Definition

What is a hangover?

A hangover is a group of unpleasant signs and symptoms that can develop after drinking too much alcohol. As if feeling awful weren’t bad enough, frequent hangovers are also associated with poor performance and conflict at work.

As a general rule, the more alcohol you drink, the more likely you are to have a hangover the next day. But there’s no magic formula to tell you how much you can safely drink and still avoid a hangover.

However unpleasant, most hangovers go away on their own, though they can last up to 24 hours. If you choose to drink alcohol, doing so responsibly can help you avoid future hangovers.

How common is a hangover?

Hangovers are extremely common. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of a hangover?

The common symptoms of a hangover are:

  • Accelerated heartbeat
  • Anxiety
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Body and muscle aches
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Halitosis (bad breath)
  • Headache
  • Hypersalivation
  • Flatulence
  • Lethargy, tiredness, fatigue, listlessness
  • Nausea
  • Photophobia (sensitivity to light)
  • Problems focusing or concentrating
  • Sensitivity to loud sounds
  • Depression (dysphoria)
  • Irritability
  • Moodiness
  • Stomachache
  • Thirst
  • Trembling or shakiness, erratic motor functions
  • Vomiting

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If the individual has the following more severe signs and symptoms when or after drinking, they may have alcohol poisoning – this is a medical emergency, and medical help should be sought as soon as possible.

  • Breathing loses its regular rhythm
  • Breathing slows down to less than eight inhalations per minute
  • Confusion or stupor – the drinker is in a daze
  • Fits (seizures)
  • Hypothermia – body temperature drops
  • The drinker passes out (loses consciousness)
  • The skin becomes pale, or takes on a blue tinge
  • Vomiting continues and does not stop

Causes

What causes hangovers?

Hangovers are caused by drinking too much alcohol. A single alcoholic drink is enough to trigger a hangover for some people, while others may drink heavily and escape a hangover entirely.

Various factors may contribute to a hangover. For example:

  • Alcohol causes your body to produce more urine. In turn, urinating more than usual can lead to dehydration — often indicated by thirst, dizziness and lightheadedness.
  • Alcohol triggers an inflammatory response from your immune system. Your immune system may trigger certain agents that commonly produce physical symptoms, such as an inability to concentrate, memory problems, decreased appetite and loss of interest in usual activities.
  • Alcohol irritates the lining of your stomach. Alcohol increases the production of stomach acid and delays stomach emptying. Any of these factors can cause abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting.
  • Alcohol can cause your blood sugar to fall. If your blood sugar dips too low, you may experience fatigue, weakness, shakiness, mood disturbances and even seizures.
  • Alcohol causes your blood vessels to expand, which can lead to headaches.
  • Alcohol can make you sleepy, but your quality of sleep will decrease. This may leave you groggy and tired.
  • Alcoholic beverages contain ingredients called congeners, which give many types of alcoholic beverages their flavor and can contribute to hangovers. Congeners are found in larger amounts in dark liquors, such as brandy and whiskey, than in clear liquors, such as vodka and gin.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for hangovers?

There are many risk factors for hangovers, such as:

  • Drinking on an empty stomach. Having no food in your stomach speeds the body’s absorption of alcohol.
  • Using other drugs, such as nicotine, along with alcohol. Smoking combined with drinking appears to increase the likelihood of next-day misery.
  • Not sleeping well or long enough after drinking. Some researchers believe that some hangover symptoms are often due, at least in part, to the poor-quality and short sleep cycle that typically follows a night of drinking.
  • Having a family history of alcoholism. Having close relatives with a history of alcoholism may suggest an inherited problem with the way your body processes alcohol.
  • Drinking darker colored alcoholic beverages. Darker colored drinks often contain a high volume of congeners — the chemicals used to add color and flavor to alcohol. Congeners are more likely to produce a hangover.

Drinks with a high congener content include:

  • Bourbon
  • Scotch
  • Tequila
  • Brandy
  • Dark-colored beers and beer with high alcohol content
  • Red wine

By comparison, drinks with a lower congener content — such as lighter colored beers and wine, gin, and vodka — are somewhat less likely to cause a hangover. However, while lighter colored drinks may slightly help with hangover prevention, drinking too many alcoholic beverages of any color will still make you feel bad the next morning.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is a hangover diagnosed?

The condition does not need any medical aid. However, in case of consulting a doctor, he or she will merely detect hangovers after being detailed with your symptoms, your drinking habits and history.

How is a hangover treated?

Time is the only sure cure for a hangover. In the meantime, here are a few things you can do to help yourself feel better:

  • Fill your water bottle. Sip water or fruit juice to prevent dehydration. Resist any temptation to treat your hangover with more alcohol. It’ll only make you feel worse.
  • Have a snack. Bland foods, such as toast and crackers, may boost your blood sugar and settle your stomach. Bouillon soup can help replace lost salt and potassium.
  • Take a pain reliever. A standard dose of an over-the-counter pain reliever may ease your headache. But aspirin can irritate your stomach. And if you regularly drink alcohol to excess, acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) can cause severe liver damage even in doses previously thought to be safe.
  • Go back to bed. If you sleep long enough, your hangover may be gone when you awaken.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage a hangover?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you avoid hangovers:

  • Eat first. Alcohol is absorbed more quickly if your stomach is empty. It may help to eat something before drinking alcohol.
  • Take it slow. Pace yourself. Limit yourself to just one drink or less each hour.
  • Choose carefully. Beverages with fewer congeners — such as light-colored beers and wine — are slightly less likely to cause hangovers than are beverages with more congeners — such as brandy, whiskey, dark beers and red wine.
  • Sip water between drinks. Drinking a full glass of water after each alcoholic drink will help you stay hydrated. It’ll also help you drink less alcohol.
  • Also know your limits. Decide ahead of time how many drinks you’ll have — and stick to it. Don’t feel pressured to drink.

Some people take over-the-counter pain relievers, such as aspirin or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), to prevent hangover symptoms. But ask your doctor if this is safe for you and what dosage is best for you. These medications may interact with other medications, and acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) may cause liver damage if too much alcohol is consumed.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: November 13, 2017 | Last Modified: November 13, 2017

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