A hangover is the experience of various unpleasant physiological and psychological effects usually following the consumption of alcohol, such as wine, beer, and distilled spirits. Drinking alcohol causes a hangover for many reasons including dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, poor sleep, and inflammation. Hangovers can last for several hours or more than 24 hours. Today, several off-the-shelf products are available for a quicker hangover cure.
The severity of a hangover is closely linked to how much alcohol the person has consumed and how much sleep they have had. It is not possible to make a general prediction about how much alcohol leads to a hangover. The association depends on individual and situational factors, including sleep, hydration, and the pacing of alcoholic drinks.
Symptoms of hangover
Typical symptoms of a hangover may include
- Concentration problems
- Dry mouth
- Gastrointestinal distress (e.g., vomiting, diarrhea)
- Absence of hunger
- Light sensitivity
- Feeling of general discomfort that may last more than 24 hours.
If hangover symptoms are severe — during or after a bout of drinking — the person may have alcohol poisoning. This is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention.
If anyone has the following symptoms of alcohol poisoning, seek medical aid as soon as possible:
- Irregular breathing
- Slow breathing, or fewer than 8 inhalations per minute
- A low body temperature
- Very pale or blue-tinged skin
- Continuous vomiting
The symptoms of alcohol poisoning can vary in severity. Some people experience certain symptoms more severely than others.
What Causes Hangover Symptoms?
Many factors can contribute to hangovers:
- Mild dehydration: Alcohol suppresses the release of vasopressin, a hormone produced by the brain that sends signals to the kidneys causing them to retain fluid. As a result, alcohol increases urination and excess loss of fluids. The mild dehydration that results likely contributes to hangover symptoms such as thirst, fatigue, and a headache.
- Disrupted sleep: People may fall asleep faster after drinking alcohol, but their sleep is fragmented, and they tend to wake up earlier. This contributes to fatigue, as well as lost productivity.
- Gastrointestinal irritation: Alcohol directly irritates the lining of the stomach and increases acid release. This can lead to nausea and stomach discomfort.
- Inflammation: Alcohol increases inflammation in the body. Inflammation contributes to the malaise that people feel when they are sick, so it may play a role in hangover symptoms as well.
- Acetaldehyde exposure: Alcohol metabolism, primarily by the liver, creates the compound acetaldehyde, a toxic, short-lived byproduct, which contributes to inflammation in the liver, pancreas, brain, gastrointestinal tract, and other organs.
- Mini-withdrawal: While drinking, individuals may feel calmer, more relaxed, and even euphoric, but the brain quickly adjusts to those positive effects as it tries to maintain balance. As a result, when the buzz wears off, people can feel more restless and anxious than before they drank.
Are Hangovers Dangerous or Just Painful?
Hangovers can be both painful and dangerous. During a hangover, a person’s attention, decision-making, and muscle coordination can all be impaired. Also, the ability to perform important tasks, such as driving, operating machinery, or caring for others can be negatively affected.
How Do You Prevent a Hangover?
To avoid recurrence of hangovers, keep track of what you’re drinking and stay within the low-risk drinking guidelines by not regularly drinking more than 14 units of alcohol per week. If you choose to drink as much as this, spread your drinking evenly over three or more days and take several drink-free days during the week.
Here are a few tips to help you:
- Avoid alcohol on an empty stomach as it increases the risk of experiencing hangover symptoms. Food helps to slow down the rate your body absorbs alcohol.
- Try not to get into rounds. They make it harder to control how much you drink.
- Drink plenty of water or soft drinks in between alcoholic drinks to avoid dehydration, one of the main causes of a hangover.
Depending on your weight and other factors, it takes about one hour for a healthy liver to process a unit of alcohol. Consider stopping drinking well before the end of the evening, so the process can begin before you go to bed.
- Drink plenty of water before going to sleep and keep a glass by the bed
How Can You Cure a Hangover?
Several herbal and medical supplements can help with a quicker hangover cure. These include; L-Cysteine, ginseng, L-Theanine, vitamin B complex, milk thistle etc.
The following can also help you reduce the symptoms of a hangover:
- Drinking a lot of water: Alcohol makes a person urinate more frequently, often leading to dehydration, in which case it is crucial to rehydrate the body.
- Eating nutritious foods: Healthy foods give the body fuel, nutrients, and antioxidants, which can aid recovery.
- Eating bland foods: When a hangover involves stomach trouble, try bland foods that raise blood sugar levels, such as bread.
- Eating fruit: The fructose in fruit may help the body break down alcohol.
- Resting: Sleep can help speed up recovery.
- Taking medication: NSAIDs, antacids, and some pain relief medications can relieve hangover symptoms.
A person with a hangover should not take pain relief medications or any other drugs that contain acetaminophen. This ingredient can strain the liver — like alcohol — so it is important to avoid combining the two.
Some so-called hangover cures are ineffective. Among these is the “hair of the dog” approach, which involves drinking more alcohol to relieve a hangover. Health professionals do not recommend this method, which may only prolong the symptoms.
Although many remedies for alleviating hangovers are mentioned on the web and social media, only some herbs and supplements have proven to be effective. There is no magic potion for beating hangovers—and only time can help. A person must wait for the body to finish clearing the toxic by products of alcohol metabolism, rehydrate, heal irritated tissue, and restore immune and brain activity to normal.
Some people take over-the-counter pain relievers (often acetaminophen) before going to bed to minimize hangovers. It is important to recognize that the combination of alcohol and acetaminophen can be toxic to the liver. Like alcohol, certain over-the-counter pain relievers, including aspirin and ibuprofen, can increase the release of acid and irritate the lining of the stomach. Proceed with caution when using these medications before or after consuming alcohol.
To help ease their hangover symptoms, some people turn to electrolyte-rich sports drinks or other products, or even intravenous (IV) treatments, to treat electrolyte imbalance caused by increased urination and fluid loss as a result of drinking. Research has not found a correlation between the extent of electrolyte disruptions and the severity of hangovers, or the impact of added electrolytes on hangover severity. In most people, the body will quickly restore electrolyte balance once the effects of alcohol subside.
Ultimately, the only sure hangover cure is to avoid getting one in the first place by drinking in moderation or choosing not to drink.