The bright side of hangovers
Hangovers can be painful, but for many young adults they include social bonding with close friends and the communal suffering can be a good and rewarding experience.
Eivind Grip Fjær of the Norwegian Social Research, Welfare Governance and Health Behaviour Research Group conducted ten in-depth interviews with Norwegian men and women aged between 18-23.
Alcohol consumption in Norway has increased by about 17 percent since 2000, from 5.66 to 6.62 litres of pure alcohol per year. Young adults are the hardest drinkers, and a new study looks at the hangover experiences of this particular group.
Their stories contrast with previous research which has argued that hangovers are an entirely negative experience and functions as a form of punishment for alcohol consumption.
Fjær acknowledges the adverse health effects of excessive drinking, but says there are many positive things about alcohol use at parties, and even about the banging hangovers.
“I was surprised by how little support I found for the notion of hangovers as punishment,” says Fjær.
Many of the informants said they would wake up with their friends and spend the day with them, eating breakfast, drinking water and talking about last night’s party.
Such Sunday storytelling typically involved friends talking about their individual experiences at the party, and particularly things that others have missed out on, such as private erotic experiences with someone outside of the group.
When telling these stories, friends construct a shared narrative of the party they all attended, which can reinforce their commitment to the group.
“The informants said they laugh a lot when they talk about their experiences, and sharing them can be a very positive experience,” says Fjær. “Good stories of memorable events function as a symbol of their friendship, and together the stories reinforce their shared experience.”
Sharing negative experiences
Sunday storytelling is also about negative experiences.
Some of the informants, mostly male, said they would make fun of their friends for their embarrassing or awkward experiences, such as bringing a girl home and later regretting it.
“They could’ve kept these embarrassing experiences to themselves,” says Fjær. “But by allowing their friends to tease them they can laugh at it together. It seems to work as a sort of coping technique for potentially shameful and regrettable experiences.”
The hangover is the closure of the party
Fjær argues that the day and morning after drinking is essentially a continuation of the party, and a time to smoothen the return to everyday life.
He argues that as friends gather around drinks at the party, they gather around food or other things on the day after.
”The hangover is the closure of the party,” he says. “And for many it’s important to spend this time with the friends they partied with.
“If you party with your gang, the gang is important the following day as well.”
Headaches a worthy sacrifice
Most informants in the study were fairly unconcerned with the physiological consequences of a night of drinking, and headaches and occasional nausea were deemed a worthy sacrifice for a good night out.
“Binge angst” experiences are harder to deal with.
For young adults, parties are largely about transgressing boundaries, and they function as momentary windows of time in which many rules do not apply. Party-goers get the opportunity to do things that otherwise would trigger what sociologists call social sanctions, such as criticism or ridicule from others.
The morning and day after a night out, they consider whether they took it too far or transgressed the wrong kind of boundaries.
Over-the-top flirting is one example of behaviour that is generally acceptable in a party setting, whereas not even excessive alcohol consumption is a good enough excuse for violence or whining.
The binge angst they experience the day after can be that they have done something that will tarnish their reputation so badly it can damage their relations with other people.
“What worries them is the insecurities regarding last night’s events and whether one has done something that can lead to social exclusion,” says the researcher.
One of Fjær’s informants found the hangovers so uncomfortable that she said she would drink less. But for most young adults, a hangover is not only an acceptable cost, it can be a socially positive experience that makes a good party even better.
- The day after drinking: interaction during hangovers among young Norwegian adults, Eivind Grip Fjær, Journal of Youth Studies, 2012