Hangover: Symptoms and Causes 

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Author: Thomas Roth

Last Updated: 1/02/2022

A hangover occurs when an excessive amount of alcohol is consumed. Symptoms can take hours to appear, which is why many individuals feel the impact of a hangover the next day. That said, hangovers have common symptoms that many people experience. These include fatigue, headaches, dry mouth, stomach irritation, bowel movements, and headaches. Hangovers are caused by an excessive amount of alcohol in the body. 

What Is a Hangover? 

A hangover is a group of symptoms that develop after consuming alcohol. These symptoms come in groups but in some cases, people may only experience one. That said, hangovers always follow alcohol consumption. Hangovers can be caused by as little as one drink of alcohol or as many as someone can consume in one night. Hangovers can last for up to 24 hours but typically improve after a few hours of rest, hydration, and urination.

What Causes a Hangover? 

Alcohol consumption causes a hangover. Consuming alcohol causes a hangover because alcohol strains the body. Alcohol causes an inflammatory response from the immune system, it irritates the lining of the stomach, causes more urine to be produced, and even changes levels of blood sugar. Moreover, alcohol also causes blood vessels to expand, strains the liver, and makes people tired. One or all of these factors contribute to a hangover.

How Much Alcohol Will Cause a Hangover? 

The amount of alcohol that will cause a hangover varies from person to person. Some people will experience a hangover after one alcoholic beverage, while other people won't develop a hangover at all. It depends on how the body reacts to alcohol, how much alcohol was consumed, and how much water intake there was during alcohol consumption. That said, the more alcohol that's consumed the higher the risk of developing a hangover.

What Drinks Can Give You a Hangover the Most?

Drinks that can give you a hangover the most are mixed drinks. Some examples include alcoholic beverages that contain sugar, caffeine, fruits, and other substances. Combining alcohol with things that cause dehydration will also increase the risk of a hangover. This is why many people who drink mixed beverages experience hangovers more than those who don't. Still, any drink will cause a hangover if consumed in large enough quantities.

What are the Symptoms of Hangovers? 

There are many symptoms of hangovers. These symptoms include:

  • Mild dehydration 

  • Gastrointestinal irritation 

  • Inflammation 

  • Disrupted sleep 

  • Acetaldehyde exposure 

  • Mini-Withdrawal

We'll take you through each symptom and its causes and treatments.

1. Mild Dehydration

Alcohol causes dehydration when consumed in large quantities. In fact, even a few alcoholic beverages can cause dehydration. When dehydration sets in it causes changes to the body that cause fatigue, headaches, and dry mouth. While mild dehydration can be treated with hydration (by drinking water and sports drinks), severe dehydration has deadly side effects that lead to hospitalization. When dealing with a hangover and mild dehydration, drinking water, and sports drinks are essential. 

 2. Gastrointestinal Irritation 

Gastrointestinal irritation occurs because alcohol irritates the stomach, intestines, liver, and digestive system. These irritations lead to inflammation, bowel problems, bloating, and general discomfort. Alcohol consumption also leads to heartburn and acid reflux, which can further irritate the esophagus. Treating this symptom is challenging but over-the-counter medications like Tums and Pepto Bismol can help. Otherwise, going to the bathroom and getting rest are the best ways to manage this symptom.

3. Inflammation 

Inflammation occurs in many areas of the body after consuming alcohol. Alcohol is toxic, which causes the body's immune system to react by creating inflammation. Solving this symptom is difficult because there aren't many treatments that work. Therefore, getting rest and using anti-inflammatory medications is the best choice. That said, inflammation is not fatal (in most cases) and resolves in about 24 hours.

4. Disrupted Sleep 

Alcohol makes changes to the sleep cycle, which causes people with a hangover to wake up early. Hangovers can also cause insomnia, which leads to a lack of sleep. Disrupted sleep enhances the other symptoms of a hangover because it causes fatigue, contributes to headaches, and leads to discomfort. The best way to manage disrupted sleep is to sleep more. If this is not possible, sleeping aids can be used if it's been several hours after consuming an alcoholic beverage.

5. Acetaldehyde Exposure 

Acetaldehyde Exposure occurs when the liver turns acetaldehyde in alcohol into acid. The process is dangerous and leads to acetaldehyde exposure in the blood. Exposure to this acid leads to damaged cell membranes, which causes scar tissue to form. While people won't feel the effect of acetaldehyde exposure after a night of drinking, frequent exposure can cause cancer and other illnesses. The best way to treat this symptom is to manage alcohol intake and reduce alcohol consumption. Therefore, prevention is the best treatment option.

6. Mini-Withdrawal 

Alcohol causes changes in the brain that lead to dopamine and serotonin responses. When these chemicals are released in the brain from alcohol consumption it creates imbalances. These imbalances lead to mini-withdrawal symptoms because the body doesn't have enough chemicals to maintain balance. The only way to treat this issue is to stop consuming alcohol and to rest. It can take up to 24 hours for balance to be restored within the body.

When Does a Hangover Peak? 

A hangover peaks when blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in the body returns to 0, which is typically 12 hours after drinking. Hangovers can peak at different times depending on when someone's last alcoholic beverage was consumed. That said, this is why hangovers typically peak in the morning after a night of drinking. Many people who consume a lot of alcohol at night will feel the worst in the afternoon the day after drinking.

How Long Does a Hangover Last?

A hangover can last for up to 72 hours. That said, hangovers typically last for up to 12 or 24 hours on average. Factors that contribute to the length of a hangover include genetic background, how much alcohol was consumed, ethnicity, age, medications, and the health of the liver. Hangovers typically peak around 12 hours after consuming alcohol, so symptoms become milder as time goes on.

What Does a Hangover Feel Like?

Hangovers feel different depending on the person's reaction to alcohol. According to most people, hangovers feel awful. Some common feelings described are fatigue, tiredness, dehydration, dry mouth, headaches, stomach discomfort, and feeling cold. Moreover, hangovers cause people to feel bad when they first wake up but symptoms improve throughout the day. Some individuals also feel depressed and unhappy. Another feeling is a sensitivity to loud sounds that make a headache feel worse.

Are Hangovers Dangerous?

Hangovers are not typically dangerous. That said, consuming large quantities of alcohol is dangerous because it can lead to dehydration, alcohol poisoning, and other health implications. A hangover is a symptom of too much alcohol consumption, which makes it dangerous if it's caused by binge drinking or alcoholism.

What are the Remedies for a Hangover? 

Hangovers have many remedies. Some remedies work for some people, while other remedies won't work at all. Trying out multiple remedies is the best way to treat a hangover but in most cases, hangovers need time to recover from.

Below are the common remedies for a hangover:

  • Getting plenty of sleep 

  • Drinking water and staying hydrated

  • Eat a good breakfast and maintain proper nutrition 

  • Ginseng 

  • Pair juice 

  • Electrolytes 

  • Carbs 

  • Pain relievers (for headaches)

  • Tums 

  • Salty foods 

These are only a few remedies. People around the world have unique remedies that they swear by, so the possibilities are endless.

Does a Shower Help a Hangover? 

Yes, a shower helps a hangover. A hot shower helps with a hangover because it helps the body remove toxins that make you feel worse. Therefore, a hot shower after a hangover can help you sweat out residual toxins that are left in the body after alcohol consumption. While sweating won't bring your BAC level down, it helps by removing the other toxins that are a byproduct of alcohol consumption.

Does Throwing Up Help a Hangover?

Throwing up helps a hangover by removing excess alcohol that's in the stomach. That said, throwing up is not always the best method of treating a hangover. Throwing up is more effective the sooner it happens after drinking. When people throw up with a hangover it doesn't always help.

Author
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Thomas Roth
Lead Editor

Thomas has been working in the substance abuse industry for over 3 years and he's made it his mission to help those in need. Tom started out by writing content to help people find addiction treatment centers near their location. Once he understood the value in the words he wrote Tom shifted to outreach, editing, and content creation. If nothing else, Tom wants to see those who struggle with Alcohol abuse disorder recover.