What Causes a Hangover?

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As I write to you nursing a red wine, cinnamon whisky and vodka infused hangover (thanks, Fireball and RJD2), I remember there are a few scientific reasons that caused me to feel the way I’m feeling.  What causes a hangover?

A hangover is more than one thing

A hangover is a conglomeration of physical and mental reactions your body will go through in response to excessive alcohol consumption.  Keep in mind “excessive alcohol consumption” can mean different amounts per individual.

The darker the drink, the worse the hangover

Commonly referred to as congeners throughout the beverage industry, every type of alcoholic drink you consume contains numerous bi-products resulting from fermentation.  These bi-products are present in most alcoholic drinks, though at varying degrees and include tannins, acetone, fusel oil and acetaldehyde.  Some of these are sought after substances, like tannins, which contribute to red wine astringency and color.  Other’s are less desirable.  Darker beverages, especially whisky, contain large quantities of congeners.  So it’s not actually mixing drinks that can worsen a hangover, but rather the quantity of drinks that contain an abundance of congeners.

What Causes a HangoverThe main symptom of a hangover is dehydration

Many folks are guilty of not drinking enough water during a night out on the town (I definitely am).  It’s something we all should pay more attention to, considering that for every alcoholic drink you consume, your body expels 3 to 4 times as much liquid.  Basically, with every piss you take, you’re expelling important electrolytes and draining water volume within your cells at an incredibly rapid rate.  All of which contributes to a disruption in metabolic function, namely a decrease in blood plasma, and in severe cases loss of intravascular volume.  Your body can also experience changes in various hormone levels which can cause a variety of hangover symptoms.

Hangovers Headaches are related to expanded blood vessels

Alcohol is inflammatory to your blood vessels.  As they expand, individuals tend to experience the onset of headaches.

Nausea can be experienced thanks to the effect alcohol has on your stomach

It sounds obvious, but as you drink, alcohol increases the rate at which acid is produced within your stomach.  This, in turn irritates the stomach lining which causes pain, and the onset of possible nausea.  Furthermore, alcohol slows the rate at which your stomach empties itself.  The combination can very easily lead to nausea after a long day of drinking.

What Causes a Hangover?

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How can I cure a hangover?

You might be surprised to hear that there are no verified scientific cures for a hangover currently.  The best way to experience fewer and less taxing hangovers the next day is to incorporate more water into your routine when you’re out drinking.  If you’re drinking hard liquor, try ordering more drinks on the rocks.  As the ice melts, you’ll aid in rehydrating yourself and simultaneously attain a better buzz.  Sleep is also key, so don’t go to bed too late!  Should you end up feeling miserable the next day, there are various remedies that will make you feel a little bit better.  I use Blowfish for hangovers when I wake up, which is an effervescent (carbonated) tablet you can mix with water.  It contains small amounts of caffeine, aspirin and an acid neutralizing agent to help your stomach.  The effervescence helps your stomach absorb more water.

Sources: US National Library of MedicineNational Institutes of HealthBBC


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