Sensitivity to Experiencing Alcohol Hangovers: Reconsideration of the 0.11% Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Threshold for Having a Hangover

Verster, Joris C.; Kruisselbrink, L. Darren; Slot, Karin A.; Anogeianaki, Aikaterini; Adams, Sally; Alford, Chris; Arnoldy, Lizanne; Ayre, Elisabeth; Balikji, Stephanie; Benson, Sarah; Bruce, Gillian; Devenney, Lydia E.; Frone, Michael R.; Gunn, Craig; Heffernan, Thomas; Hensel, Kai O.; Hogewoning, Anna; Johnson, Sean J.; van Lawick van Pabst, Albertine E.; van de Loo, Aurora J.A.E.; Mackus, Marlou; Merlo, Agnese; Murphy, René J.L.; Owen, Lauren; Palmer, Emily O.C.; van Rossum, Charmaine J.I.; Scholey, Andrew; Terpstra, Chantal; Vatsalya, Vatsalya; Vermeulen, Sterre A.; van Wijk, Michelle and Stock, Ann-Kathrin (2020). Sensitivity to Experiencing Alcohol Hangovers: Reconsideration of the 0.11% Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Threshold for Having a Hangover. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 9(1) p. 179.



The 2010 Alcohol Hangover Research Group consensus paper defined a cutoff blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.11% as a toxicological threshold indicating that sufficient alcohol had been consumed to develop a hangover. The cutoff was based on previous research and applied mostly in studies comprising student samples. Previously, we showed that sensitivity to hangovers depends on (estimated) BAC during acute intoxication, with a greater percentage of drinkers reporting hangovers at higher BAC levels. However, a substantial number of participants also reported hangovers at comparatively lower BAC levels. This calls the suitability of the 0.11% threshold into question. Recent research has shown that subjective intoxication, i.e., the level of severity of reported drunkenness, and not BAC, is the most important determinant of hangover severity. Non-student samples often have a much lower alcohol intake compared to student samples, and overall BACs often remain below 0.11%. Despite these lower BACs, many non-student participants report having a hangover, especially when their subjective intoxication levels are high. This may be the case when alcohol consumption on the drinking occasion that results in a hangover significantly exceeds their “normal” drinking level, irrespective of whether they meet the 0.11% threshold in any of these conditions. Whereas consumers may have relative tolerance to the adverse effects at their “regular” drinking level, considerably higher alcohol intake—irrespective of the absolute amount—may consequentially result in a next-day hangover. Taken together, these findings suggest that the 0.11% threshold value as a criterion for having a hangover should be abandoned.

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