What is Hangover? How to Prevent and Treat Hangover after Drink?

Updated on & Medically Reviewed by Dr Lalitha

Alcoholic drinks such as beer, wine, and other spirits contain ethanol or ethyl alcohol that is a clear, colorless liquid formed due to the fermentation of sugars or starch by yeasts or a catalyst. When taken in limited or moderate quantity alcohol may not affect the health of a normal person who does not have any other co-morbidities or illness.

Consumption of excess alcohol causes drunkenness. Being drunk means when he or she becomes physically and emotionally unstable  – such as getting excited / un-inhibited or saddened, blurring of vision, losing balance while standing or walking, losing coordination and concentration, which may be temporary changes.

What Happens When You Consume Alcohol?

Alcohol after consumption into the body gets broken down to acetaldehyde by an enzymatic process in the liver. This acetaldehyde is converted into acetic acid that gets accumulated causing symptoms of ‘drunkenness’.

Why do you get ‘drunk’?

A person gets ‘drunk’ if alcohol is consumed faster than the body’s ability to metabolize it. The faster alcohol is consumed, the less is time that the body has to tackle acetic acid that is formed and so its levels build up in the body leading to ‘drunkenness’.

What is a Hangover?

A hangover is a term used for a group of unpleasant symptoms usually caused in the morning, due to heavy drinking of alcohol the night before. It is seen when the levels of alcohol start falling and the intoxicating effects begin to recede.

Hangover symptoms last for several hours and sometimes beyond 24 hours.

Symptoms of Alcohol Hangover

  • Headache, dizziness, drowsiness
  • Dry mouth, dry skin
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation
  • General discomfort, fatigue
  • Irritability, anxiety, depression
  • Sleep disturbances

What Contributes to the Severity of a Hangover?

The extent to which a person experiences the symptoms of hangover varies from person to person. All those who consume excess alcohol need not have a hangover but some persons experience it even with consuming small quantities of alcohol. Hangover symptoms vary in each individual, depending on their body hydration status, health,  genetic traits, age, gender, etc.

  • Dehydration – As alcohol acts as a diuretic, frequent urination occurs causing fluid loss from the body which dehydrates a person and worsens hangover.
  • Electrolyte imbalance – caused by excessive diuresis makes a person feel weak and fatigued.
  • Metabolic acidosis – Accumulation of acetaldehyde or acetic acid (a metabolite of alcohol) can lead to metabolic acidosis that is harmful to the body.
  • Sleep disorders can aggravate the symptoms.
  • Poor health status and an unhealthy diet with a lack of proteins and essential nutrients may worsen a hangover.
  • Disturbance of prostaglandins levels and vasodilatation can cause headaches and body aches.

Natural Ways to Prevent & Treat the Hangover

  1. Having a meal after consuming alcohol reduces the hangover.
  2. Drinking plenty of water helps to keep you hydrated and healthy.
  3. Plenty of good quality sleep will reduce the symptoms
  4. Medications such as NSAID and antacid medications for pains and acidity.
  5. Taking vitamin B complex containing Thiamine(B1), Riboflavin (B2), Pyridoxine(B6), Methylcobalamine (B12) long with Zinc helps in combating symptoms of a hangover.
  6. Taking good quality anti-Hanover supplements having natural herbs and plant extracts.

Compounds that are Helpful to Reduce Hangovers

1. N acetylcysteine – An amino acid supplement of cysteine found in high protein foods like chicken, turkey, eggs,  tuna fish, legumes, cheese, seeds, and yogurt. It acts as a good antioxidant and also detoxifies the body‘s toxin, hence reducing kidney and liver damage and also relieves respiratory symptoms.

It prevents hangover symptoms by decreasing the effects of acetaldehyde produced in the liver. Improves psychiatric symptoms and reduces addictive behavior by regulating the neurotransmitters in the brain. N- acetylcysteine is available at low cost and is tolerated well.

2. Dihydromyricetin – is a plant extract ( flavonoid) that is extracted from a plant Ampelopsis Grossedentata that grows in parts of China.

Multiple studies have shown adequate amounts of Dihydromyricetin to have beneficial effects in treating symptoms of a hangover.  It helps metabolize alcohol faster. It was found to activate a cascade of mechanisms that help eliminate alcohol and its metabolites from the blood quickly, thereby reducing/eliminating the  caused by these metabolites. Few studies have also shown that it has other beneficial anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory, and anti-microbial properties too.

3. Milk Thistle – is a plant, native of Europe and available in America, Africa, Asia, and Australia. Medicine is extracted from seeds and helps reduce symptoms of a hangover. It protects the liver from the effects of alcohol relieves stomach upsets and exhibits antioxidant properties.  It can be taken orally as 1-2 tablets.

4. Sodium bicarbonate – Available as baking soda, when taken orally can help to neutralize stomach acid. Coco-cola drinks containing soda, caffeine, water, and sugars can help boost energy levels and decrease symptoms of a hangover.

5. Ginseng – The root of ginseng is an effective natural herb that can reduce the severity of hangover symptoms after heavy drinking. It is found to have positive effects on the body such as metabolizing alcohol quickly, reducing stomach upsets, decreasing thirst and dehydration, improving memory and concentration, etc. It is available as liquid, capsules, and powder. It is also taken as a tea. Side effects are rare and it is usually safe to take.

It is always advisable to consume alcohol in limited or moderate quantities. Excess alcohol is deleterious to health. 

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