Hangovers: Symptoms, Causes, Long-term Effects & More

Medically Reviewed

Up to Date

This article was reviewed by a medical professional to guarantee the delivery of accurate and up-to- date information. View our research policy.

Editorial Policy

Last Updated - 05/07/2024

View our editorial policy
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, help is available. Speak with a Recovery Advocate by calling (614) 362-1686 now.

Updated 05/07/2024

Key Takeaways

  • Hangovers are a result of excessive alcohol consumption, presenting various physical and mental symptoms.
  • Factors contributing to hangovers include alcohol additives, metabolism, binge drinking, digestive system irritation, inflammation, dehydration, sleep disruption, and low blood sugar.
  • Remedies such as hydration, nutrition, pain relievers, and rest can alleviate symptoms, but moderation or abstaining from alcohol is the most effective prevention method.
  • Hangover symptoms typically begin a few hours after drinking stops, lasting up to 24-48 hours, depending on individual factors.
  • Age, gender, genetics, health, personality, and substance use influence susceptibility to hangovers, which can lead to chronic health conditions and mental health issues if left unchecked.
  • Recognizing signs of alcohol addiction is crucial, and treatment options range from detoxification and medication to behavioral therapies, counseling, and aftercare programs.

What Is a Hangover? 

A hangover is a collection of unpleasant symptoms that can occur after drinking too much alcohol. These symptoms typically include headache, nausea, fatigue, sensitivity to light and sound, dizziness, and dehydration. Hangovers result from alcohol’s diuretic effect, which causes dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, as well as its impact on sleep patterns and chemical processes in the brain. The severity of a hangover can vary based on the amount and type of alcohol consumed, individual metabolism, and hydration levels. Hangovers are the body’s way of recovering from the toxic effects of alcohol and remind us of the strains excessive drinking can put on our system.

Hangover Symptoms

Experiencing a hangover can be a distressing aftermath of alcohol consumption, presenting a range of physical and mental symptoms.

Experiencing a hangover can be a distressing aftermath of alcohol consumption, presenting a range of physical and mental symptoms.These symptoms can include, but are not limited to:

  • Headache and dizziness
  • Nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Excessive thirst and dry mouth
  • Rapid heartbeat and muscle aches
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Decreased ability to concentrate
  • Impaired mood, such as depression or anxiety
  • Reduced sleep quality and grogginess

These symptoms stem from various factors, including the direct effects of alcohol on the system, the withdrawal the body experiences as the alcohol level drops, and other components of alcoholic beverages that may exacerbate hangover effects. While ‘hair of the dog’ is a common colloquial remedy, it is not recommended as a solution to hangover symptoms, which typically resolve within 24 hours. 

If severe symptoms such as confusion, seizures, or vomiting persist, immediate medical attention should be sought. As hangovers can impact day-to-day functioning and responsibilities, understanding their symptoms is crucial for recognizing the body’s limits and the potential need for medical advice.

What Causes a Hangover?

Several factors contribute to hangover symptoms. These include

  • Alcohol additives: Congeners — chemical byproducts present in certain alcoholic beverages — can exacerbate hangover symptoms due to their inflammatory properties.
  • Alcohol metabolism: After drinking alcohol, the liver creates acetaldehyde, a toxic byproduct of alcohol metabolism. Normally, acetaldehyde is neutralized by an antioxidant called glutathione. However, excessive drinking can deplete glutathione levels, allowing acetaldehyde to accumulate and cause symptoms like headaches and nausea.
  • Binge drinking: Drinking excessively increases the risk of waking up with a hangover the next day.
  • Irritation of the digestive system: Alcohol irritates the lining of the stomach, leading to greater stomach acid production. As a result, drinking too much can lead to an upset stomach, nausea, and vomiting. 
  • Inflammation: Alcohol consumption triggers an immune system reaction that can lead to inflammation throughout the body, contributing to the overall feeling of sickness associated with hangovers.
  • Dehydration: Alcohol acts as a diuretic primarily due to its interference with hormones that help the body retain fluids. This disruption causes increased urination, which leads to a loss of bodily fluids and electrolytes. The resulting dehydration can manifest as symptoms commonly associated with hangovers, such as headaches, dry mouth, and fatigue.
  • Sleep disruption: Alcohol can lead to sleep changes, including decreased sleep onset latency, or the time it takes to fall asleep. While alcohol might help individuals fall asleep quickly at first, sleep disturbances will occur later on in the night.
  • Low blood sugar: Because alcohol alters how the liver and pancreas function, this can result in blood sugar levels tanking. This can make you feel weak, tired, and depressed.

Are There Any Remedies for Hangovers That Actually Work?

While there’s no magic cure for hangovers, several remedies can help alleviate symptoms and speed up recovery. 

  • Ensure adequate hydration: Drinking plenty of water before, during, and after consuming alcohol can help offset the dehydrating effects of alcohol and reduce the severity of hangover symptoms such as headache and dizziness. Electrolyte-rich drinks like sports beverages or coconut water can also help replenish salts and minerals lost due to alcohol’s diuretic effect.
  • Maintain proper nutrition: Eating a good meal before drinking and a nutritious breakfast the next day can help maintain blood sugar levels, as low blood sugar may contribute to hangover symptoms. Foods rich in vitamins and minerals, such as bananas, eggs, and leafy greens, can aid recovery. 
  • Take OTC pain relievers with caution: Some people find relief with over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or aspirin. However, these should be used cautiously as they can irritate the stomach further.
  • Get some sleep: Rest is another vital component of hangover recovery. Alcohol can disrupt sleep, reducing its quality, so allowing extra time to rest and recuperate is important. 

While these methods can help mitigate the effects of a hangover, the most effective way to prevent one is to drink alcohol in moderation or abstain altogether.

When Do Hangovers Begin and End?

Hangovers typically begin several hours after drinking stops, when blood alcohol levels start to fall. The onset of hangover symptoms usually coincides with the lowest blood alcohol content, often occurring the morning after a night of drinking. 

The duration of a hangover can vary widely depending on factors like the amount of alcohol consumed, individual health, hydration levels, and how the body metabolizes alcohol. Generally, hangover symptoms last for about 24 hours, but they can sometimes persist for up to 48 hours. 

For most people, symptoms gradually lessen over the course of the day as the body processes the alcohol and begins to recover.

Who Is Most at Risk for a Hangover?

Hangovers can, of course, affect anyone who consumes alcoholic beverages. Several risk factors influence the likelihood and severity of hangovers, making some individuals more susceptible than others:

  • Age: Older adults may experience worse hangovers than younger people, possibly due to changes in body composition, slower metabolism, and the body’s reduced ability to process alcohol efficiently.
  • Gender: Women are generally more prone to hangovers than men, partly because they have less body water to dilute alcohol and different rates of alcohol metabolism.
  • Genetics: Genetic factors can significantly affect how one’s body metabolizes alcohol. For example, variations in the enzymes that break down alcohol can lead to faster accumulation of toxic byproducts, increasing hangover severity.
  • Health: Overall health and liver function impact how quickly a body can metabolize alcohol and recover. People with certain health conditions or poorer general health may experience more severe hangovers.
  • Personality: Personality traits such as impulsivity can lead to excessive drinking, increasing the risk of hangovers. How a person approaches drinking, including their drinking patterns and behaviors, can also play a role.
  • Use of other substances: Combining alcohol with other substances, especially drugs or medications, can exacerbate hangover symptoms. Some substances may interfere with alcohol metabolism or increase dehydration, both of which can worsen a hangover.

These factors, individually or combined, contribute to how strongly and frequently one might suffer from hangovers after consuming alcohol.

Long-term Consequences of Hangovers 

Frequent hangovers can have significant long-term effects on mental health. While isolated hangovers may result in temporary discomfort, the repetitive experience of hangover symptoms can lead to more serious health issues. 

  • Chronic health conditions: Persistent exposure to high levels of alcohol can exacerbate the risk of developing chronic diseases and conditions, including liver disease, cardiovascular problems, and neurological deficits. 
  • Alcohol withdrawal: If you drink large amounts over an extended period and decide to suddenly quit alcohol, this could lead to withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawal is a life-threatening emergency that requires medical attention.
  • Anxiety and depression: The dysphoria and anxiety that often accompany hangovers may develop into chronic states of anxiety and depressive disorders, particularly with repeated episodes.
  • Cognitive impairment: Chronic heavy drinking and frequent hangovers are associated with deficits in cognitive function, which can manifest as memory problems, reduced attention span, and impaired decision-making.
  • Sleep disturbances: Alcohol disrupts sleep patterns, and frequent hangovers often include symptoms of insomnia or poor sleep quality, which can have a cumulative negative effect on mental health.
  • Stress: The stress of dealing with hangover symptoms regularly can contribute to heightened levels of stress, which in turn can lead to mental health issues such as burnout or emotional exhaustion.

Recognizing the Signs of Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol addiction, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a medical condition characterized by the inability to control alcohol consumption despite the negative consequences it may have on personal, social, or health aspects of one’s life. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the presence of at least two of the following symptoms within 12 months may indicate AUD:

  • Drinking more or for longer than intended
  • Unsuccessful attempts to cut down or control alcohol use
  • Spending a lot of time obtaining, using, or recovering from the effects of alcohol
  • Cravings, or a strong desire or urge to use alcohol
  • Recurrent alcohol use, failing to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home
  • Continued alcohol use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of alcohol
  • Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of alcohol use
  • Recurrent alcohol use in situations where it is physically hazardous.
  • Alcohol use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by alcohol
  • Tolerance, defined as a need for markedly increased amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication or desired effect, or a markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of alcohol
  • Withdrawal symptoms

If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, it is important to seek professional help. Early intervention can prevent the escalation of the disorder and its associated risks.

Comprehensive Treatment Strategies for Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol addiction, recognized as a complex and multifaceted disorder, requires a comprehensive approach to treatment that encompasses a variety of options tailored to individual needs. The treatment spectrum ranges from medical interventions to psychological support and community-based programs. Understanding the available treatments is crucial for individuals seeking help and professionals providing care.

  • Detoxification and Medication: Detoxification is often the first step, where individuals undergo withdrawal in a controlled environment. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) can be vital during this phase, with drugs like naltrexone or disulfiram prescribed to manage withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings.
  • Behavioral Therapies: Psychological strategies play a pivotal role in treatment, with Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) being one of the most effective. CBT helps individuals recognize and modify detrimental thought patterns and behaviors related to alcohol use.
  • Psychotherapy and Counseling: Professional counseling is an essential component, offering a space for dealing with the psychological aspects of addiction.
  • Specialized Programs: Some patients may benefit from tailored programs addressing specific demographics, such as gender-specific treatment, veteran-specific treatment and dual diagnosis care for co-occurring disorders.
  • Aftercare and Relapse Prevention: Long-term success often relies on aftercare programs that support individuals post-treatment, helping to maintain sobriety and prevent relapse.

It is important to note that quality treatment should be evidence-based and may involve a combination of these approaches.

Alcohol Rehab at The Recovery Village Columbus

Getting help for alcoholism at The Recovery Village Columbus can greatly improve the chances of overcoming alcohol addiction. The center’s team of professionals works closely with each patient to create and continuously adjust treatment plans that ensure long-term success.

The Recovery Village Columbus offers several treatment options, including medical detox, inpatient rehab, and more to provide you with personalized care at our Joint Commission-accredited facility. Contact a Recovery Advocate today to take the first step toward living an alcohol-free life.


Get your life back

Recovery is possible. Begin your journey today

Call Us Now Admissions Check Insurance

What To Expect

When you call our team, you will speak to a Recovery Advocate who will answer any questions and perform a pre-assessment to determine your eligibility for treatment. If eligible, we will create a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs. If The Recovery Village is not the right fit for you or your loved one, we will help refer you to a facility that is. All calls are 100% free and confidential.

All calls are 100% free and confidential.