Do you get more drunk at altitude? Kind of, and the hangovers are worse.

Altitude supposedly will put more buzz in your beer. Sounds great, at least for spendthrift drinkers. But the truth is darker. The truth has hangovers.

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo
A bunch of dudes play beer pong on Mt. Bierstadt in 2015, just about 14,000 feet above sea level. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)

A bunch of dudes play beer pong on Mt. Bierstadt in 2015, just about 14,000 feet above sea level. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)

People tell their visiting friends to take it easy, because Denver’s altitude supposedly will put more buzz in your beer.

Sounds great, at least for spendthrift drinkers. But the truth is darker. The truth has hangovers.

Do you really get drunker?

“You don’t get drunk any faster at high altitude,” says Peter Hackett, the doctor who runs the Institute for Altitude Medicine in Telluride. 

“The blood alcohol level’s the same for the same amount of alcohol.”

However, he’s referring specifically to “alcohol drunk” – and altitude has its own inebriation-like effect.

The lack of oxygen can make people worse at doing things, just like alcohol does, at least above 12,000 feet. So, newbies act slightly dumber at altitude anyway, and then you add alcohol to that. (So this study found.)

“Alcohol makes you feel altitude more,” Hackett says.

OK, what about hangovers?

Hangovers can definitely be worse at altitude.

The obvious reason is that altitude dehydrates people, and being low on water causes hangover symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic. 

There’s a less obvious reason, too!

Alcohol can reduce your breathing, especially as you sleep, according to Hackett. Combined with the effects of alcohol, that can further reduce oxygen levels in the body – creating, again, a bad feeling in the morning.

So what should a visitor do?

Drink a lot of water, and not a lot of beer.