The Cognitive Effects of Alcohol Hangover

  • Craig Gunn

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Alcohol hangover refers to the combination of symptoms that occur the morning after a night of heavy alcohol consumption, when blood alcohol concentration is approaching zero. Alongside the physical effects of hangover (e.g., headaches, nausea), hangover can negatively affect mood and impair cognition. However, variability in methodological design and low methodological rigour have contributed to mixed results in the literature, preventing firm conclusions about the specific cognitive processes affected by hangover being made. Furthermore, few studies have explored the effect of hangover on attentional bias towards alcohol-related stimuli, response inhibition, emotion regulation, or core components of executive functions.

To investigate the cognitive effects of alcohol hangover in the present thesis, the methodological approaches used in previous research were critically examined and a rigorous methodology that could be utilised in experimental work was developed. This methodology included a within-subject naturalistic design, a-priori sample size calculations and included measures of hangover severity to improve the validity of the hangover condition. A systematic review and meta-analysis of the literature was conducted to provide clarity to the field using the developed methodological approach as guidance for inclusion criteria. Three experimental studies then investigated the effect of hangover on response inhibition and attentional bias toward alcohol-related stimuli, emotion regulation, and core components of executive functions (i.e., switching, updating, and goal maintenance).

Findings from the systematic review and meta-analysis indicated that sustained attention, psychomotor speed, and short- and long-term memory were impaired during hangover. To assess the effect of hangover on response inhibition and attentional bias towards alcohol-related stimuli, participants completed a Go/No-Go task (inhibition) and a Visual Dot Probe task (attentional bias) whilst hungover and during a no-hangover control condition. Results indicated that response inhibition was impaired during a hangover relative to no-hangover, suggesting that individuals are less able to inhibit pre-potent responses during a hangover. However, attentional bias towards alcohol-related stimuli was unaffected by hangover, which may indicate hangover does not influence attentional biases, but could also be due to the insensitivity of the Visual Dot Probe task. In the second experimental study presented in this thesis, emotion regulation ability during a hangover was assessed using a subjective self-report questionnaire alongside an objective lab-based emotion regulation task. Results somewhat conflicted as participant’s perceived greater difficulties in emotion regulation, but the objective lab-based task indicated no difference in emotion regulation ability between hangover and no-hangover conditions. However, it should be noted that the lab-based task did reveal a general negative shift in affective appraisal of stimuli during a hangover relative to the no-hangover condition. The third experimental study in this thesis assessed the effect of hangover on switching, updating, and goal-maintenance using a number-switching task, n-back task (updating), and AX-CPT task (goal maintenance). Results indicated that all three core executive functions were negatively affected by hangover. Overall, these results suggest that core cognitive processes (memory, attention, and psychomotor skills) and higher-order executive functions are impaired during alcohol hangover.
Date of Award16 Sept 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorGraeme Fairchild (Supervisor), Sally Adams (Supervisor) & Joris Verster (Supervisor)


  • Alcohol Hangover
  • Cognition
  • Executive Functions
  • Emotion Regulation

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