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How Hangovers Work
by Lacy Perry Browse the article How Hangovers W ork

Introduction to How Hangov ers Work It's no secret that intoxication has a number of immediate negative consequences. Among other things, it impairs judgment, it impairs the ability to do most things and it can bring on a depressed mood. But even after a drinker has sobered up, alcohol can still be causing the body trouble. More than 75 percent of alcohol consumers have experienced a hangover at least once; 15 percent have one at least every month; and 25 percent of college students feel symptoms weekly.

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In this article, we'll explain what causes hangover symptoms and examine the science of the popular prevention methods and morning-after remedies.

What is a Hangov er?

The formal name for a hangover is v eisalgia, from the Norwegian word for "uneasiness following debauchery" (kveis) and the Greek word for "pain" (algia) -- an appropriate title considering the uncomfortable symptoms experienced by the average drinker. The common hangover includes some or all of the following:

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Hangovers have plagued people throughout history. The Bible even makes mention of the pain that follows a night of heavy drinking: "Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink" (Isaiah 5:11). And Shakespeare knew the unwanted effects of alcohol, as shown in his play Macbeth (Act 2 scene 3): Macduff: What three things does drink especially promote? Porter: Marry sir, nose-painting, sleep, and urine.


More than 75 percent of alcohol consumers hav e experienced a hangov er at least once. See more drug pictures.

Headache Poor sense of overall well-being Sensitivity to light and sound Diarrhea Loss of appetite Trembling Nausea Fatigue Increased heart rate and blood pressure Dehydration(dry mouth, extreme thirst, dry eyes) Trouble concentrating Anxiety Difficulty sleeping Weakness

The most common symptoms are headache, fatigue and dehydration, and the least common is trembling. The severity and number of symptoms varies from person to person; however, it is generally true that the more alcohol a drinker consumes, the worse the hangover will be. It usually takes five to seven cocktails over the course of four to six hours to cause a hangover for a light-to-moderate drinker (a man who drinks up to three alcoholic beverages a day or a woman who drinks up to one). It may take more alcohol for heavier drinkers because of increased tolerance. Other than the number of drinks consumed, hangovers can be made worse by: Drinking on an empty stomach Lack of sleep Increased physical activity while drinking (dancing, for example) Dehydration before drinking Poor health The reason for some symptoms isn't fully understood, but research has led scientists to have a pretty good understanding of the primary causes of a hangover. In the next sections, we'll find out what's going on in the body to cause these problems.

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Unfortunately. which are necessary for proper cell function.fatigue. the carbonation in beer actually speeds up higher lev els of certain toxins. a drinker won't sleep as soundly as normal because the body is rebounding from alcohol's depressive effect on the system. headaches. such as diarrhea and lack of appetite.can be further attributed to something called glutamine rebound. The stomach's irritation may also be a factor in some of the other unpleasant symptoms of a hangover. . The frequent urination also expels salts and potassium that are necessary for proper nerve and muscle function. but the aftereffects help create a hangover.000 milliliters of water. liquor) have different congeners. that's four times as much liquid lost as gained. you suffer from memory lapses while drinking or you feel drinking is negatively impacting your life in any way. stomach irritation and a general sense of illness all over -. The increase in glutamine levels stimulates the brain while the drinker is trying to sleep. leaving the toxin in the body for long periods of time. In the next section. This is a large contributor to the fatigue felt with a hangover. causing the brain to decrease in size and pull on the membranes that connect the brain to the skull. making their hangovers worse because it takes longer for the body to break down the alcohol. eventually causing the nerves to send a message to the brain that the stomach's contents are hurting the body and must be expelled through vomiting. This is because some types of alcoholic drinks have a higher concentration of congeners. which contains high quantities of cysteine (a substance that is attracted to acetaldehyde). leaving the acetaldehyde only a short amount of time to do its damage if only a few drinks are consumed. In studies that blocked the enzyme that breaks down acetaldehyde (acetaldehyde dehydrogenase) with a drug called Antabuse. resulting in pain. Biology of a Hangov er: Congeners Different types of alcohol can result in different hangover symptoms. Different types of alcohol can cause different types of hangover.usually manifested in the form of an extremely dry mouth. acetaldehyde toxicity resulted in headaches and vomiting so bad that even alcoholics were wary of their next drink. please contact Alcoholics Anonymous. In one study. following beer with liquor gives the body even less time than usual to process the toxins. acetaldehyde is created when the alcohol in the liver is broken down by an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase. When someone is drinking. the kidneys send water directly to the bladder instead of reabsorbing it into the body. Together. This mechanism can actually lessen hangover symptoms in the long run because vomiting gets rid of the alcohol in the stomach and reduces the number of toxins the body has to deal with. designed to fight alcoholism. White wine and clear liquors such as rum. Some of the most common hangover symptoms -. Although body weight is a factor (see How Alcohol Works). vodka and gin have fewer congeners and therefore cause less frequent and less severe hangovers. In the following sections. fatigue and lack of coordination the next morning. the acetaldehyde dehydrogenase and the glutathione form the nontoxic acetate (a substance similar to vinegar). As a result. Because alcohol is absorbed directly through the stomach. compared to 3 percent of those who drank the same amount of vodka. How much do you know about the alcohol that gave you that hangover? Take the Alcohol Quiz and find out. brandy. anxiety. the absorption of alcohol. keeping them from reaching the deepest. the diuretic effect expels vital electrolytes such as potassium and magnesium. This process works well. This is why drinkers have to make frequent trips to the bathroom after urinating for the first time after drinking.Biology of a Hangov er: Vasopressin Inhibition When alcohol is consumed." If You Need Help Alcoholism is a serious medical condition. wine. we'll look at the differences. If you often drink more than you mean to. Alcohol also promotes secretion of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. restlessness and increased blood pressure. Biology of a Hangov er: Glutamine Rebound After a night of alcohol consumption. According to studies. Biology of a Hangov er: Acetaldehyde A product of alcohol metabolism that is more toxic than alcohol itself. This diuretic effect decreases as the alcohol in the bloodstream decreases. In addition. Headaches result from dehydration because the body's organs try to make up for their own water loss by stealing water from the brain. So now we know why alcohol causes hangovers. The morning after heavy drinking. Severe glutamine rebound during a hangover also may be responsible for tremors. Without this chemical. Lack of this key energy source is partly responsible for the weakness. the cells that line the organ become irritated. The greatest amounts of these toxins are found in red wine and dark liquors such as bourbon. Alcohol also breaks down the body's store of glycogen in the liver. the body tries to make up for lost time by producing more glutamine than it needs. byproducts of fermentation in some alcohol. when sodium and potassium levels get too low. The acetaldehyde is then attacked by another enzyme. turning the chemical into glucose and sending it out of the body in the urine. fatigue and nausea can result. it enters the bloodstream and causes the pituitary gland in the brain to block the creation of v asopressin (also known as the antidiuretic hormone). the body sends a desperate message to replenish its water supply -. we'll look at the science behind the most common hangover "cures. When the drinker stops drinking. we'll see what this aftereffect is all about. one of the body's natural stimulants. drinking about 250 milliliters of an alcoholic beverage causes the body to expel 800 to 1. In the next section. and another substance called glutathione. most healing levels of slumber. This causes the acetaldehyde to build up in the body as the liver creates more glutathione. part of the reason women should not keep up with men drink-for-drink is because women have less acetaldehyde dehydrogenase and glutathione. the liver's stores of glutathione quickly run out when larger amounts of alcohol enter the system. Additionally. Because different alcoholic drinks (beer. combining the various impurities Dark w ines and liquors hav e can result in particularly severe hangover symptoms. whiskey and tequila. 33 percent of those who drank an amount of bourbon relative to their body weight reported severe hangover. alcohol inhibits glutamine. acetaldehyde dehydrogenase.

Prevention and Remedy Black Coffee Coffee contains a high amount of caffeine. eating them before drinking can actually be helpful. in fact. But eggs do also contain large amounts of cysteine. but fatty foods in particular stick to the stomach lining longer and therefore slow down the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream. While that might make it take longer to feel the alcohol's effects. Therefore. Coffee can help alleviate a pounding head because caffeine is a v asoconstrictor.Remedy Burnt Toast At first. Conclusion: FICTION . While it's true that activ ated charcoal (which is a treated form of carbon) is used to treat some types of poisonings. The carbon/charcoal found on burnt toast is not the same as activated charcoal. The culprit behind this fictional cure is the carbon in the charred bread.Prevention FICTION .Fact or Fiction? Hangover remedies include everything from "a hair of the dog that bit you" (drinking a little more alcohol the next morning). making the head hurt in the first place. which makes them swell.Remedy Bananas Eating bananas the morning after a night of heavy drinking provides lost electrolytes like any food would. that a Mediterranean folk tactic is to take a spoonful of olive oil before drinking alcohol. which is the primary benefit. Overall. meaning it reduces the size of blood vessels.Remedy Fried or Fatty Foods Although eating fried or fatty foods the morning after will probably only irritate a drinker's stomach further. a drinker may be even more tired than before. Conclusion: FACT . eggs can potentially help mop up the left-over toxins. thereby increasing the severity of the hangover.Remedy Eggs Eating eggs the morning after provides energy like any other food. which is a stimulant and therefore helps fight fatigue. because it will have even more toxins to deal with. the substance that breaks down the hangover-causing toxin acetaldehyde in the liver's easily depleted glutathione. it also gives the body more time to process the byproducts and will increase a drinker's chances of feeling decent in the morning. Conclusion: FICTION .Remedy Water . caffeine is also a diuretic like alcohol and can make a drinker even more dehydrated than before. Carbon can act like a filter in the body.Food and Drink Remedies . Conclusion: FACT . more of the "hair of the dog that bit you" only delays the inevitable. But when the caffeine wears off. One of the reasons hangovers are so unpleasant is the liver is still processing the toxins left over from alcohol metabolism. Eating lighter food such as a fruit smoothie will provide energy and alleviate some symptoms by replenishing the electrolytes the body lost from dehydration. Unfortunately. Putting anything in the stomach prior to indulging in alcohol helps prevent a hangover. Drinking more alcohol can make the symptoms seem to lessen at first but will only make the situation worse once the liver breaks the alcohol down. Conclusion: FICTION . Other potassium-rich foods such as kiwi fruit or sports drinks work just as well. So much so. Which of all the endless theoretical remedies actually have truth behind them? Hair of the Dog Contrary to popular belief. Conclusion: FACT . This counteracts the effect of the alcohol. coffee isn't a good hangover cure. to burnt toast and black coffee to an over-the-counter product like Chaser. it's not currently used to treat alcohol poisoning (something that is vastly different from a regular hangover). the burnt toast remedy may seem that it's actually based on scientific fact. but it also specifically replenishes the potassium lost to alcohol's diuretic effect.

" but it's still basically a multivitamin. They're usually taken in pill form. Aspirin is a non-caffeinated pain reliever and is also in a class of anti-inflammatory drugs known as prostaglandin inhibitors.Fact or Fiction? Painkillers Certain painkillers are more effective at combating a hangover than others.Replenishing the body's water supply after a night of drinking combats dehydration. They don't require a prescription. The hydration alone greatly improves the chances of having little-to-no hangover. Drinking a few glasses of water before going to bed helps fight dehydration after the body finishes breaking down the alcohol. marketed as a secret KGB pill. As for RU-21. participants who took a prostaglandin inhibitor before bed reported less of a headache and less nausea and thirst than those who had drank the same amount of alcohol but did not take the prostaglandin inhibitor before bed. Berocca. meaning: They contain vitamins and minerals.Remedy Other Remedies . In one study.can be found in high amounts in everyday foods). prolonged combination of alcohol and acetaminophen has been shown to cause liver damage. L-Glutamine and vitamin C -. Adding salt and sugar to water helps replace the sodium and glycogen lost the night before. non-carbonated sports drinks can achieve the same effect. Rebound has the same ingredients as RU-21 plus a few other vitamins and oddities such as "young barley grass juice powder.Prevention and Remedy Fruit Juice The fructose -. Berocca and Rebound are highly varied both in price and ingredients. and then continuing to take the pills over the course of the evening with full glasses of water. RU-21. The manufacturers claim these products work because they make use of the effective filtering qualities of carbon to reduce the number of impurities the body has to process (see "Burnt Toast" in the last section for the science on that one). Studies have proven that it also increases the rate at which the body gets rid of toxins such as those left over from alcohol metabolism. and caffeine is a diuretic. though. beware -. again. Sob'r-K Hangover Stopper. (By the way. providing more time for the body to deal with the alcohol (the body can only process about three-quarters of an ounce of alcohol in an hour). before bed with a full glass of water. its main ingredients -. Many require taking a pill (or two) with a glass (or two) of water before drinking alcohol. Conclusion: FICTION . No matter what a drinker does. Conclusion: FACT . If you have a sensitive stomach. Non-caffeinated. however. As a prevention method.Prevention and Remedy if non-caffeinated and acetaminophen-free Ov er-the-counter Remedies Hangover remedies such as Chaser. But the above factual remedies can help speed up the's simply a multivitamin that claims to increase energy naturally (through vitamins).fruit sugar -. boost. Conclusion: FACT . . Fruit juice is also a good idea the morning after because it's high in vitamins and nutrients that were depleted the night before because of alcohol's diuretic effect. The secret to most of these purported "miracle cures" may in fact be the amount of w ater a drinker ingests when taking them.Prevention and Remedy Time The only complete cure for a hangover is time. For instance. is not a hangover cure -. the manufacturer says specifically that it is not an anti-hangover pill but a supplement for detoxification. High levels of prostaglandin have been associated with increased hangover severity.taking aspirin after drinking can make your stomach hurt even worse. and upon waking with a full glass of water. so their effectiveness varies accordingly. They're classified as dietary supplements. Excedrin can be helpful for a headache because it combines acetaminophen for the pain and caffeine to reduce the size of the pounding blood vessels. drinking a glass of water for every alcoholic beverage slows down drinking. albeit expensive. and it also helps dilute the leftover byproducts in the stomach. the body still has to clean up all the toxic byproducts left over from the evening fruit juice helps to naturally increase the body's energy. and the vitamins in the pills just give it a little. Conclusion: FACT . Vitamin supplements high in vitamins C and B are also effective.

is not to drink alcohol.The prostaglandin inhibitors in the aspirin can decrease hangover severity. Before Drinking Eat a full meal . Take another multiv itamin .Drinkers generally fare better when they stick with one drink. Take multiv itamins . Watch your drink choice . and fruit juice (for the fructose) or a sports drink (for the electrolytes. Wine has a higher percentage of alcohol (7 to 15 percent) than beer.A meal that includes eggs (for the cysteine). Fatty foods and carbohydrates increase this effect. tea and soda will further dehydrate a drinker.Ideally. But from a scientific perspective. but it's also carbonated.This better prepares the body for the depletion of vitamins caused by frequent urination. White wine is safer than red or blush because it has fewer congeners.Remedy Hangov er Remedy Ov erv iew The only fool-proof way to avoid a hangover. dilute the toxins and reduce irritation of the stomach. cheaper liquor will result in a worse hangover than more expensive liquor.) If You Need Help Alcoholism is a serious medical condition.Replenishing C and B vitamins in particular can help get rid of the rest of the toxins. please contact Alcoholics Anonymous. Liquor has the highest alcohol content (40 to 95 percent) and therefore increases the likelihood of a hangover. A sports drink like Gatorade or Propel will also replenish electrolytes. (See Biology of a Hangover. alcohol and related topics. Keep in mind that caffeinated coffee. For more information on hangovers. Having food in the stomach also decreases stomach irritation. this will give the body more time to process the alcohol. Here's a rundown of the major types of alcohol and their effects: Beer has the lowest percentage of alcohol (4 to 6 percent).This ensures the body is hydrated before the diuretic effect takes hold. Generally. Before Drinking Drink in moderation . In general. Eat breakfast . salts and sugars lost in the urine. scotch or tequila because they have fewer congeners. in turn reducing the likelihood that a drinker will vomit. Clear liquors like vodka. researchers have found the following general regimen minimizes the symptoms of a hangover. Each new type of alcohol a drinker puts into his or her system makes the body work that much harder and puts that many more toxins in the body. but it's usually not carbonated. rum and gin are better bets than dark or sweet liquors like bourbon. the cheaper the wine. the higher the congener content and the worse the hangover.This has been shown to minimize headaches as well as decrease inflammation from leftover prostaglandin. In the Morning Take tw o more aspirin w ith a full glass of w ater . check out the links on the next page. After Drinking Before Bed Take tw o aspirin w ith a full glass of w ater . of course.Conclusion: FACT . you suffer from memory lapses while drinking or you feel drinking is negatively impacting your life in any way. a banana (for the potassium). drinkers should limit themselves to one drink per hour because the body takes about an hour to process a single drink. which speeds up the absorption and can lead to toxin buildup. Lots More Information Related HowStuffWorks Articles How Alcohol Works Alcohol Quiz How Alcoholism Works How Your Brain Works How Beer Works Wine Basics How Winemaking Works Can I eat anything I want as long as I drink red wine? There's a mathematical formula for the "beer goggles" effect? How does the widget in a beer can work? How do brewers measure the alcohol in beer? . giving the body more time to process the toxins.In addition to helping keep a drinker hydrated. sugars and salts) can get the body on the road to recovery. Drink a glass of w ater after ev ery alcoholic bev erage .A full stomach slows down the absorption of alcohol. leading to a more severe hangover. If you often drink more than you mean to. Drink a glass of w ater .

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