The alarm blares like a four alarm fire; you crack open your eyes only to be blinded by the glare of daylight. With a throat so dry you can barely swallow, you stagger to the bathroom and gulp down a glass of water…only to be slammed with a wave of nausea that makes the room spin as you hurl the water back up.
Yes, it's obvious you have a hangover, but what exactly is it and why is it attacking you?
Simply put, a hangover is caused by overindulgence in alcohol. The symptoms aren't the same for everyone, and the causes are more complex than just having a few too many drinks.
Definition of a Hangover?
A hangover is a group of symptoms that may develop after too much alcohol consumption. Although the general rule of thumb is, the more you drink the worse your hangover will be, there's a wide range of effects from person to person.
You may only have a headache, or you may have any combination of the following symptoms:
Because a hangover can last up to 24 hours it may affect your workday. In addition, although your blood alcohol level has dropped to zero you may have impaired reaction times if your symptoms are severe, possibly making you prone to accidents.
Although the quantity of alcohol consumed is the usual key to developing a hangover, other factors may affect different people. How fast you drink or mixing types of alcohol may give you a hangover, or you may be one of the few people who never notices adverse symptoms the morning after you overindulge.
Why does drinking too much alcohol give you a hangover? For the most part it's because alcohol speeds up dehydration, but there's a group of other chemical reactions which also create adverse reactions:
Factors That Affect Your Hangover
Although the only way to guarantee you won't get a hangover is to abstain from alcohol, there are a number of factors you can use to your advantage to lessen or prevent the occurrence.
Here's a look at the most common:
Other Hangover Symptoms You May Not Notice
You may think your hangover is under control and you're doing great, but there are some symptoms you may not even realize you have. The most common are trouble concentrating, lack of dexterity, and memory problems. A hangover may affect your performance at work or school because you're missing days, are constantly late, or even falling asleep on the job. You're also more prone to injuries in the workplace and conflicts with family or coworkers; you may find yourself having trouble completing your usual tasks. And, chances are, even if you think you're doing a great job masking your misery, those around you are quite aware you're not functioning at 100%.
When Does a Hangover Become a Problem?
There's a fine line between having an occasional fun night out and having a drinking problem. If your alcohol consumption is interfering with your job or personal life, there's a strong chance you are sliding into abuse.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) states some of the common problem signs of alcohol use disorder are:
Keep in mind, people don't become alcoholics overnight. The NIAAA reports it takes an average 10 years to become alcohol dependent, so just because you don't have all the above signs doesn't mean you don't have a problem. Even if you only have a few of the signs, it's probably time to seek help to lower your habitual alcohol consumption.
How Long Does a Hangover Last?
Almost all hangovers are gone in 24 hours, but they can last up to 72 hours. Generally speaking, the factors listed above will determine how long a hangover lasts. So, if you have a meal, drink moderately, and stay hydrated you have better chances of a short hangover the next day.
In the worst case scenario, a hangover can mask alcohol poisoning. If you or someone you're with experiences irregular or slowed breathing, a drop in body temperature, pale or bluish skin, vomiting that won't stop, or seizures; you should seek medical help immediately. Alcohol poisoning can be deadly and should be considered a medical emergency.
Curing Your Hangover
Alas, there is no magic cure for hangovers and the only sure prevention is abstinence or to drink in moderation. It appears everyone knows that one person who swears by "the hair of the dog" but they are wrong and a drink the next day will only make things worse.
Here's the best way to treat a hangover:
While abstinence is the only guarantee to preventing a hangover there are key tips you can follow to make it less likely to occur after a night on the town. Knowing your personal limit is the biggest: if you can only handle one drink, then so be it. Don't let other drinkers push you into drinking more than you know you can handle.