A hangover describes the group of adverse effects that occur after a person has drunk too much alcohol and the intoxicating effects of that alcohol have started to wear off.
Once the blood alcohol level significantly drops, the unpleasant symptoms a person might experience include nausea, headache, muscle ache, thirst, diarrhea, lethargy, stomach upset, and over sensitivity to light and sound. Psychological symptoms such as anxiety, depression, poor concentration, and feelings of irritability may also ensue.
Ethanol, the alcohol present in alcoholic drinks, works as a diuretic, causing the body to shed water in the form of urine. The more a person urinates, the more likely they are to become dehydrated and dehydration is one of the main contributors to hangover symptoms.
Preventing a Hangover
The only certain way to avoid a hangover is not to drink, but if a person does decide to drink, they should try to adhere to the following:
- Limiting the amount of alcohol consumed
- Keeping track of how much alcohol they are consuming and drinking slowly
- Eating before drinking, which slows the rate of alcohol absorption in the body
- Drinking water or non-fizzy, soft drinks in between alcoholic drinks
- Drinking a glass of water before going to sleep
In order to minimize the risk of adverse health effects as a result of drinking alcohol, the following is advised:
- Not drinking more than 14 units per week on a regular basis
- Spreading alcohol consumption over the course of three days or more if drinking 14 units per week
- Having several drink-free evenings every week when trying to reduce alcohol intake
There is no effective way of curing a hangover, but there are measures people can take to ease their symptoms. Examples include:
- Rehydrating the body to help ease painful symptoms such as headache, abdominal pain, and muscle ache. The best time to drink water is before going to sleep.
- Taking over-the-counter analgesics such as ibuprofen or aspirin to help reduce painful symptoms. Medications containing paracetamol are advisable over aspirin-based remedies, since aspirin can cause additional stomach irritation and contribute to nausea and vomiting.
- Replenishing depleted levels of nutrition with vitamin- and mineral-rich foods such as bouillon soup.
- Replenishing depleted bodily fluids by drinking bland drinks such as water or isotonic drinks. Drinking fresh juice can also provide a vitamin boost. Rehydration treatment sachets that restore depleted minerals and salt are also available.
- Eating sugar-rich foods can reduce shakiness, but the stomach needs to be settled first by taking an antacid.
- Going back to bed for long enough may mean the hangover will have passed on awakening.
“Hair of the Dog”
The expression “hair of the dog” refers to drinking more alcohol to alleviate hangover symptoms. This is not recommended as it can lead to morning drinking. Furthermore, by doing this, a person may simply be delaying the hangover symptoms until the blood alcohol level has dropped again.
When to Drink Next
Whether a person experiences a hangover or not after drinking, experts recommend waiting for at least two days before drinking alcohol again so that bodily tissues have a chance to recover.
Reviewed by Susha Cheriyedath, MSc