The free-flowing booze, the loud music, the endless dancing --- everything seems fun until the next morning when fatigue, excessive thirst, and pounding headache kicks in. Yep, that’s what you call a hangover. What causes a hangover? What are the effects of alcohol on the body? We will answer these questions in this blog, so, read on!

What is a hangover?

A hangover is a group of symptoms that you experience after drinking too much alcohol. While the symptoms vary from one person to another, the general rule is that the more alcohol you drink, the more likely you are to experience a hangover the following day.

A hangover isn’t just about headaches, muscle aches, and vomiting. It’s also been linked to conflict at work or at home and poor overall performance. So much for a good time, eh?

What are the symptoms of a hangover?

Hangover symptoms often occur when your blood alcohol levels drop to near zero --- this is usually the morning after a night of heavy drinking. Hangover symptoms vary from person to person and depend on how much alcohol you drank. Common symptoms of a hangover include:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Increased sensitivity to light and sound
  • Shakiness
  • Inability to focus
  • Poor sleep
  • Vomiting, stomach pain, and nausea
  • Muscle aches
  • Headaches
  • Dry mouth
  • Excessive thirst
  • Depression, irritability, and anxiety

What causes a hangover?

Simply put, a hangover is caused by drinking too much alcohol. But it’s not as simple as what you think. Various factors contribute to a hangover. Let’s take a look at each one below:

1. Alcohol causes dehydration

Alcohol is a diuretic --- a diuretic is a substance that causes your body to produce more urine which in turn results in you peeing more often. Frequent urination may lead to dehydration as often indicated by lightheadedness, dizziness, and of course, thirst.

2. Alcohol triggers an inflammatory response from your body

Alcohol wreaks havoc to your immune system --- triggering an inflammatory response which causes physical symptoms like memory problems, decreased ability to focus or concentrate, lack of appetite, sensitivity to light, etc.

3. Alcohol hurts your gut

If you drink too much alcohol, your stomach will produce more stomach acid than normal. This irritates the sensitive lining of your stomach and delays stomach emptying. As a result, you experience symptoms like vomiting, stomachache, nausea, and abdominal pain.

4. Alcohol causes your blood sugar to plummet

Blood sugar is important in daily body functions. Drinking too much alcohol causes the blood sugar levels in your body to dip. When it reaches a critical level, you may experience seizures, mood disturbances (e.g. irritability, depression, and anxiety), shakiness, weakness, and fatigue.

5. Alcohol dilates your blood vessels

Too much alcohol will cause your blood vessels to expand --- a common culprit behind those pounding headaches.

6. Alcohol causes drowsiness

Alcohol can make you sleep but it’s not the good type of sleep. Too much alcohol often leads to light sleeps with frequent awakenings in the middle of the night. Lack of deep sleep will leave you tired and groggy the next morning.

7. Alcohol contains congeners

Congeners are ingredients that give alcohol beverages a distinct flavour. Several studies show that these congeners can affect the severity of a hangover as well as your likelihood of getting it. As a general rule, the darker the alcohol drink, the more congeners it has.

Who is more likely to experience a hangover?

Not everyone gets a hangover. Some people can get drunk and get a hangover after a few glasses of beer while some heavy drinkers get away with it. This shows that some people are more susceptible to developing hangovers than others. Below are risk factors that you need to consider:

  • Genetics – if you have a family history of alcoholism, then you may have inherited a problem with the way your body deals with alcohol.
  • Drinking on an empty stomach – your body absorbs alcohol more quickly with an empty stomach.
  • Not getting enough sleep after a night of heavy drinking – several studies show that some hangover symptoms are caused by not getting enough sleep.
  • Drinking dark alcoholic beverages – dark-coloured alcoholic drinks have more congeners which are known to produce a hangover
  • Smoking and substance abuse – if you drink and smoke (or use prohibited drugs) at the same time, expect a hangover the next day.

How to cope with a hangover

Sometimes, it’s hard to say no to a party. Below are some tips on how to deal with a hangover when you end up drinking too much:

  • Over the counter drugs – some medicines like paracetamol can help you deal with headaches and other symptoms of a hangover. Buy paracetamol online at Express Pharmacy.
  • Eat before drinking - a full stomach will prevent the alcohol from getting absorbed right away.
  • Drink some water between drinks – stay hydrated!
  • Know your limits and take it slow – listen to your body and stop when it says enough.