Have you ever experienced the spins? You might have had too many drinks, too fast. For a while, you probably felt really good—relaxed, fewer inhibitions to worry you, and your tension was just about gone. However, once your liver has metabolized all that alcohol, you’ll likely begin to feel just plain drunk. This may be accompanied by an intense dizzy feeling, as if the whole room is spinning around you, no matter if you’re standing still, sitting, or even lying down. Welcome to the spins.
What are The Spins?
The spins can feel one of two ways. First, you may feel simply dizzy and lightheaded. The second effect of the spins is vertigo, or feeling like you’re moving when you’re actually standing still. This is the feeling most people mean when they talk about getting the spins.
People who drink frequently are more likely to develop the spins after drinking too much. Even though you may only have a couple drinks a day, that’s about 14 drinks in a week and is considered excessive by every measure healthcare professionals use to judge someone’s level of alcohol consumption.
Alcohol affects the workings of your inner ear. Three interior canals are filled with fluid that helps your brain keep you balanced. When alcohol levels in your blood reach a certain point, it changes the density of some of the fluid in these canals. Due to this change in liquid density, the sensors which use these canals to judge the tilt of your head and your posture are thrown off, and they respond in ways that has nothing to do with your movement, balance, or orientation in space.
Tiny hairs in your inner ear fool your brain into thinking you’re moving more than you are. This false movement causes a host of tiny reactions in your body that are trying to help you cope with the “movement” including eye rotation, balancing against the shifts, and more. With all these corrections being made in response to false stimuli, you can feel light headed, like the room is spinning, and have increasing difficulty standing upright.
Noticeable Symptoms of the Spins
When you drink daily or binge drink, you’re more likely to get the spins. The main symptom is dizziness, feeling lightheaded or as though you’re moving when you’re not.
Once you get lightheaded or feel as though you have vertigo, you’ll experience the following secondary symptoms:
These symptoms aren’t a definite indication that you abuse alcohol. But if you are seen having this kind of trouble more than once, a clinician may suspect you have problems with an alcohol use disorder.
Why am I Dizzy?
This goes back to your inner ear again. Inside your ear, you have three tiny canals filled with a fluid (endolymph). Your inner ear also has a jelly-like area called a cupula. This is filled with tiny cells that look just like hairs. These hairs usually move around the endolymph (the fluid in the three canals).
When you’re sober, your movement causes the fluid to shift. This changes the shape of the cupula and also causes the stereocilia (the tiny, hair-like cells) to move as well. All of this sends signals to your brain, telling it about your movement and balance.
When you have had too much to drink, all of this changes. With thinner blood, this changes the density between the endolymph in your ear canals and the cupula. The cupula’s shape is also changed—but this doesn’t happen in relation to how you’re moving, balancing, or how you are oriented in space. In fact, those tiny hair-cells give your brain the wrong message, saying you’re moving more than you are. Because of the discrepancy between what your brain is being told and what is actually happening, your brain thinks the ground is moving or that you are spinning around.
There are some simple remedies to treat this spinning feeling. One suggestion is for you to lie down on your bed, at the edge. You should be on your back and move one leg so you rest your foot fully on the floor. You and your brain may feel like you’re a little more grounded and the spins should stop after a while.
Second, make yourself vomit. While this is definitely no fun, you will get rid of the toxins still in your stomach, keeping you from ingesting even more alcohol, which are likely to make the spins last longer or get worse.
Another option is to give your brain and eyes some visual stimulation. Watch a movie or play a video game. Just stimulate your vision and brain for a while until the spinning or vertigo sensation go away somewhat. Your brain is used to watching movement on a screen and knows not to react as if you’re moving. Some people think that this, or simple distraction, are what help you recover in this case.
Finally, just go to bed. Once the spins have lessened, time is the only really effective way to treat that sensation. As you sleep, your liver will do its work, filtering the toxins out of your body.
Alcohol Related Spins Prevention
The next time you drink, you’ll want to prevent the spins from hitting at all. Again, this is relatively easy and won’t take much effort. Protect your stomach beforehand by eating before you go out to drink. High-fat proteins are the best foods to choose; foods high in carbohydrates break down too fast and will be out of your system before you need them. Filling up with meat and high-fat foods works by slowing down your body’s absorption of alcohol into your bloodstream.
Pace yourself on how much you drink in several hours. If you do this, you’ll have fewer drinks and a smaller chance of developing the spins and a resulting hangover. In the same vein, instead of every drink including alcohol, alternate with water. Because alcohol dehydrates your body, the water serves to keep you hydrated, lessens the amount of alcohol entering your system in a short time, and as a bonus will help reduce any hangover you have the next day. When you get to your destination, whether it’s a party or a bar, keep eating while you have those paced-out drinks, keeping food in your stomach while you drink is just as important as eating beforehand.