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Anyone who has overindulged in alcohol has likely experienced the symptoms of a hangover. Hangovers after drinking tend to be unpleasant. For someone who only drinks occasionally, they fade and there is minimal long-term damage. But frequent alcohol drinkers who often develop hangover effects tend to suffer a decline in their quality of life.
Hangover effects occur when someone consumes too much alcohol. They tend to vary from person to person but usually worsen with higher alcohol intake.
Several things cause hangovers, including:
Additionally, alcohol triggers inflammation, in part due to how it is metabolized. The process results in the creation of acetaldehyde, a toxic byproduct that contributes to inflammation throughout the body. The enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) metabolizes the ethanol (the type of alcohol in alcohol) into toxic acetaldehyde. From there, the liver enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) metabolizes acetaldehyde into acetate, a less toxic compound that breaks down into water and carbon dioxide.
Another reason why drinking too much alcohol leads to a hangover is because of congeners, an ingredient produced during the fermentation process. Dark liquors tend to have higher amounts of congeners, which is why many people find their hangovers after drinking whiskey to be worse than when they drink clear liquors like gin and vodka. Congeners include, but are not limited to:
Hangover symptoms vary from person to person and are at their peak when blood alcohol concentration returns to about zero. Symptoms typically last about 24 hours or longer. The severity of symptoms is also based on the amount and type of alcohol consumed.
In general, hangover symptoms include:
Although drinking higher amounts of alcohol tends to worsen hangover symptoms, some people are at risk regardless of how much they consume. Other factors affecting the severity of a hangover include:
Most of the time hangovers after drinking are not cause for serious medical concerns. They tend to fade on their own and ease as you rest and rehydrate your body. But there are occasions in which serious hangover symptoms could indicate alcohol poisoning, which is life-threatening.
You should seek immediate medical attention if any of the following symptoms occur after drinking alcohol:
In addition to feeling awful, hangovers tend to interfere with your ability to concentrate. They reduce dexterity and affect your memory. Even people who are not frequent alcohol drinkers suffer when they have a hangover. Hangovers after drinking trigger:
There are no science-backed treatments for hangovers. The majority of “remedies” available are myths. Over-the-counter pain remedies can ease certain hangover symptoms, but mixing these medications with alcohol can worsen other symptoms and in some cases, be dangerous.
To ease the discomfort of a hangover, you should get plenty of rest, rehydrate with water, and abstain from alcohol.
The only definitive way to treat a hangover is to avoid getting one in the first place by not overindulging in alcohol. The less alcohol you drink the less likely you are to develop a hangover. It’s also important to make sure you eat while drinking, drink a glass of water between each alcoholic beverage, and choose alcohol that is less likely to trigger hangover symptoms.
Experiencing hangovers after drinking a few times in your life is enough for most people to abstain from consuming excess alcohol. But if you notice you are experiencing hangover symptoms frequently or you develop a hangover every time you drink alcohol, it could be an indication of a problem with alcohol. It’s best to speak to your doctor so you can determine what’s causing your hangover symptoms.
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“Hangovers.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 25 Apr. 2019, https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/hangovers
“Alcohol Poisoning - What to Do.” Utexas.Edu, 2020, https://healthyhorns.utexas.edu/alcoholpoisoning_whattodo.html
“Hangovers - Diagnosis and Treatment - Mayo Clinic.” Mayoclinic.Org, 2017, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hangovers/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20373015