tolerance doesn’t mean it changes your blood alcohol level and you’re less intoxicated, it just means you’re more tolerant to the effects. So it takes more alcohol to reach the same effects on your body than it did before.

Dr. Daniel Schauer

Does the same hold true in both men and women?

Women tend to be smaller than men, so their tolerance is usually lower. They also tend to have less muscle mass than men, so less total body water. Which brings me to the third reason for both men and women: less total body water. As people age, they lose muscle mass and the percentage of body fat increases. That leads to the body having less overall water, so when you drink alcohol you have higher alcohol concentrations. Especially in the elderly, that’s an important reason why they can’t drink like they used to.

Any other reasons why we can’t drink like we did in college?

I was talking to my wife about it, and she said one reason is because we have jobs and we have kids now. We can’t sleep till noon.

What's a sign that you’ve had too many green beers?

When your friends tell you is always a good start. I think it’s one of those things that people don’t recognize themselves when they are drinking. It sneaks up on people especially if they’re not used to drinking much. My advice would be moderation and definitely listen to your friends.

What about shots?

Shots are just a more concentrated form of alcohol, so it gets into your bloodstream more quickly. The ability to do shots goes down as you age. So do shots responsibly.

How about that nasty 'green beer hangover' the next day? It never seemed to be that bad when we were younger.

It goes back to less water in the body as we get older. You get dehydrated because alcohol makes you produce more urine. It’s a diuretic, kind of like caffeine. It also irritates your stomach, increasing the production of stomach acid, and that can lead to the nausea you feel the next day. In some alcoholic beverages, they have something called a congener, and they’re kind of like flavoring in alcoholic beverages. They’re in dark liquors like brandies or whiskies, but they’re not in clear alcohol like vodka or gin. But they contribute to hangovers.

Hmmm, I seem to recall getting a hangover from vodka...what happened?

Any alcohol can give you a hangover, but alcohol with congeners can be worse.

What’s your advice for people who sampled a bit too much green beer?

Drink a lot of water. It’s a complicated answer for a hangover, because I would say take ibuprofen, but you don’t really want to mix nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication and alcohol because that increases your risk of ulcers. It’s something we all do, you wake up, feel hung over and take ibuprofen or you take Tylenol. And Tylenol with drinking is also bad because it’s bad for your liver. So neither one of those is a great option, but everyone does it. But the best thing to do is to rehydrate. Drink lots of water and go back to bed.

What’s some good advice for people if they’re going out drinking on St. Patrick’s Day?

Don’t forget to eat and stay hydrated.