Science Says Driving While Hungover Might Not Actually Be Safe

by Mika Doyle
BDG Media, Inc.

The next time you have a hangover, you should probably just call in sick. A new meta-analysis by researchers at the University of Bath in the UK shows that you can't actually sleep off the effects of a night of drinking and be functioning at 100 percent the next day. The researchers found that people’s ability to concentrate or drive was impaired during a hangover, BuzzFeed reports. The analysis involved more than 1,100 people, and all of the participants had blood alcohol levels of less than 0.02 percent, much lower than the 0.08 percent blood alcohol limit for driving a car, Fox News reports. That means there was very little alcohol left in their systems when researchers tested their thinking abilities. According to The Independent, the researchers found that, even though they were “just” hungover, the participants had shorter attention spans, memory problems, and limited coordination.

"Our findings demonstrate that [having a] hangover can have serious consequences for the performance of everyday activities such as driving and workplace skills such as concentration and memory," senior study author Sally Adams, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom, said in a statement to Fox News.

Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Adams told BuzzFeed that alcohol is typically out of your body by about 12 hours after your last drink. But hangover symptoms like fatigue and headaches, says BuzzFeed, peak when your alcohol level reaches zero and can last for up for 24 hours. According to The Independent, that means even though the alcohol has left your system, you could still be too impaired to drive or do your job effectively. It's worth considering calling in sick, for real, if your job requires you to operate heavy machinery or drive around throughout the day, for example.

Here’s another argument for calling in sick if you’re hungover: You could be costing your employer money in lost productivity. Adams told BuzzFeed that there’s an economic impact to hangovers, saying, “Hangovers can cost billions of dollars in lost productivity because workers don't show up or can't perform their duties after a night of drinking.” According to The Atlantic, workers who showed up hungover and “barely able to function” or workers who just didn’t show up to work at all cost the U.S. economy $90 billion in 2010. So even if you don't operate heavy machinery, it's probably not a great idea to show up to work hungover, because your boss probably won’t be too happy with you if you can't do whatever they're paying you to do.

Aaron White, senior scientific adviser to the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, told BuzzFeed that there’s no cure for a hangover. And a new study in the Lancet just found that there really is no safe amount of alcohol you can drink without risking your health. Does that mean you should abstain from the hard stuff? Not necessarily. Just know that if you wake up after a night of drinking, you might still be a bit impaired, so grab a glass of water and be a little extra careful.