A hangover is a collection of symptoms associated with excessive drinking. They can happen at any time after the initial effects of alcohol have worn off, but are most common after waking from a night out of drinking. Each person experiences the symptoms of excessive drinking differently; some may have a severe headache after a drink or two and others seem to be affected very little or not at all. The most common symptoms of a hangover are:
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- Excessive thirst
- Nausea or vomiting
- Tiredness and lethargy
- Lack of coordination
A hangover can be also be accompanied by emotional and psychological symptoms, such as anxiety, embarrassment, and depression. Age, size, the type of alcohol or mixer you consume, and your health can all play a part in the severity of your reactions to drinking too much alcohol.
What Causes a Hangover?
While there is no specific cause of hangovers, other than the act of drinking alcohol, there are factors that contribute to the symptoms most people experience afterward. Here are some facts about the way alcohol works on the body.
Kidneys and Digestive System
Alcohol has a diuretic effect, which overworks your kidneys and causes dehydration. This leads to the symptoms of dry mucous membranes, dry mouth and dizziness. When you add in diarrhea, sweating, and vomiting, you further exacerbate the electrolyte imbalance.
Alcohol also irritates your stomach lining, increases the production of stomach acids, and retards the digestive process. This is what causes the nausea and vomiting, which also causes irritation and acidic damage to the throat, esophagus, and teeth.
Alcohol causes the blood vessels to dilate, which is the source of those morning-after headaches. It also causes a drop in your blood sugar levels, which affects mood, stability, and physical strength.
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, and while it will cause you to fall asleep, the sleep is usually broken and poor in quality. If you mix alcohol with other drugs, like sedatives or painkillers, it can also cause liver or kidney damage and lead to death.
Chemicals that are produced during the distillation process also cause your body problems when you drink. These compound are called cogeners, and they’re what give alcohol its taste and smell. They also contribute to many of the symptoms of hangover. The worst culprits are dark alcohols, like red wine, brandy, whiskey. Mixers that are high in sugar also increase the severity of your symptoms.
Depending on factors such as size, age, and the amount of alcohol you consume, you can also develop alcohol poisoning to varying degrees, which can result in death in the most severe cases. Men and woman metabolize alcohol at different rates, and your ability to properly metabolize alcohol diminishes with age. The effects of alcohol toxicity last beyond the duration of hangover symptoms. Family history and personality traits also contribute to the severity and length of a hangover.
Is There a Cure for Hangovers?
Home remedy books and the advice of family and friends will net you hundreds of hangover cures, but there are only three sure ways to alleviate the symptoms:
1. Rehydrate yourself by drinking lots of water or drinks that contain electrolytes. Coffee may sound like a good idea, but it’s also a diuretic and it can worsen the dehydration.
2. Eat something that’s easy on the stomach and can help raise your blood sugar, such as dry toast, crackers, or rice.
3. Sleep and time are ultimately the best remedies for hangover symptoms.
You may be tempted to take an over-the-counter pain reliever for the head and body aches, but aspirin and acetaminophen can further irritate your stomach and liver. Cold water, from the shower or an ice pack, will help reduce the inflammation in your blood vessels, and sleep will take care of the rest.
Though the best prevention is not to drink too much in the first place, there are some things you can do before and while you’re drinking to minimize it’s effects and that horrible feeling you get the morning after.
- Drink in moderation and avoid beverages that have high cogener levels or that contain mixers that are high in sugar, like soda and juice.
- Eat fried food; this coats the stomach with oil and slows down the body’s absorption of alcohol.
- Drink plenty of water, before and during the time you’ll be drinking.
Any of us can over-do it on occasion, but if you find yourself suffering from hangovers frequently, or you have other signs of alcohol abuse, it may be time to seek professional inpatient treatment to deal with your excess drinking and the underlying issues.