There’s a lot of variability in how people respond to drinking. A lucky few, about 20 percent, have few symptoms from imbibing too much. But the rest of us pay for a night of indulging with a mix of symptoms that might include a headache, or nausea, or cloudy thinking or all of the above.
Two studies published earlier this year looked at those differences. Researchers in both studies examined data from twin studies and found that genetics explains about half the “heritability” of hangovers.
Scientists look at heritability to try gauge how variation of a certain trait or condition within a population can be explained by genetics versus how much can be explained by environmental influences. The proportion of variation within a population that’s explained by genetics is known as heritability.
In this case, the heritability of hangovers is about 50 percent. In other words about 50 percent of the differences between those who have a hangover and those who don’t is explained by genetics. Using identical and fraternal twins allows researchers to isolate environmental and genetic influences.
Unlike other studies that have looked at specific genetic variants involved in how individuals respond to alcohol or variants that influence the risk for alcohol dependence, these studies tried to ascertain how much of the differences in how people respond to a night of drinking is influenced by genetics versus how much is influenced by environmental factors.
In one study that looked at data that was first compiled in the early 1970s among about 13,000 adult male twins living in Australia. The researchers again looked at the data that included information about alcohol consumption, intoxication and hangovers. The other study also looked at data from about 4,500 twins, both men and women, and found that genetics accounted for 45 percent of the difference in hangovers.