Hangovers can be a real pain. Quite literally as well, as your body experiences dehydration, hormonal alterations, and even toxic impact from the tipple. You feel real physical pain from headaches, muscle pain, fatigue, and thirst. As it turns out, hangovers can also be costly on the economy! Research puts the losses at USD 2000 per working adult, linked to poor job performance and absenteeism thanks to a bad hangover.1
So how do you know whether the problems you’re experiencing a day or two after your drinking binge are the result of a hangover or something else? You may be surprised at the myriad forms a hangover can take – including causing depression and anxiety for some. Read on to find out if you’re going through the classic hangover symptoms and to know what signs to watch for.
What Is A Hangover?
Hangovers from alcohol consumption are essentially the slew of reactions your body has in the aftermath of drinking. Your personal tolerance levels and what causes your body to react adversely depend on a number of factors, including:
- Your gender – women generally have lower tolerance;
- Your ethnicity – for instance, Japanese have lower ability to break down alcohol by-products in the liver;
- Family history;
- Whether you’re also consuming other drugs; and
- Even what kind of alcohol you’re drinking – a mug of beer packs less punch than a glass of red wine for instance.
- Other triggers such as migraines. If you already experience migraines, you may be more predisposed to having hangovers.
In general, women experience hangovers after three to five drinks and men after five to eight drinks. Of course, this will vary based on some of the factors mentioned earlier.2
Alcohol affects your body’s gastrointestinal tract, urine production, blood sugar levels, and even your biological rhythms and sleep patterns. The result? A host of different symptoms typical of a hangover.3
Symptoms Of Hangover
It is clear that alcohol has a certain effect on your body as well as on your constitution and even cognitive ability. Here are some typical signs that you may have a hangover.
Feeling unduly exhausted, fatigued, and even weak after drinking is a sign of a hangover. You may dismiss it as an after-effect of other things like all that dancing or your advancing age, but the reality is alcohol does affect your body constitution and physical functioning.
The dehydration that often follows drinking alcohol can leave you not only thirsty but also extra tired.4 This is the leading hangover symptom reported, with one piece of research saying an estimated 95.5 percent cite the problem.5
The second most common symptom – and one of the most severe – is thirst, striking about 89.1 percent of those having a hangover. If you find your mouth feels dry or you wake up feeling incredibly thirsty, it could be one of the most obvious signs of a hangover.6 Drink water and electrolyte solutions to rehydrate safely the next day. Try and avoid it in the first place by ensuring you drink enough water in tandem with your alcohol intake.
The dreaded hangover headache is something that’s been given ample screen time. But beyond the humor is a pounding reality anyone who has had a hangover will testify to. When you drink alcohol, the ethanol in it causes you to get dehydrated. This is because it is a vasodilator, causing your blood vessels to relax and widen – an effect that triggers headaches in some people. Because it is also a natural diuretic your body gets rid of water along with salt and minerals via your kidneys. This in turn causes chemical imbalances that can result in headaches. For those already prone to cluster headaches or migraines, just a little bit of alcohol can set off a headache.7
4. Gastrointestinal Problems
Feeling queasy is another common hangover symptom. Stomach pain, vomiting, and nausea are all your body’s way of reacting to heavy alcohol consumption. This could be due to the toxic and inflammatory effects of alcohol in the body or due to low blood sugar levels, causing hypoglycemia and nausea. When you drink alcohol it causes pancreatic, gastric, and intestinal secretions to go up. These additional acids in the stomach can irritate the system and bring on abdominal pain or nausea and vomiting.8
5. Sleep Issues
If alcohol knocks you out but wakes you up midway through the night, you are not alone. Alcohol causes your biological rhythms or Circadian rhythms that govern sleep, among other things, to go awry. The result? Less restorative sleep, higher slow wave sleep, and lower amount of sleep in general. Classic hangover symptoms!9
6. Sensory Problems
A hangover can also make you more sensitive to light and sound. Some people even experience vertigo. These sensory problems can also cause you to feel dizzy or make it seem like the room is spinning.10
7. Cognitive Problems
Drinking too much isn’t a smart choice if you’re trying to avoid a hangover. But did you know it could even impact your mental abilities in the short run? Hangovers can cause issues with concentration – you may find you have a decreased attention span and face problems with cognition.11
8. Mood Problems
A hangover also has the ability to leave you anxious, irritable, or even depressed.12 If you are prone to having panic attacks, your chances of experiencing anxiety as a symptom during a hangover are higher. This is linked to raised sympathetic nervous system activity.13 Once the sedative effect of alcohol wears off, you start to go through alcohol withdrawal symptoms, not unlike those with an alcohol dependency. This may manifest as depression or anxiety as well.14
9. Sweating And Tremors
If you’re really unlucky, your hangover symptoms may include an increased pulse rate or tachycardia, palpitations, raised systolic blood pressure, tremors, and sweating. This may leave you feeling feverish. This is because your sympathetic nervous system, responsible for your muscle tension and blood flow, heart and respiratory rate stimulation, perspiration and arterial blood pressure, goes into overdrive and experiences increased activity.15
What To Do If You Have A Hangover
A hangover can be managed with some care, though it is better avoided by staying hydrated, not drinking too much, and not drinking on an empty stomach! If you feel your hangover symptoms are very severe and aren’t improving or if you have underlying health problems like diabetes or cardiac problems, you should get medical attention. But for everyone else, toughing it out or just resting may be the best way to get over a hangover. It should pass in about 24 hours. In the meantime, electrolyte solutions, sports drinks, or a light soup can help replace the potassium and salts lost due to alcohol consumption.16
|↑1||Wiese, Jeffrey G., Michael G. Shlipak, and Warren S. Browner. “The alcohol hangover.” Annals of internal medicine 132, no. 11 (2000): 897-902.|
|↑2||Hangover Headache. Johns Hopkins Medicine.|
|↑3, ↑8, ↑9, ↑10, ↑12||Swift, Robert, and Dena Davidson. “Alcohol hangover.” Alcohol Health Res World 22 (1998): 54-60.|
|↑4, ↑11||Schrojenstein Lantman, Marith, Marlou Mackus, Aurora JAE Loo, and Joris C. Verster. “The impact of alcohol hangover symptoms on cognitive and physical functioning, and mood.” Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental.|
|↑5, ↑6||Penning, Renske, Adele McKinney, and Joris C. Verster. “Alcohol hangover symptoms and their contribution to the overall hangover severity.” Alcohol and alcoholism 47, no. 3 (2012): 248-252.|
|↑7||Alcohol and Headaches. National Headache Foundation.|
|↑13, ↑15||Alcohol Hangover. Éduc’alcool.|
|↑14||Alcohol and Anxiety. DrinkAware Trust.|
|↑16||Hangover treatment. U.S. National Library of Medicine.|