What Happens To The Body When You Have A Hangover?
Author: Amber Biello-Taylor, CAP, LCSW
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What Is A Hangover?
A hangover is the accumulation of undesirable symptoms that may occur after a person consumes alcohol. The symptoms of a hangover can be mental and physical and may vary in intensity. These symptoms may include fatigue, headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, dehydration, sensitivity to light and sound, and irritability. Symptoms of a hangover usually occur several hours after drinking and may last for several hours or even days.
Different circumstances may determine the intensity of a hangover. These factors may include age, gender, overall health condition, or whether or not someone consumed food or water during or before drinking alcohol.
Aside from letting it pass with time, there is no known cure for a hangover.
Effects Of A Hangover
Alcohol is a depressant that affects the brain’s chemicals (dopamine and serotonin) that make us happy. One may initially feel good when drinking alcohol and then feel the complete opposite the day after. A hangover occurs after one has consumed excessive amounts of alcohol. During a hangover, an individual may experience a wide range of physiological and psychological symptoms. Some of these include the following:
Physiological Effects Of Hangovers
- Dehydration: including excessive thirst, dry mouth, and headache
- Electrolyte imbalances: including muscle weakness, lethargy, and light-headedness
- Inflammation: including headache, fatigue, and body aches
- Gastric irritation: including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Low blood sugar: including weakness, fatigue, and tremors
- Disrupted sleep: including poor quality sleep, fatigue, and drowsiness
Psychological Effects Of Hangovers
Excessive heavy consumption of alcohol that may result in severe symptoms that can be dangerous and even life-threatening. The following symptoms may be a result of alcohol poisoning:
- Slow or irregular breathing
- Blue or pale skin
- Low body temperature
- Unconsciousness or passing out
It is crucial to remember that the intensity and duration of these physiological and psychological symptoms may differ depending on different factors, such as how much alcohol is consumed, the type of alcohol consumed, and individual susceptibility. If any of these symptoms persist or are severe, seeking help from a medical health professional is vital.
Long-Term Effects Of Recurring Hangovers
Recurring hangovers can have adverse effects on physical and mental health. Repeated hangovers can cause chronic dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, leading to kidney and liver damage. Frequent hangovers can make individuals more at risk for other health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
Additionally, repeated hangovers can affect one’s mental health, relationships, and career, creating a tolerance or dependence on alcohol. It is essential to seek help if you or someone you know is dependent on or addicted to alcohol to alleviate the potential of damaging long-term effects. Contact a treatment provider today for helping finding a treatment program.
Dangers Of Excessive Drinking
Excessive drinking includes binge drinking and heavy drinking and can lead to hangovers. Binge drinking is defined as drinking 5 or more drinks within 2 hours for men, and 4 or more drinks within 2 hours for women. While most people who binge drink are not dependent on alcohol, binge drinking can cause many health concerns.
Beyond hangovers, excessive drinking can cause short- and long-term health problems, including injuries, heart and liver disease, alcohol use disorder (AUD), and cancer. Additional serious risks of binge drinking include:
- Violence including intimate partner violence, homicide, sexual assault, and suicide
- Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders
- Memory and learning problems
- Alcohol poisoning
- Chronic diseases including high blood pressure and strokes
Knowing When To Get Help
In general, the best way to avoid or manage hangovers is to use alcohol responsibly or not use it all. However, if you or a loved one is experiencing difficulty in managing or stopping drinking, it may be time to consider treatment for alcohol addiction.
There are various options for alcohol addiction treatment, including inpatient or outpatient rehabs, support groups, and therapy. For more information on treatment options, contact a treatment provider today.
Author: Amber Biello-Taylor, CAP, LCSW | Last Edited: June 8, 2023