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January 17, 2019

Here’s what happens to your body during a hangover

Adult Health Hangovers

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Woman in bed with a pillow over her head KrisCole/

If you’ve ever crawled out of bed with a splitting headache or an upset stomach after a night out, you know just how miserable hangovers can be. Veisalgia, the medical term for a hangover, often strikes when you overindulge or consume a number of different types of alcohol over the course of an evening. Although the symptoms of a hangover are only temporary, it’s important to understand how alcohol and its aftereffects impact your health.

What causes a hangover?

Regardless of how much you consume, alcohol sets off a chain reaction in your brain – first up are your neurotransmitters. Alcohol disrupts the function of these transmitters, which in turn affects how your body releases certain chemicals. Initially, this disruption induces a sense of euphoria. “Feel good” chemicals like dopamine are released after your first few drinks, causing you to feel happy, sociable, and carefree. The consequences of dopamine overflow, however, may come back to haunt you once the euphoria wears off and a hangover sets in.

What goes up must come down

Alcohol and the withdrawal your body experiences after drinking too much of it can affect your physical state as well as your mental well-being. What goes up must come down, and that includes your dopamine levels, which plummet after a night of heavy drinking. Because drinking directly influences the chemical activity in your brain, hangovers tend to exacerbate issues like depression and anxiety. Alcohol also disrupts your normal sleep patterns, further contributing to negative thoughts and moodiness.

When you drink, your system starts to metabolize or break down the alcohol flowing through your bloodstream. As alcohol oxidizes, it transforms into something called acetaldehyde, which is the chemical that causes you to feel awful in the morning. A buildup of acetaldehyde is toxic to the system, and it’s what causes you to feel lethargic, sore, nauseous, and drained of energy the morning after a night of drinking.

How to avoid hangovers

The obvious way to avoid a hangover altogether is to abstain from alcohol completely. But, if you still want to enjoy a few drinks and avoid the unpleasant symptoms of a hangover, be sure to limit the amount of alcohol you consume and drink plenty of non-alcoholic fluids also. The underlying factor that plays a major role in any hangover is dehydration. When you drink a diuretic such as alcohol, you tend to urinate frequently. This causes your body to lose salt and potassium, throws your electrolytes out of whack, and puts a strain on your heart and kidneys. To mitigate dehydration before that crippling hangover sets in, order a glass of water in between cocktails, and be sure to down a full glass before you go to sleep. After a night of drinking, wake up to a hearty breakfast (or even a late-night meal) to normalize blood sugar levels and prevent nausea.

The bottom line

While hangovers are never fun, the occasional occurrence won’t do any lasting damage. Frequent and excessive drinking on the other hand can cause a host of serious health complications, and put organs like your liver, pancreas, and heart at risk. If you or a loved one struggle with excessive drinking, seek the assistance of a trained medical professional.

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