A hangover is a collection of signs and symptoms linked to a recent bout of heavy drinking. A person with a hangover typically experiences a headache, feels sick, dizzy, sleepy, confused, and thirsty.
Hangovers can occur at any time of day, but are usually more common in the morning directly after a night of heavy drinking.
As well as physical symptoms, the person may experience elevated levels of anxiety, regret, shame, embarrassment, and depression. The severity of a hangover is closely linked to how much alcohol was consumed, and whether the sufferer had enough sleep; the less sleep, the worse the hangover.
It is impossible really to say how much alcohol can be safely consumed to avoid a hangover - it depends on the individual and other factors, such as how tired they were before they began drinking, whether they were already dehydrated before the drinking began, whether they drank plenty of water during their drinking session, and how much sleep they got afterward.
Unfortunately not. Symptoms can be alleviated by drinking water, replacing electrolytes in the body through food, and resting. In the vast majority of cases, hangovers go away after about 24 hours. Responsible drinking can help avoid hangovers.
There is no "treatment" for a hangover - the best way to avoid one is either not to drink, or to drink sensibly and within the recommended limits. Our article what is the best hangover cure? features some of the common myths and suggests some methods of prevention.
A hangover has to run its course, and that can be best done with rest, drinking plenty of water, perhaps some painkillers, and simply waiting.
Do not go for a "hair of the dog" - an alcoholic drink to get rid of a hangover. This is a myth, and will likely just prolong hangover symptoms.
The following tips may help:
Drink: Sip water throughout the day. Water is the best fluid.
Eating: Go for bland foods, such as crackers or bread, which may raise blood sugar and are easy on the stomach. Fructose-containing foods might help metabolize (break down and get rid of) the alcohol more rapidly.
Pain: Some people may take a painkiller. Be aware that certain painkillers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, paracetamol) attack the liver in high concentrations, while aspirin might not be ideal for a very delicate stomach. If you are not sure what to choose, ask a qualified pharmacist.
Rest: Sleep may help speed up recovery. Have some water next to the bed.
In short, you should not drink more than you know your body can handle.
The signs and symptoms of a hangover generally start to occur when the blood alcohol drops considerably.
Typically, this happens in the morning after a night of high alcohol consumption, and may include:
- accelerated heartbeat
- bloodshot eyes
- body and muscle aches
- halitosis (bad breath)
- lethargy, tiredness, fatigue, listlessness
- photophobia (sensitivity to light)
- problems focusing or concentrating
- sensitivity to loud sounds
- depression (dysphoria)
- trembling or shakiness, erratic motor functions
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. Seek medical help as soon as possible if any of the following occur:
- breathing loses its regular rhythm
- breathing slows down to less than eight inhalations per minute
- confusion or stupor - the drinker is in a daze
- the body temperature drops
- passing out
- the skin becomes pale, or takes on a blue tinge
- vomiting continues and does not stop
The symptoms vary in severity, and some people may experience some more strongly than others.
A hangover is a consequence of having consumed too much alcohol, which causes several adverse effects:
Urination: Alcohol makes a person urinate more, which raises the chances of dehydration. Dehydration can give the individual that sensation of thirst and lightheadedness.
Immune system response: Alcohol may trigger an inflammatory response from the immune system. This can affect appetite, concentration, and memory.
Stomach irritation: Alcohol consumption raises the production of stomach acids; it also slows down the rate at which the stomach empties itself - this combination can lead to nausea, vomiting, or stomachache.
Drop in blood sugar: Some people's blood sugar levels can fall steeply when they consume alcohol, resulting in shakiness, moodiness, tiredness, general weakness, and even seizures in some cases.
Dilation of blood vessels: Alcohol consumption can cause the blood vessels to dilate, which can cause headaches.
Sleep quality: Although sleeping when drunk is common, the quality of that sleep will often be poor. The individual may wake up tired and still sleepy.
Congeners: These are substances that are produced during fermentation and are responsible for most of the taste and aroma in distilled drinks (whisky or gin, for example). They are known to contribute to symptoms of a hangover. Examples of congeners include esters and aldehydes.
Toxic byproducts: Alcohol metabolism produces toxic substances that can cause many of the symptoms of hangovers.
The body processes alcohol at a certain rate. Consuming more alcohol before the body has had time to recover means the likelihood of a hangover increases.
The easiest way to prevent a hangover is to moderate or avoid alcohol intake.
Drinking plenty of water alongside alcoholic beverages or consuming a late-night meal after a session of heavy drinking may also temper the hangover that may occur the following morning.