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A hangover in its purest sense means “a thing left over from before.” But in 1904, the word became associated with drinking alcohol, and soon the world came to identify the word with feeling horrible the day after drinking.1
There’s a chance you’ve already experienced a hangover after a night out with your friends, and you’ve tried various ways to rid yourself of it. But how does it happen, and how can you even prevent it from happening? If you’re looking to help yourself get rid of a hangover effectively, you’ve come to the right place.
What Does a Hangover Feel Like and How Long Does It Last?
A hangover isn’t considered a disease in itself, but a collection of symptoms and signs that collectively produce an unpleasant disposition after drinking too much alcohol. Depending on how much you drank and how your body responds, you may experience any or a combination of the following:2
- Fatigue and weakness
- Headaches and muscle aches
- Nausea, vomiting or stomach pain
- Poor or decreased sleep
- Increased sensitivity to light and sound
- Lowered ability to concentrate
- Mood issues, such as depression, anxiety and irritability
Hangovers begin to appear a few hours after you stop drinking and your blood alcohol concentration falls. Typically, the symptoms end within 24 hours, but in more severe cases, they can last up to 72 hours.3 In addition, if you have a hangover that won’t go away, you may have developed alcohol poisoning, which produces severe symptoms such as:4
- Slow breathing or irregular breathing
- Blue-tinged or pale skin
- Low body temperature
- Difficulty remaining conscious or passing out
If you notice any of the following symptoms, get help from a family member and visit a doctor immediately for treatment to avoid doing any further damage to your body.
What Causes a Hangover?
Alcoholic drinks contain ethanol, a colorless liquid that’s absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract and then distributed all over your body.5 Once ethanol enters your bloodstream, it passes through the cell membranes, generally staying at the brain. This causes a depressant effect in your nervous system by linking up with nerve receptors and causing dopamine to be released into your body.6
In particular, ethanol binds with glutamate, a transmitter that excites neurons. The alcohol prevents this substance from becoming active, thus making the brain respond slowly to stimuli. Furthermore, ethanol binds and activates with gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors, making you feel calm and slowing down brain function further.7
Alcohol affects each person differently, triggering a variety of symptoms that may contribute to a hangover. Prominent examples include:8
- Increased urine production — Drinking high amounts of alcohol can cause you to urinate more, which results in symptoms of dehydration like thirstiness, dizziness and lightheadedness.
- Irritation in your stomach lining — Alcoholic drinks can increase the production of digestive acids and delay stomach emptying. This can cause abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting.
- Reduced blood sugar levels — Alcohol can lower your blood sugar levels below the normal range, causing fatigue, weakness, shakiness, mood swings and, in severe cases, even seizures.
- Occurrence of headaches — Drinking alcoholic beverages can expand your blood vessels, which can result in headaches once you wake up.
- Lowered sleep quality — The presence of alcohol in your body may make you sleepy at first. But it can also shorten, interrupt and disrupt your sleep cycles, upsetting your body’s natural circadian rhythm. If you wake up with an inadequate amount of rest, you may experience grogginess.
- Triggered immune response — Your immune system may react in different ways than normal once alcohol is digested. Common issues include inability to concentrate, decreased appetite and memory problems.
8 Natural Remedies for Alleviating a Hangover
It’s important to know that there is no magic cure for a hangover. The only way to counteract its effects is to give your body time to rest and recover while nourishing yourself with healthy foods and beverages. Here are some natural alternatives that may work effectively:9,10
- Get adequate amounts of rest — After a night of drinking, try your best to get sufficient amounts of sleep to help your body repair itself. If your sleep is cut short, you may develop headaches and feel tired.
- Drink plenty of water — Alcohol can cause dehydration,11 so it’s important to return your hydration levels to a healthy range. After you wake up, drink water consistently to prevent yourself from feeling worse.
- Consume bananas — Lower potassium levels are common among chronic alcoholics, a condition known as hypokalemia.12 To help reduce your chances of developing this problem, consuming a banana can easily replenish your potassium levels. A single medium banana contains 12 percent of the daily recommended value for this mineral.13
- Take a shower — If you’re feeling hungover in the morning, taking a cold shower can help wake you up and freshen your senses.
- Drink ginger root tea — Ginger root has long been known for its ability to help treat nausea and seasickness, a feeling that is also likened to a hangover.14 You can create ginger root tea by boiling a dozen root slices in 4 cups of water for 10 minutes.
- Exercise vigorously — A short, high-intensity exercise session allows your muscles to release hormones and neurochemicals that can boost your mood and energy levels. Make sure to drink plenty of water to prevent dehydrating yourself further should you attempt this. Also, don’t push yourself too hard, as you’re likely fatigued from drinking the night before.15
- Drink coconut water — Coconut water can help restore nutrients lost from drinking alcohol, and is an effective tool helping you rehydrate, too.16,17 Drinking plenty of it once you wake up can help return your electrolyte levels to a healthy range.
- Use essential oils — Essential oils may be particularly helpful after you wake up hungover. Inhaling them via a vaporizer can help re-energize yourself, alleviate pain and headaches, as well as relieve nausea and vomiting. Some helpful oils include:18
- Juniper berry
Tips on How to Help Prevent a Hangover (Even Before You Start Drinking)
The best way to prevent a hangover is to never drink in the first place. But if you will be drinking for whatever reason, such as during a social gathering or a special event, here are some helpful tips in minimizing a hangover the next day:19,20,21
- Drink water in between alcoholic beverages — Alcohol dehydrates your system,22 so drink plenty of water in between your cocktails.
- Drink water before sleeping — If you forget to drink water after your night out, guzzle lots of it before going to bed. This will help you avoid becoming dehydrated the next morning.
- Control your alcohol consumption — Limit your drink to one per hour. This is the average time it takes for an adult body to process alcohol.23
- Don’t smoke — Cigarette smoking alongside drinking can increase the risk and severity of a hangover, according to a study published in Alcohol and Drugs.24
- Eat healthy before drinking — Eating nutritious food before drinking may help keep you hydrated. Cucumbers are a beneficial example, as they contain water, B vitamins and various electrolytes to maintain your well-being.25
If You Will Be Drinking Alcohol, Do It Responsibly
I don’t recommend that you drink alcohol at all, but if you will be attending a party and there will be drinks, you can take the following remedies to “pre-tox” your body and minimize the effects of alcohol:
- N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) — This substance is known to help increase glutathione and reduce acetaldehyde toxicity, which is the source of many hangover symptoms.26
- B vitamins — Drinking alcohol depletes various B vitamins from your system.27 A study published in Alcohol Research & Health notes that thiamin (vitamin B1) plays an important role in brain metabolism. A deficiency can increase your risk for brain disorders, especially if you drink regularly.28
- Milk thistle — This herb contains antioxidants that may help protect your liver from toxins, including the effects of alcohol.29
- Vitamin C — Alcohol reduces your body’s vitamin C levels,30 which puts you at a disadvantage because this nutrient helps reduce alcohol-induced oxidative stress in your liver.31
- Magnesium — Drinking alcohol causes your body to urinate increased levels of magnesium. Deficiency in this mineral can affect biological processes such as protein synthesis and energy production, affecting major organs such as brain, liver, skeletal muscles and heart. Chronic magnesium deficiency can increase your risk of brain stroke, sarcopenia, cardiomyopathy, steatohepatitis and cirrhosis.32