Find out what really happens to your body when you have a hangover and how you can best prevent or treat the symptoms.
Your plan was to have one cocktail, some appetizers and then head directly home. But more friends stopped by to celebrate and before you knew it, your small soiree morphed into quite the wild drinking bash for all.
You know the rest: Every time you get a hangover, you swear never to do it again. You’re not the only one: Hangovers cost the U.S. economy more than $200 billion a year, mostly in lost workplace productivity.
Because your boss may not be overly fond of your hangover sick days either, you need a pain-free primer that will help you quickly feel better.
You may know the feeling of a hangover all too well, but it’s important to determine whether you actually have hangover or are just overtired. Internist Sharon Orrange, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of California Keck School of Medicine, says someone who is truly hung over has at least two of the following symptoms:
The effects of a hangover, such as fuzzy thinking and concentration problems, can drag on long after you wake up with a wicked headache. Six to eight hours after the last drink, your blood alcohol level will finally be zero, depending on your body weight, says Orrange, but that’s not the end of the story.
“The average hangover lasts 24 to 48 hours after all the alcohol is out of your system,” she says.
So, what exactly is going on in your body during that time?
The headache and nausea of a hangover used to be blamed strictly on dehydration, says Orrange. In recent years, however, the reasoning has changed as researchers delve into what physiologically happens to trigger a hangover.
“A hangover is related to immune response,” Orrange says. Your immune system has an inflammatory response to excessive alcohol intake. “Dehydration is one contributor to the hangover but not the sole basis of it,” she says. Inflammation is the bad guy, and both your liver and kidneys need help detoxing after drinking too much.
You can certainly diminish the damage of a hangover with foresight, say the experts. If you want to reduce your chances of a hangover, Orrange offers a game plan.
Of course, the best way to minimize the effects of a hangover are to avoid one altogether. Drink responsibly, and if you do wake up with a hangover, make a promise not to do it again — until next year.