What Causes a Hangover?

A hangover is a collection of symptoms that occur after consuming alcohol, and it is primarily caused by the toxic effects of alcohol on the body. Several factors contribute to the development of a hangover:

  • Dehydration: Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it increases urine production. This leads to dehydration, and dehydration can cause symptoms like headache, dry mouth, and thirst.
  • Electrolyte Imbalance: Alcohol can disrupt the balance of electrolytes in the body, including sodium and potassium, which can contribute to muscle weakness and cramping.
  • Acetaldehyde Toxicity: When the liver metabolizes alcohol, it first converts it into acetaldehyde, which is a toxic substance. Acetaldehyde can cause irritation of the stomach lining, leading to nausea, vomiting, and an upset stomach.
  • Gastrointestinal Irritation: Alcohol can irritate the gastrointestinal tract, leading to inflammation and discomfort in the stomach and intestines. This irritation can contribute to nausea and abdominal pain.
  • Vasodilation: Alcohol can cause blood vessels to dilate (expand), which can lead to headaches and a feeling of pressure in the head.
  • Disrupted Sleep: Alcohol can disrupt the sleep cycle, leading to poor-quality sleep. This can result in fatigue and grogginess the next day.
  • Hypoglycemia: Alcohol can cause a drop in blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia), which can lead to weakness, shakiness, and fatigue.
  • Toxic Congeners: Congeners are substances produced during the fermentation and aging process of alcoholic beverages. Some congeners can contribute to hangover symptoms. Darker-colored drinks like red wine and whiskey tend to have higher congener levels.
  • Immune System Activation: Alcohol can stimulate the immune system, leading to inflammation and contributing to some hangover symptoms.
  • Individual Variability: Hangover severity can vary greatly from person to person and even from one occasion to another. Factors such as genetics, tolerance to alcohol, and overall health can influence how a person experiences a hangover.

It’s important to note that the severity and duration of hangover symptoms can vary widely based on the amount of alcohol consumed, the type of alcohol, individual factors, and whether other substances were also consumed. The best way to prevent a hangover is to drink alcohol in moderation or abstain from it altogether. Staying hydrated, eating before and while drinking, and getting plenty of rest can also help reduce the severity of hangover symptoms. If you frequently experience severe hangovers, it may be a sign that you should consider drinking less or seeking medical advice.