A hangover refers to a group of symptoms that occur after having drunk too much alcohol and the effects of the alcohol have faded. Generally, the more alcohol a person drinks, the more likely they are to experience a hangover the following day. However, some people are able to drink heavily without suffering any hangover symptoms, while others develop symptoms after having consumed only a small amount of alcoholic drink.
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The symptoms of a hangover usually begin once the blood alcohol level falls low enough for the intoxicating effects to no longer be felt. Depending on how much alcohol a person has drunk, some of the symptoms they may experience include the following:
- Weakness and tiredness
- Muscle aches
- Stomach pain
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Disrupted sleep
- Sensitivity to light and noise
- Light-headedness, dizziness
- Poor concentration
- Feelings of depression, anxiety or irritability
- Rapid heartbeat
Hangovers usually pass after 24 hours, although they can last longer. If planning to drink alcohol, doing so responsibly can decrease the risk of a hangover.
Preventing a hangover
Various over-the-counter drugs are available that claim to prevent hangovers, but the only certain way to avoid a hangover is to not drink alcohol. If a person does choose to drink, they should remember that minimizing alcohol intake will reduce the likelihood of a hangover.
Other measures people can take to protect against a hangover include the following:
- Eating before drinking alcohol – The stomach absorbs more alcohol when it is empty and eating prior to drinking will slow down this absorption.
- Pacing drinking rate – People should limit themselves to one drink per hour, as this is generally the rate at which the body processes alcohol. They should also keep track of what and how much they have drunk and try to avoid buying rounds as this can make it more difficult to control the amount of alcohol consumed.
- Choosing drinks carefully – Darker beverages such as whisky and red wine contain more toxic chemicals called congeners, compared with lighter drinks such as clear spirits or white wine. Congeners aggravate blood vessels and brain tissue, which enhances hangover symptoms.
- Sipping water between alcoholic drinks – Drinking a glass of water between alcoholic drinks helps to reduce the amount of alcohol consumed, as well as maintaining a healthy level of hydration. Non-fizzy, soft drinks are also a good option. Drinking fizzy drinks in-between should be avoided since carbonated drinks increase the rate at which alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream.
- Drinking water before sleeping – Plenty of water should be drunk before going to sleep and a glass kept by the bedside to sip from during the night.
Reviewed by Susha Cheriyedath, MSc