Hangover caused by AlcoholAlcohol can have various biological and behavioral effects on the body. People who consume alcohol to intoxication often experience what is known as a hangover. Hangovers result in unpleasant physical and mental symptoms including fatigue, headache, dizziness, and vertigo. While there are some suggested treatments to curb the effects of hangover, the best way to prevent a hangover from occurring is not to consume alcohol. Since the effects of most hangovers subside after 8 to 24 hours, time is the most effective remedy for alcohol hangover symptoms.
Hangovers are a frequent, though unpleasant, experience among people who drink to intoxication. Despite the prevalence of hangovers, however, this condition is not well understood scientifically. Multiple possible contributors to the hangover state have been investigated, and researchers have produced evidence that alcohol can directly promote hangover symptoms through its effects on urine production, the gastrointestinal tract, blood sugar concentrations, sleep patterns, and biological rhythms. In addition, researchers postulate that effects related to alcohol's absence after a drinking bout (i.e., withdrawal), alcohol metabolism, and other factors (e.g., biologically active, nonalcohol compounds in beverages; the use of other drugs; certain personality traits; and a family history of alcoholism) also may contribute to the hangover condition. Few of the treatments commonly described for hangover have undergone scientific evaluation.
What is a Hangover?
A hangover is characterized by the constellation of unpleasant physical and mental symptoms that occur after a bout of heavy alcohol drinking. Physical symptoms of a hangover include fatigue, headache, increased sensitivity to light and sound, redness of the eyes, muscle aches, and thirst. Signs of increased sympathetic nervous system activity can accompany a hangover, including increased systolic blood pressure, rapid heartbeat (i.e., tachycardia), tremor, and sweating. Mental symptoms include dizziness; a sense of the room spinning (i.e., vertigo); and possible cognitive and mood disturbances, especially depression, anxiety, and irritability.
Symptoms of Hangover
Constitutional: fatigue, weakness, and thirst
Pain: headache and muscle aches
Gastrointestinal: nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain
Sleep and biological rhythms: decreased sleep, decreased REM(rapid eye movements), and increased slow-wave sleep
Sensory: vertigo and sensitivity to light and sound
Cognitive: decreased attention and concentration
Mood: depression, anxiety, and irritability
Sympathetic hyperactivity: tremor, sweating, and increased pulse and systolic blood pressure
The particular set of symptoms experienced and their intensity may vary from person to person and from occasion to occasion. In addition, hangover characteristics may depend on the type of alcoholic beverage consumed and the amount a person drinks. Typically, a hangover begins within several hours after the cessation of drinking, when a person's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is falling. Symptoms usually peak about the time BAC is zero and may continue for up to 24 hours thereafter. Overlap exists between hangover and the symptoms of mild alcohol withdrawal (AW), leading to the assertion that hangover is a manifestation of mild withdrawal. Hangovers, however, may occur after a single bout of drinking, whereas withdrawal occurs usually after multiple, repeated bouts. Other differences between hangover and AW include a shorter period of impairment (i.e., hours for hangover versus several days for withdrawal) and a lack of hallucinations and seizures in hangover. People experiencing a hangover feel ill and impaired. Although a hangover may impair task performance and thereby increase the risk of injury, equivocal data exist on whether hangover actually impairs complex mental tasks.
Cure for Hangover
Black Coffee - Coffee may relieve the feeling of fatigue associated with hangover and help alleviate the headache symptoms by restricting blood vessels, but that relief is only temporary and the symptoms will return. More importantly, coffee acts as a diuretic further dehydrating the body and increasing the hangover symptoms. Again, coffee may lessen some symptoms initially, but in the long run may cause more problems.
Taking Tylenol Before Going to Bed - This treatment seems to make sense, but it fails on two levels. First, the effects of acetaminophen (Tylenol) will usually wear off before the onset of hangover symptoms. It would be better to take it after the symptoms begin. Additionally, when the liver is processing alcohol it cannot process acetaminophen as it usually does, which can cause liver inflammation and possible permanent liver damage.
Eating Fried or Greasy Foods - If you eat foods with a lot of fat before drinking, the oils can coat your stomach lining and slow down the absorption of alcohol. This can help prevent the severity of a hangover. However, eating greasy food the morning after a drinking bout will probably only add to the gastrointestinal malaise by irritating the stomach and intestines.
Eating Burnt Toast - Carbon can act like a filter in the body and activated charcoal is used to treat some types of poisonings, but the carbon found on burnt toast is not activated charcoal and it does not work the same in the body. Over-the-counter products sold as hangover cures that contain carbon are intended to be taking before drinking, not after the hangover begins.
What Does Relieve Hangovers
The only real cure for a hangover is time. If no more alcohol is consumed, hangover symptoms should subside between eight and 24 hours. There are some things that can be done to relieve some of the most severe symptoms.
Water or Sports Drinks - The dehydration effects of alcohol causes some of the most discomfort associated with hangovers -- headache, dizziness, and lightheadedness. The quickest way to relieve those symptoms is to drink lots of water. Sports drinks, such as Gatorade, will not only relieve dehydration, but also replace needed electrolytes.
Painkillers - Aspirin and ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) may reduce hangover headache and muscle pain, but should not be used if you are experiencing abdominal pain or nausea. The medications themselves are gastric irritants and can compound gastrointestinal hangover symptoms. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) should not be taken during a hangover because alcohol metabolism enhances acetaminophen's toxicity. Also, ibuprofen taken when dehydrated can sometimes cause kidney dysfunction especially in persons with poor kidney function.
Eggs - Because eggs contain cysteine, which breaks down acetaldehyde in the body, eating eggs the morning after a drinking binge could help remove the hangover-causing alcohol metobolite toxin from the body.
Bananas - Alcohol, like any diuretic, depletes the body of potassium. Eating bananas, or other fruit high in potassium, while having hangover symptoms can replenish the potassium and lost electrolytes. Sports drinks typically are good sources of potassium.
Bouillon Soup - If you can't handle the idea of eating anything solid while experiencing severe hangover symptoms, try some bouillon soup. It also can help replace salt and potassium lost during a drinking binge.
Fruit or Fruit Juice - Consuming fruit or fruit juice while hungover can increase energy, replaces vitamins and nutrients and has been shown to speed up the body's process of getting rid of toxins. Fruits and fruit juices therefore can help decrease the intensity of hangover symptoms.