Hangover is a term used for collective mental and physical effects following heavy consumption of alcohol. The intensity of a hangover depends on the amount of alcohol consumed and other factors. Hangovers do not occur right after alcohol consumption. They usually occur several hours later or in the morning if you had drinks at night before sleeping. You may feel dizzy, confused, and disoriented for some time. People tend to look for home remedies to cure a hangover. Even if left as it is, a hangover usually passes away within a few hours.
The main cause of hangovers is alcohol consumption. But there are many factors involved that can determine the intensity and duration of a hangover. To understand in a simple way, a hangover results from a mild form of alcohol withdrawal. Once you stop drinking, the remaining alcohol in your system takes time before it is metabolized completely and eliminated from your body. If the alcohol stays in your system for a longer duration, there is a chance of an intense hangover.
Alcohol is a diuretic that causes increased production of urine. When you drink too much, there is a chance of losing the necessary amount of water and electrolytes in the form of urine. This makes you dehydrated and worsens the effects of alcohol on your system. It also irritates the lining of your gastrointestinal tract and slows down digestion. Too much alcohol triggers inflammation in your body, presenting an overall unwell feeling. Your blood sugar levels drop, and your sleep cycle is disturbed as well.
Certain risk factors can increase the chance of a severe hangover in a person. Some people are genetically susceptible to the adverse effects of alcohol. Their body cannot tolerate the high amount of alcohol, so they may have an intense hangover if they consume too much. Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach or combining it with other drugs such as nicotine can also increase the risk. Chronic alcoholics or those with a family history of alcoholism are at higher risk. Drinking beverages that contain a high amount of congeners (substances that give flavor), such as brandy or bourbon, can raise the tendency of a hangover afterward.
The signs and symptoms of hangovers depend on alcohol consumption, alcohol tolerance, age, and other factors. Some people develop very mild signs such as headaches or dizziness for some time, while others may experience more severe symptoms. These include fatigue, generalized weakness, dull ache in different body parts, nausea/vomiting, reduced quality of sleep, dizziness, confusion, disorientation, shakiness, increased sensitivity to light and sound, mood swings, depression, anxiety, rapid heartbeat, and change in breathing patterns. One of the most common effects of a hangover is the inability to focus or concentrate at work. This decreases the performance and efficiency of a person on a personal and professional scale.
Hangovers do not require a professional diagnosis. Most people who are used to drinking alcohol are aware of the effects of a hangover and can diagnose it themselves based on their symptoms. The hangover symptoms are the worst when the blood alcohol concentration drops to zero. These symptoms can last from a few hours to a day, depending on how much alcohol you have consumed.
Hangover gets better on its own with time as the alcohol content in your body gets processed. Many remedies claim to cure hangovers, but not all are effective. If you have a hangover, the initial steps to reduce the symptoms should be to drink more water and eat bland foods. Drinking water will help with dehydration, and light foods such as toast or crackers can help to improve your sugar level and reduce nausea. Avoid working in a state of hangover and get rest to overcome fatigue. Avoid drinking more alcohol because it will only worsen your condition. Some homemade soups are suggested to cure hangovers as they can replenish the lost water and electrolytes. You’ll have to wait for the hangover to pass before you start functioning normally again.
Pain killers such as aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, etc., can be taken to relieve headaches. Keep in mind that these medications can also irritate your gut lining, so it is better to take these with an antacid. Acetaminophen and other medicines that get metabolized by the liver should be avoided as they may cause liver damage if you have chronic alcoholism.
Hangovers can be a cause of social embarrassment and professional inefficiency. They usually may take a day to fade away completely but can take longer in some people. Although it does not cause any life-threatening condition, it can still be a reason for absence from work or poor performance.
There are many ways by which you can reduce the risk or severity of a hangover. Avoiding alcohol is the best prevention. If you choose to consume alcohol, drink less and avoid drinking on an empty stomach. It is better to consume alcohol along with food or some juice as it can delay the absorption of alcohol. Drink more water in between to avoid dehydration. Avoid drinks that contain a high amount of congeners. Light-colored beverages such as white wine result in a less intense hangover compared to dark-colored drinks.
Our clinical experts continually monitor the health and medical content posted on CURA4U, and we update our blogs and articles when new information becomes available. Last reviewed by Dr.Saad Zia on May 04, 2023.