Hangover Symptoms

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What is a hangover? A hangover is a set of highly uncomfortable physical and mental symptoms that arrive after a person drinks too much alcohol. These symptoms present themselves once the person’s blood alcohol content (BAC) plummets back to its usual levels - typically between 6 – 8 hours after drinking. Hangovers affect cognitive function, productivity, performance and concentration levels, and the ability to safely drive a vehicle or operate heavy machinery. The most common hangover symptoms include fatigue, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, sweating, weakness, and abdominal pain.

The Reason Behind Hangover Symptoms

A hangover is caused by drinking too much alcohol in too short a timeframe. When a person’s BAC [1] drops back to its typical levels – usually quite a nosedive – a number of reactions occur in the body, triggering very unpleasant symptoms.

1.       Dehydration – The worst effects of a hangover stem from dehydration. Alcohol acts as a diuretic by reducing the release of vasopressin, a hormone that signals the kidneys to retain fluid. This causes the body to lose large amounts of fluid through frequent urination. (After having four drinks of alcohol, one can lose up to a quart of body fluid.) The resulting dehydration causes bad headaches, extreme thirst, dizziness and hangover nausea.

2.       Gastrointestinal Irritation - Alcohol directly irritates the lining of the stomach and increases the release of stomach acids, leading to hangover symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.

3.       Inflammation - Alcohol triggers an inflammatory response from the immune system, which can cause decreased cognitive function, memory loss, decreased appetite and concentration problems. (This inflammation may also be caused by acetaldehyde, a toxic compound created by the liver when it metabolizes alcohol.)

4.       Low Blood Sugar - Alcohol causes a sudden drop in blood sugar levels, resulting in weakness, fatigue, and even seizures.

5.       Fragmented Sleep – Although alcohol always causes sleepiness, the sleep it induces is fragmented and much less restful, leaving one even more tired than before – and unable to focus or work productively.

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What Does a Hangover Feel Like?

Although it usually passes within 24 hours, hangover effects can be a really unpleasant experience. As the body struggles to re-hydrate and return to its natural balance, a number of symptoms may present themselves.

You may wonder if what you’re feeling is normal. Below are some of the most common hangover symptoms:

·       Fatigue and weakness

·       Dry mouth and excessive thirst

·       Muscle aches and headaches             

·       Nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain

·       Increased sensitivity to sound and light                               

·       Irritability and anxiety

·       Drowsiness

·       Hangover dizziness

·       Sweating

·       Tremors

·       Inability to concentrate

·       Hangover heart rate - increased heart rate

·       Increased blood pressure (also known as hangover heart racing)


Symptoms will peak when BAC levels return to zero (usually six to eight hours after drinking), but it can take up to 24 hours for you to feel fully back to yourself.


Factors That Affect a Hangover

Although a hangover will invariably occur when a person consumes too much alcohol, there are certain factors that can increase the likelihood of a bad hangover after drinking:

1.   Congeners. Darker beverages like whiskey, brandy, red wine and tequila are more likely to result in worse hangovers. This is because of the high concentration of chemical compounds called congeners found in them. To avoid bad hangover symptoms, try to stick with lighter–colored drinks like vodka and gin.

2.   Sulfites. Many wines have sulfites added as a preservative, and that may cause bad headaches in people who are sensitive to them.

3.   Gender. Studies have shown that women are more likely to suffer from hangovers [2] than men.

4.   Empty Stomach. Drinking on an empty stomach increases the likelihood and severity of a hangover. Since there is no food in your body to slow and assist with the digestion of the alcohol, the alcohol will be directly absorbed into and enter the bloodstream immediately.

5.   Other Drugs. Combining alcohol with other drugs (like nicotine or marijuana) seems to greatly increase the probability and severity of a hangover. If you want to avoid next-morning misery, skip the joint.

6.   Genetics. Some people lack the enzymes necessary to digest alcohol properly. This leads to a build-up of the toxic compound acetaldehyde, which leads to severe hangover symptoms.

7.   Health. Research has shown that diabetics are much more susceptible to strong hangovers, since changes in blood sugar have a far worse effect on them than the average person. They’re likely to experience extreme fatigue, weakness, and tremors.

8.   Mental Health. The mind plays a role here too. People with borderline personality disorder, neurotic or angry personalities are all more likely to be hungover, for longer.

When A Hangover Can Be Dangerous

Being hungover is definitely the pits, but can it ever be actually dangerous?

Yes, in certain situations, a hangover can be dangerous – or even life-threatening.

Firstly, when a person is hung over, their cognitive function is significantly impaired, preventing them from thinking clearly or making responsible decisions. Driving or operating heavy machinery while still hung over can result in fatal tragedy.

Additionally, drinking an unusually excessive amount of alcohol in a short time frame can result in alcohol poisoning – a fatal condition that requires immediate medical attention. 

The following symptoms indicate a case of alcohol poisoning:

·       Slow or irregular breathing (less than 8 breaths per minute, or over 10-second gaps between breaths)

·       Pale, bluish, clammy skin

·       Very low body temperature (hypothermia)

·       Slowed pulse

·       Heavy vomiting

·       Seizures

·       Passing in and out of consciousness

·       Passing out and can’t be re-awakened

·       Confusion and disorientation


If someone presents any of the above symptoms after drinking, call emergency services immediately and remain with them until help arrives.


How to Treat a Hangover

There are many myths surrounding hangovers, including a few band-aid solutions that reportedly ease its painful effects right away. Some of these quick fixes include drinking more alcohol (“hair of the dog that bit you”, as it is known), strong coffee, greasy foods, pain relievers, and a hot shower. It’s important to note that none of these methods help you fully recover; they merely provide temporary relief until the misery returns. Drinking more alcohol will only prolong a hangover, and OTC painkillers like acetaminophen can be highly toxic for the liver when combined with alcohol. The short-term relief is certainly not worthwhile.

In truth, the greatest healer when it comes to hangovers is time. Your body needs time to recover - to rehydrate itself, restore its usual blood sugar levels, and regain its natural equilibrium. By the time 24 hours have passed, you should be feeling like your old self, with no more alcohol in your system.

While you’re waiting it out, though, you may want to know how to help relieve your hangover. There are things you can do that will enable your body to recover as quickly as possible. Try some of the following.


Hangover Tips

1.       Drink, drink, and drink some more. The worst effects of a hangover stem from dehydration, so consistent drinking can counteract that by restoring normal fluid levels. Some people find electrolyte-rich drinks (such as Gatorade, Powerade, Red Bull etc.) to be helpful, but water is always best.

2.       Eat a well-rounded meal. Alcohol lowers your blood sugar levels, causing nausea, weakness and fatigue. Getting some healthy carbs, proteins and fats into your system (toast, eggs and juice are a great start) will help raise those blood sugar levels back to a healthy level.

3.       Take Vitamin B and Zinc. A recent study in the Journal of Clinical Medicine revealed that individuals whose food intake contained larger amounts of Vitamin B and Zinc experienced milder hangovers. Try eating foods rich in Vitamin B and Zinc, or take them in capsule form if that’s easier. (In general, though, getting your vitamins and minerals through a food is more ideal.)

4.       Sleep it off. Sleep is the greatest healer, hands down. Although alcohol scrambles your sleep cycle, leaving you exhausted, try to rest as much as possible to give your body a chance to rest and get back to itself.

5.       Get outside. Going for a short stroll, or even just lounging outside, is a great idea. Fresh air and exercise will help boost your mood and blow the cobwebs out of your mind.


How to Prevent a Hangover

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. Although there are plenty of tips for getting over your hangover, there’s nothing quite as effective as preventing one in the first place! If you’re not a teetotaler, and enjoy the occasional night out on the town, drinking responsibly is the best way to ensure that your party doesn’t come with a price tag.

Here are some tips for preventing a hangover when drinking:

1.       Eat before and while drinking. As we mentioned, an empty stomach can greatly exacerbate a hangover. So be sure to eat a proper meal before you start drinking, and keep eating occasionally while you drink.

2.       Choose your drinks carefully. Darker beverages like brandy, bourbon and scotch are high in hangover–inducing congeners, so choosing light drinks like vodka, gin, lighter beers, and white wine can help.

3.       Keep drinking. Sipping water between every drink will help you stay well-hydrated, avoiding the worst of hangover symptoms.

4.       Take it slow. Avoid having more than one alcoholic drink per hour to give your body time to digest and absorb it properly. Proper pacing can help prevent your body from reaching the point of intoxication.

5.       Know your limits. Decide ahead of time how much you want to drink, and don’t let anyone pressure you to drink more than you feel comfortable. Once you’ve reached your limit, stop drinking.

Hangover vs. Alcohol Withdrawal: What’s the Difference?

Hangovers are normal after a period of heavy drinking in a short timeframe. They go away on their own without any intervention, and generally don’t result in any harmful or dangerous consequences.

But, warning signs of alcoholism may come when a person drinks large amounts of alcohol consistently, every day, for an extended period of time. If this is the case, they are likely suffering from Alcohol Use Disorder. And if someone suffering from AUD stops drinking cold-turkey, they will go into alcohol withdrawal – a severe form of hangover that can be incredibly painful and even life-threatening if not treated properly.  

Below are some signs that indicate that drinking has gone past the norm and may be Alcohol Use Disorder:

Ø  Frequent episodes of heavy drinking

Ø  Severe withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking

Ø  Drinking begins to affect relationships, work/school performance, and general quality of life

Quit Suffering from Hangover Symptoms

If you suspect that you or a loved one may be suffering from AUD, reach out to Avenues Recovery Center today to speak to a friendly, knowledgeable addiction professional who can address all of your questions and concerns.

Avenues Recovery Center is a nationwide network of drug and alcohol detox and treatment programs offering quality addiction treatment in a clean, comfortable, modern and professional setting. Whether you’re suffering from frequent hangover symptoms or overdosing highs, find healing, hope, friendship, and a supportive community that will stand by you for life. Reach out now – begin your journey home today!

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[1] en.wikipedia.org

[2] arcr.niaaa.nih.gov

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