Alcohol HangoverHangovers are a frequent, though unpleasant, experience among people who drink to intoxication. Despite the prevalence of hangovers, however, this condition is not well understood scientifically. Multiple possible contributors to the hangover state have been investigated, and researchers have produced evidence that alcohol can directly promote hangover symptoms through its effects on urine production, the gastrointestinal tract, blood sugar concentrations, sleep patterns, and biological rhythms. In addition, researchers postulate that effects related to alcohol's absence after a drinking bout (i.e., withdrawal), alcohol metabolism, and other factors (e.g., biologically active, nonalcohol compounds in beverages; the use of other drugs; certain personality traits; and a family history of alcoholism) also may contribute to the hangover condition. Few of the treatments commonly described for hangover have undergone scientific evaluation.
What is a Hangover?
A hangover is characterized by the constellation of unpleasant physical and mental symptoms that occur after a bout of heavy alcohol drinking. Physical symptoms of a hangover include fatigue, headache, increased sensitivity to light and sound, redness of the eyes, muscle aches, and thirst. Signs of increased sympathetic nervous system activity can accompany a hangover, including increased systolic blood pressure, rapid heartbeat (i.e., tachycardia), tremor, and sweating. Mental symptoms include dizziness; a sense of the room spinning (i.e., vertigo); and possible cognitive and mood disturbances, especially depression, anxiety, and irritability.
Alcohol Hangover Symptoms
- Constitutional: fatigue, weakness, and thirst
- Pain: headache and muscle aches
- Gastrointestinal: nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain
- Sleep and biological rhythms: decreased sleep, decreased REM(rapid eye movements), and increased slow-wave sleep
- Sensory: vertigo and sensitivity to light and sound
- Cognitive: decreased attention and concentration
- Mood: depression, anxiety, and irritability
- Sympathetic hyperactivity: tremor, sweating, and increased pulse and systolic blood pressure
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*Source: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA); Alcohol Withdrawal Volume 22, Number 1, 1998 Alcohol Hangover: Mechanisms and Mediators; Robert Swift and Dena Davidson