What Causes a Hangover?

“Hangover” is a collective term for the group of physical symptoms that someone might experience the day after a bout of heavy alcohol consumption. It includes all of the symptoms that have been lampooned in popular culture and reinforced throughout the history of drinking, including headaches, nausea, lethargy, aches and pains, and “cottonmouth”, or dry mouth. The condemnations and judgments of society typically react to a hangover as if it is just punishment for an evening of alcoholic debauchery, but the reality of a hangover is much more complex than just a payback.

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Physicians and biochemists cannot fully explain the mechanisms that result in a hangover. Popular wisdom sometimes suggests that certain forms of alcohol cause worse hangovers than others. The reality is that too much alcohol, regardless of its form, will cause intoxication and hangover symptoms that are associated with alcohol intoxication. Other symptoms might result from byproducts and ingredients that are included in different types of drinks.

Acetaldehyde, which is a byproduct of alcohol metabolism in a person’s body, is frequently blamed as the primary suspect in causing hangovers. Some individuals are genetically better able to process acetaldehyde than others, which may explain why they suffer less severe hangover symptoms than others. Dehydration is another suspect, as alcohol is a known diuretic that flushes fluids and electrolytes from a person’s body. With reduced fluid and electrolyte levels, a person’s metabolism will be impaired, leading to feelings of lethargy and an inability to focus or concentrate.

Large quantities of alcohol will cause inflammation of stomach linings, which may explain the gastric distress that many hangover sufferers experience. Metabolizing alcohol also puts a strain on a person’s liver, kidneys, and endocrine system. Hangovers might result from those organs and systems being overworked.

At the extremes, it is critical to distinguish between hangover symptoms, which will be uncomfortable but which will ultimately subside, and alcohol poisoning, which can be fatal. Alcohol poisoning symptoms can look like a hangover, but will often require a person to receive medical treatment to prevent permanent system damage. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include confusion and disorientation, irregular breathing and heart rate, seizures, vomiting, and pale or cool skin. You should be on alert for these symptoms if you are helping a person recover from a hangover or if you are suffering from a hangover yourself.   


Recovery is the end of hangovers. You never have to wake up feeling sick as the result of uncontrollable drinking again. At Smarmore Castle Private Clinic, we know that real change is possible. Our residential detox and treatment programmes for alcoholism and alcohol abuse help patients return to optimum health of mind, body, and spirit. Call to speak with one of our caring and attentive staff members today to plan your course of treatment: +353 41 214 5111

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