Hangovers Explained: What’s Happening To The Body?

We breakdown the reasons why you waking up with a raging headache and nausea after a big night on the booze.

One thing you won’t miss if you’re doing Dry July? The dodgy stomach and splitting headache when you roll out of bed after a night out. If you’re a drinker you’ve no doubt experienced the dreaded hangover – some more soul-destroying than others.

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What *actually* is a hangover?

Whether it’s from overindulging or mixing drinks, a hangover shows up the next day (uninvited) through a variety of symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Excessive thirst
  • Shakiness
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Irritability
  • Slow reflexes
  • Increased heart rate
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Exacerbate issues like anxiety and depression

Hangovers are a bit like rolling a dice. Sometimes you can have just one glass of alcohol and your body feels the effects tenfold, while other times you’ll wake up symptom-free feeling fresh as a daisy.

What causes a hangover?

The body considers alcohol a toxic substance, so this is where it all starts. There are a few key things that happen to the body after consuming alcohol, which contribute to a hangover…

1. Withdrawals

Alcohol sets off a chain reaction in your brain – the first being the disruption of neurotransmitters, which affects how the body releases certain ‘reward’ chemicals. Initially, this induces a sense of euphoria. “Feel good” chemicals like dopamine are released all at once after your first few drinks, causing you to feel happy, sociable, and carefree…sound familiar? However, the next day, the withdrawals from alcohol set in and the consequences of dopamine overflow come back to haunt you and the reverse happens. The endorphin crash is also why you’ll often have bursts of hysterical crying or moodiness the morning after (we’ve all been there!)

2. Dehydration

Ever gone pee the next day and it’s super dark? There’s a reason for that. Not only is alcohol toxic, but it is also a diuretic, which means it draws water out of the body. Frequent urination while drinking, also known as ‘breaking the seal’, may seem great because you’re getting rid of it all but it’s actually dehydrating you in the process. A common rule of thumb is to follow an alcoholic beverage with a glass of water to help prevent feeling dehydrated.

Alcohol dehydrates your body
Alcohol dehydrates the body. It’s recommended you follow each drink with a glass of water / @kendalljenner

Metabolisation

When you drink, your system starts to metabolise the alcohol flowing through your bloodstream and it oxidises transforming into acetaldehyde – the chemical that causes you to feel awful in the morning. A build-up of acetaldehyde is toxic to the system – even more so than the alcohol itself – and it’s what causes you to feel lethargic, sore, nauseous, and drained the day after.

It’s a heartbreaker

Heart racing at a million miles an hour? A faster heart rate is also a common symptom of hangovers because alcohol can weaken the heart muscle leading to irregular beats. There’s even condition called ‘Holiday Heart’, which can happen after repeated and significant alcohol consumption…it often happens after a fun-filled holiday 😉

How to avoid hangovers

Your safest bet for preventing a hangover is obviously abstaining from alcohol all together but for most of us that’s just not realistic. Instead try our tips for the morning after then head back to bed!

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