Q It seems as if my hangovers are much worse now that I am older, 42. What can I do, besides drinking water while drinking alcohol, to change this?

A: The real “problem” might be that you’re drinking less as you age, which reduces your alcohol tolerance, said Lara Ray, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, who researches alcoholism. Someone with the self-image of a partying 20-something but the lifestyle of a responsible 42-year-old may have lost the tolerance for a lot of alcohol, she said.

“Age may be a proxy for regularity of drinking,” Ray said. “If you haven’t gone to a party for two to three weeks, it might be less about being 40 and more about your drinking history.”

Also, as we age, we lose muscle mass, replacing it with fat. The same drink will cause more intoxication in a body with a higher fat content compared with a leaner one, she said. But this tends to be true more for people over 65 than over 40, she said.

Ray suggests drinking more slowly to compensate for this change in body composition, and to drink more water or other liquids to dilute the alcohol.

The biological basis of hangovers is unclear, said Dr. Marc Schuckit, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego. Some people think being hung over is a mild form of alcohol withdrawal; others think they are caused by dehydration or an imbalance of electrolytes like sodium, potassium or magnesium, he said.

Whatever the cause, “it is not good for you,” he said. Hangovers are a sign that you’re drinking too much, at any age.

“You’re having bad hangovers for a very good reason: Your body is reacting badly to the amount of alcohol you’re drinking,” he said, adding that he doesn’t offer hangover cures, because he thinks the real issue is prevention. “The only cure is to cut back or stop drinking.”

— New York Times News Service