Most people have woken up with a hangover at some time or another. Dry mouth, splitting headache, nausea, and upset stomach—you know the symptoms, although they vary, depending on the type of alcohol and how much you drink.
Why Do We Get Hangovers?
Although most hangovers are the result of drinking until intoxication, some people report experiencing a hangover after just a couple of drinks. Not much research has been done on hangovers, but the following factors are thought to play a role:
- Direct effects of alcohol (such as dehydration, gastrointestinal distress, sleep disturbances)
- Alcohol withdrawal (may experience a "crash" when there is no longer alcohol in the blood)
- Alcohol metabolism (effects of the enzymes the body releases in response to alcohol)
- Non-alcohol effects (other compounds in alcoholic beverages or use of other drugs)
A hangover typically begins several hours after you stop drinking, when the level of alcohol in your blood begins to decline. Then, the condition peaks when your blood alcohol level reaches zero, but it can last for up to 24 hours.
Hangover Remedies: Fact and Fiction
The only real cure for a hangover is time. But, there are a few things that may help you feel better. First, since alcohol acts as a diuretic, increasing urination and causing you to become dehydrated, the first thing you should do when you get out of bed is drink a large glass of water. You should also have something to eat. Bland foods containing complex carbohydrates—toast or crackers—will increase your blood sugar and curb your nausea.
Next, check your symptoms. If you feel nauseous or have an upset stomach, antacids may make you feel better. If your head is throbbing, you may want to take a pain reliever. Remember that you should avoid taking acetaminophen during a hangover because it can be toxic to your alcohol-soaked liver. Also, don’t take too much aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, since they may irritate your stomach, making some of your symptoms worse.
Since hangover symptoms are usually at their worst when your blood alcohol level reaches zero, drinking alcohol will raise these levels and make you feel a little better—but only temporarily. Your blood alcohol level will reach zero again, and your hangover symptoms will come back. Also keep in mind that drinking alcohol in the morning can lead to a drinking problem, so people experiencing a hangover should avoid further alcohol use.
Your Best Bet
Your best bet against a hangover is to control the amount of alcohol you drink.
Below is a chart to help you calculate how high your Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) is. The lower your BAC, the less likely you are to get a hangover. For your reference, all states have set 0.08% BAC as the legal limit for Driving Under the Influence (DUI). A BAC of 0.04% can result in a DUI conviction nationwide for commercial drivers. Keep in mind that you should never drive after drinking.
These charts are only intended to be a guide. Your age, physical condition, diet, and other drugs or medicines you are taking can affect your BAC. Women and men metabolize alcohol differently, so a woman drinking an equal amount of alcohol as a man of the same body weight may have a higher blood alcohol level.
Just remember to drink responsibly. Leave your car keys at home and do not overindulge. You can have a celebratory toast without feeling the effects in the morning.
- Reviewer: Brian Randall, MD
- Review Date: 04/2013 -
- Update Date: 04/04/2013 -