Why Do We Get Hangovers?

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Hangovers are a great natural warning to enjoy alcohol in moderation (though many of us have required multiple reminders). But what, exactly, causes a hangover aside from merely drinking too much?

Scientists still don’t fully understand what causes a hangover’s dreaded blend of a headache, fatigue, simultaneous senses of hunger and food aversion, and general misery, but they did give hangovers a scientific name – veisalgia.

One of the great puzzles of hangovers is why they seem to peak when alcohol has been eliminated from the body and the blood-alcohol level has returned to zero. According to a Smithsonian Magazine article about the science of hangovers, studies have pinned down some contributing factors to hangovers:

  • Dehydration: Alcohol consumption causes you to urinate more than usual, which can lead to dehydration
  • Stomach irritation: Alcohol triggers an increased production of stomach acid and slows the ability of the stomach to process its contents
  • Inflammation: Alcohol generates an inflammatory response from your immune symptom, which causes the white blood cells to release cytokines, small proteins that are also released in defense of the flu and that contribute to aches, pains and lethargy
  • Hypoglycemia: Alcohol consumption can lead to plummeting blood sugar, which may cause fatigue, weakness and other adverse effects

How much you drank plays a role in the severity of your hangover, but so does what you drank. Darker alcoholic beverages like red wines and whiskeys have higher levels of the impurities known as congeners than light-colored drinks like gin and vodka. Research has demonstrated that the greater the level of congeners you consume, the worse your morning after.

Hangover Treatments

Hangovers, of course, are an entirely preventable ailment. And though alleged hangover remedies “are legion,” as the author of “A Few Too Many” in The New Yorker observes, there is only one cure: time.

Still, there are things that may help you feel better as your body recovers:

  • Sip water or juice to ward off dehydration
  • Snack on foods like toast and crackers, which can help settle your stomach and boost your blood-sugar levels
  • Go back to bed. Hangovers often fade significantly with additional rest

Although hangovers dissipate on their own, you should speak with your primary care doctor or another trusted resource if you or someone you love is affected by dangerous levels of alcohol consumption. Alcohol abuse and dependence are serious problems, and help is available.

If you’re looking for a knowledgeable, compassionate primary care physician in the Littleton, Colorado, area, please contact Dr. Andy Fine online or call 303-703-8583 to schedule your appointment.

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