Why, oh why?
The hellish sensations experienced several hours after drinking are caused by:
The direct effects of alcohol on the brain and other organs
The removal of alcohol from these organs (alcohol withdrawal)
The effects of noxious compounds or byproducts of alcoholic drinks
In general, the more a person drinks, the worse the hangover.
Several factors contribute to severity of hangover symptoms:
Genetics. People with a particular genetic variation can have a buildup of a noxious ethanol breakdown product. They may experience facial flushing, nausea, and headache after drinking a small amount of alcohol.
Congeners. Congeners are substances produced during fermentation and may contribute to hangover symptoms. As a general rule, the darker the alcoholic beverage (i.e. red wine, brandy), the higher the content of congener.
Dehydration. Dehydration causes headaches, lightheadedness, and thirst. Alcohol is a diuretic (makes us pee). Being dehydrated before drinking can worsen hangovers.
Sleep. Alcohol can cause sleepiness but the sleep may be of shorter duration and poorer quality. Poor sleep prior to a night’s binge can make symptoms worse.
Food intake. Drinking on an empty stomach speeds the body’s absorption of alcohol.
“It’s not a hangover. It’s wine flu.”
It may feel as bad as the flu. The following symptoms may appear several hours after the last drink:
Increased sensitivity to light and sound
Time is your friend
Hangovers, too, shall pass. It takes time (up to 24 hours or so) for the body to clear the toxic alcohol byproducts, rehydrate, and normalize immune and brain function. There is no magical “cure” for hangovers.
While waiting for relief, consider:
Rehydrate. Sip juice or sports drinks every couple of minutes to replenish electrolytes and fluids.
Eat. Eat bland foods like toast and crackers to settle your stomach and stabilize your blood sugar
Sleep it off. Nothing to see here, folks. Sleep long enough and the hangover symptoms may be gone by the time you wake up.
Swift R, Davidson D. Alcohol hangover: mechanisms and mediators. Alcohol Health Res World. 1998;22(1):54-60.
Scholey A et al. Proceeding of the 9th Alcohol Hangover Research Group Meeting. Curr Drug Abuse Rev. 2017;10(1):68-75.
Palmer E et al. Alcohol Hangover: Underlying Biochemical, Inflammatory and Neurochemical Mechanisms. Alcohol Alcohol. 2019 May 1;54(3):196-203.