What Causes Hangovers?

Why do we get hungover...and can we actually stop them?

By Jen Moore | Dec 14, 2017

It’s the Sunday morning after a boozy, cocktail filled weekend and all of the sudden it hits you.

Your head is throbbing, your stomach is churning, and your entire body feels like it’s going to fall apart.

No doubt about it, you’re hungover.

But luckily for you, you’re not doomed to a life of headaches and upset stomachs.

Scientists have come up with a number of reasons as to why we get hangovers, and one common theory is dehydration.

Have you ever noticed that when you drink, you have to use the bathroom a lot? That’s because alcohol is a diuretic, causing our bodies to lose water faster than they normally would. When we’re dehydrated, we lose some of the fluid around our brains, causing it to shrink and pull on the membranes attaching it to our skulls. Not surprisingly, this can give us a major headache.

But what about the fact that it’s only 11 a.m. and you’ve already upchucked your breakfast twice? Can dehydration really be to blame for that?

It could be from a chemical called acetaldehyde, a toxic byproduct our body makes as it process alcohol (yet another toxin). Even though the acetaldehyde is gone by the time we wake up in the morning, scientists say our symptoms could be caused by the aftereffects of this poison.

Finally, research has also shown that as we get older, our tolerance to alcohol, unfortunately, starts to go down.  So, it’s not your imagination that you’re suddenly feeling worse after a couple glasses of pinot noir now, than you did after a night of cheap beer in your twenties.

One of the best ways to cure a hangover is to stop it before it even has the chance to rear its ugly head.

Since dehydration is one of the key ingredients in the hangover recipe, we can combat that by making sure we’re getting enough water during our night of boozy fun. We recommend having a glass of water between each drink and staying far away from any mixed drink with soda in it, since caffeine can just dehydrate you even more. 

Research has also shown that as we get older, our tolerance to alcohol, unfortunately, starts to go down.

Even the kind of alcohol you drink can play a role in how good -or bad- you feel the next morning.  Each style of alcohol has a certain amount of congeners, a type of chemical that gives each alcohol variety its distinct taste and color.  According to a study by Alcohol Health & Research World, drinking alcohol with a lot of congeners (like red wine or whiskey) can result in a worse hangover than drinking something like vodka or white wine.  

A good rule of thumb is the darker the alcohol; the more likely you’ll be feeling its effects the next day. So, being selective about what you guzzle down can go a long way in making you have a better and more pleasant morning after.

But, let’s say it’s the morning after and the damage has already been done. Is there anything you can do to stop the pain and regret?

Maybe.

Again, the research isn’t 100% confirmed, but it’s thought there are ways we can make ourselves feel at least marginally better the next day.

Upon waking up, take an ibuprofen and guzzle it down with a large glass of water. This has the twofold benefit of giving your body some much needed hydration, as well as providing some relief from the elephant stampede going on in your head.

If you’re lucky enough that you don’t have to go anywhere for the day, then get as much sleep as possible. Even though you probably were out like a light the second your head hit the pillow last night, alcohol can disrupt your REM cycle, making you feel tired and groggy the next morning. The only way to combat that is to catch some more z’s if you can.

But, if you’re like most of us, you probably have commitments and, unfortunately, need to act like an adult.  There are some things you can do, however, to help ease the pain.


Jen Moore

DS 2020 Editor