Have you ever had a headache after a generous pour of the bubbly the night before? The holidays have come and gone, and as we are all staying home again, you may still be indulging in your favorite brand of booze at home. So before you get hammered, sloshed, wasted, tanked or plastered… Read on.
As common as they are, there is still much to be understood about hangovers. The long-term impact of alcohol is
well-understood, but the mechanisms that occur during a hangover are a bit cloudier.
When you consume alcohol, it becomes absorbed into your bloodstream until the liver can break it down. Once in the bloodstream, it only takes about five minutes to reach your brain, and effects peak after 30 to 90 minutes.
Drinking too much can lead to dangerous impairment, sometimes called acute alcohol exposure. The blood brain barrier acts as a gateway for substances like proteins and nutrients to get into the brain, but alcohol crosses this barrier very quickly, which is why acute alcohol exposure happens.
Meanwhile, your liver works to break down the alcohol using enzymes. While your liver accounts for metabolizing roughly 90 percent of alcohol, small amounts may also be excreted through sweat, urine and your lungs (think: breathalyzer test).
Alcohol also impacts the kidneys, which are responsible for removing waste and keeping you hydrated. When there’s too much alcohol in the system — more than three drinks in a day for women and four for men — the kidneys can no longer function properly. Alcohol is a diuretic, and as your kidneys produce more urine, which can led to dehydration and an imbalance of electrolytes. This results in thirst, dry mouth, a headache and nausea.
So you see, your entire body has to process and eliminate alcohol. Other factors may also be responsible for your hangover and lead to certain symptoms, including:
1. Stomach upset. Alcohol irritates the stomach, which causes inflammation. You may also experience an increase in stomach acid, which can cause abdominal pain or nausea. When you’re metabolizing alcohol, your liver releases a byproduct known as acetaldehyde, which may result in nausea or vomiting.
2. Low blood sugar. If your blood sugar drops, you may feel weak or tired. This is especially important for those who have diabetes, as it can become dangerously low.
3. Disruption of sleep. Alcohol prevents deep stages of sleep, which is necessary for letting your body restore itself.
The best approach to a hangover is to simply help your body recover. No, drinking more alcohol is not the answer. Not only is there no concrete evidence that more alcohol will help you feel better, it could also indicate a sign of dependency. You’re only going to overwhelm your liver, which is already working overtime. Certain medications may help ease symptoms, particularly headaches. However, too much acetaminophen (an alternative to aspirin) can cause liver damage.
Try something like Gatorade or Pedialyte. These replenish nutrients more quickly than water, and can help with dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. They contain sodium and potassium, substances that do a better job keeping you hydrated than just water, which is lost during urination.
While food helps slow down the absorption of alcohol, it should be consumed before you start sipping. , not after. If you’re feeling rough the next morning, bland foods or fruits can help raise your blood sugar as well as relieve nausea.
Though a hangover generally lasts 24 hours, there are also several long-term effects of alcohol.
Alcohol impacts the brain’s pathways, affecting how the brain works. Repeated alcohol use can lead to neuropathy, which is damage to the peripheral nerves, causing numbness and pain in feet and hands. You’ll start to notice problems with imbalance and poor coordination. Some can even experience accelerated brain atrophy and memory problems.
Your liver’s significant role in breaking down waste comes at a cost. Alcohol abuse can cause lasting damage. A build-up of fat or prolonged inflammation can result in alcohol-induced liver disease, including fatty liver, alcohol hepatitis and cirrhosis. The build-up of fats in the blood can also be taxing on your heart, which increases blood pressure.
Though hangovers will eventually go away by themselves, the best approach is to drink in moderation. It is recommended that men can have one to two drinks a day and one drink per day for women, and remember that if you don’t drink every day, that doesn’t mean you can have all seven drinks on the weekend.
You wonder whether a remedy is needed at all, since a hangover is your body’s way of saying you shouldn’t be drinking that much anyway, and without that signal, it could lead to problems down the road, such as paving the way to addiction.
So before you grab that next drink, try to count (if you still can) how many you’ve had and maybe think twice before getting another round.