Hangovers: The Facts

Everybody knows that hangovers are the unwelcome result of overconsumption of alcohol, but how much do we really know about them. Exactly what causes a hangover? Can you get rid of them, or at least make them go away faster? Are hangovers curable?

Why do we get Hangovers?

Believe it or not, even scientists don’t know a lot about what causes a hangover, but it appears that there are a number of factors at play. (By the way, don’t expect a lot of money to be spent on finding a cure when prevention is so obvious).

Dehydration: Alcohol is a diuretic that causes fluid loss via urination. Also, people who are busy drinking alcohol aren’t as likely to drink enough water, thus contributing even more to dehydration. Dehydration contributes to hangover headaches and dizziness because water-starved organs actually “borrow” water from the brain.

Acetaldehyde: A chemical compound known as acetaldehyde is a byproduct of how our bodies process alcohol. It is believed to be 30 times as toxic as alcohol. Normally, the body has ways of processing acetaldehyde, but heavy drinking causes toxins to build up faster than the body can handle them. The result? Nausea, vomiting and sweating.

Congenors: What you drink may affect the severity of the hangover. Some alcoholic beverages contain congeners, impurities that are created in the fermentation process, or added later to enhance flavor. High-congenor beverages like tequila, whisky, bourbon and brandy are more likely to produce killer hangovers than low-congenor, light-colored drinks like white wine, rum, vodka or gin.

Acid indigestion: Alcohol triggers the stomach to produce more acid, which irritates the stomach lining and causes nausea and vomiting. Drinking on an empty stomach can make the problem much worse.

Blood sugar: Alcohol can cause blood sugar levels to drop, which can lead to weakness, shakiness and fatigue.

Other factors: If you get a monster hangover while your friend drinks twice and feels great the next morning, genetics may be at play. Gender is also a factor; women are more prone to hangovers than men. People who smoke cigarettes tend to accumulate high levels of acetaldehyde.

How to Prevent a Hangover

It goes without saying that the best way to prevent a hangover is to not drink, or at least to keep your drinking within reasonable limits. If you’re finding it difficult to drink in moderation, or you think you may have a problem with alcohol abuse, it may be time to seek out drug and alcohol treatment or rehab.

Alcohol counseling or therapy can help you get to the root of the problem and learn to enjoy life without the help of unhealthy substances – and no more hangovers!

If excessive drinking isn’t a frequent problem for you, it may help to moderate your drinking behavior. For example:

  • Never drink alcohol on an empty stomach. Food slows down the alcohol absorption rate in your body.

  • Avoid drinking too much too fast. Limit your consumption to one drink (or less) per hour.

  • Stop drinking before the end of the evening. Your hangover will be less severe if your body has an opportunity to process the alcohol before you go to bed.

  • Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration. Sipping water (or other non-alcoholic beverages) between drinks will also help you moderate your drinking. Put a bottle of water by your bed before you go to sleep.

  • Eat potassium-rich foods like kiwi, avocado or banana to help your body replace minerals lost due to the diuretic effects of alcohol.

  • Get plenty of rest. Poor quality or lack of sleep can increase the severity of a hangover.

  • Drink beverages with fewer congeners (see above).

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