A hangover is a group of unpleasant signs and symptoms that can develop after drinking too much alcohol. As if feeling awful weren't bad enough, hangover is also associated with poor performance and conflict at work.
As a general rule, the more alcohol you drink, the more likely you are to have a hangover the next day. But there's no magic formula to tell you how much you can safely drink and still avoid a hangover.
However unpleasant, most hangovers go away on their own, though they can last up to 24 hours. If you choose to drink alcohol, doing so responsibly can help you avoid future hangovers.
Hangover symptoms typically begin when your blood alcohol drops significantly and is at or near zero. They're usually in full effect the morning after a night of heavy drinking. Depending on what you drank and how much you drank, you may notice:
When to see a doctor
More-severe signs and symptoms that accompany heavy drinking may indicate alcohol poisoning — a life-threatening emergency.
Call 911 or your local emergency number if a person who has been drinking steadily develops:
Hangovers are caused by drinking too much alcohol.
A single alcoholic drink is enough to trigger a hangover for some people, while others may drink heavily and escape a hangover entirely.
Various factors may contribute to the problem. For example:
Anyone who drinks alcohol can experience a hangover, but some people are more susceptible to hangovers than are others. A genetic variation that affects the way alcohol is metabolized may make some people flush, sweat or become ill after drinking even a small amount of alcohol. Research hasn't clearly shown whether light drinkers or heavy drinkers are more likely to experience hangovers. Frequent drinkers may build up a tolerance that decreases their risk of hangovers.
Factors that may make a hangover more likely or severe include:
Drinks with a high congener content include:
By comparison, drinks with a lower congener content — such as lighter colored beers, gin and vodka — are somewhat less likely to cause a hangover. However, while lighter colored drinks may slightly help with hangover prevention, drinking too many alcoholic beverages of any color will still make you feel bad the morning after.
When you have a hangover, you're likely to experience problems with your:
Not surprisingly, this temporary dulling of your abilities increases your risk of a number of problems at work, including:
Treatments and drugs
Time is the only sure cure for a hangover. Here are a few things you can do to help yourself feel better in the meantime:
From stimulating your scalp with hair pulling to drinking sauerkraut juice, proposed alternative remedies for hangovers abound. Studies haven't found any natural remedies that consistently improve hangover symptoms. Still, some vitamins and herbs may help your body clear toxins, including:
Talk with your doctor before trying any alternative medicine. Natural doesn't always mean safe. Your doctor can help you understand possible risks and benefits before you try a treatment.
Despite various over-the-counter pills and tablets that claim to prevent hangovers, the only guaranteed way to prevent a hangover is to avoid alcohol. If you choose to drink, do so in moderation. The less alcohol you drink, the less likely you are to have a hangover.
It may help to:
Also know your limits. Decide ahead of time how many drinks you'll have — and stick to it. Don't feel pressured to drink.
Some people take over-the-counter pain relievers, such as aspirin or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others), to prevent hangover symptoms. But be sure to ask your doctor if this is safe for you to do and what dosage is best for you. These medications may interact with other medications, and in the case of acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) may cause liver damage if too much alcohol is consumed.
Last Updated: 2011-12-14
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