The Symptoms of a Hangover

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A hangover is a collection of unpleasant physical and mental symptoms that occur after a session of heavy alcohol consumption. The severity of hangover symptoms can depend on many factors, such as how much alcohol was consumed and the type of alcohol. But hangovers are caused by only one thing—drinking too much alcohol.

How much is too much? Some people report hangover symptoms after consuming only two or three drinks, while some heavy drinkers never experience hangover symptoms at all. But for most people, the greater the amount of alcohol consumed and the longer the duration of alcohol consumption, the more severe the hangover symptoms.

This article discusses the common symptoms of a hangover as well as the signs of more serious alcohol poisoning. It also covers why hangovers happen and why they can be a problem.

Common Hangover Symptoms

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a hangover can include some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue, weakness, and thirst: Consuming alcohol can contribute to mild dehydration, which can then cause a range of other hangover symptoms.
  • Headache: Hangover headaches are usually throbbing or pounding and can be accompanied by nausea, sensitivity to light, and dizziness.
  • Gastrointestinal distress: Many people experience an upset stomach, vomiting, or diarrhea when they
  • Muscle aches: Muscle pain and stiffness are common hangover symptoms.
  • Decreased sleep, decreased deep sleep, and increased slow-wave sleep: Alcohol can interfere with sleep, leading to fatigue the next day.
  • Vertigo and sensitivity to light and sound: A hangover can cause dizziness and lightheadedness, and increased sensitivity to light and sound.
  • Decreased attention and concentration: After heavy alcohol consumption, people often have a hard time focusing for a period of time the next day.
  • Depression, anxiety, and irritability: Some people may feel down or anxious after a night of drinking. Other unpleasant hangover symptoms, including sleep problems, headaches, and nausea, can contribute to feelings of irritability and other mood problems.
  • Tremor, sweating, and increased pulse and blood pressure: Alcohol's effects on the body, including producing dehydration and inflammation, can contribute to some of these unpleasant hangover effects.

Recap

Common hangover symptoms include headaches, thirst, sensitivity to light, irritability, and stomach upset.

Severe Hangover Symptoms

Excessive alcohol consumption can cause more than a general feeling of malaise the next day. Extreme alcohol consumption can cause acute alcohol poisoning which can be life-threatening.

The symptoms of alcohol poisoning can include many of the same symptoms as a hangover, but usually more intense and extreme:

  • Confusion
  • Difficulty remaining conscious; cannot be awakened when unconscious
  • Vomiting while unconscious
  • Slow heart rate and bluish-colored skin
  • Low body temperature; feels cold to the touch
  • Seizures
  • Very slow or irregular breathing

If you see anyone with the above symptoms after drinking, call 911 immediately. Stay with the person and try to turn them on their side so they do not choke on their own vomit. If they stop breathing entirely, begin CPR.

Even if you don't see any of the above symptoms of alcohol poisoning, if the person is passed out and cannot be awakened, they could be at risk of dying. Seek medical help immediately.

Intensity and Duration of Hangover Symptoms

The intensity of these symptoms and the particular set of symptoms can vary from person to person and from occasion to occasion. A person might experience nausea and dizziness on one occasion, but mainly headache symptoms the next time.

Factors that can contribute to individual differences in the duration and intensity of hangover symptoms include:

  • Age: Research suggests that younger people typically experience more severe hangovers.
  • Genetic factors: Your genetics can contribute to how your body responds to and processes alcohol.
  • Overall health: People with worse general health tend to experience more severe hangover symptoms.
  • Sex: Women tend to have a lower tolerance for alcohol and are more likely to have worse hanger symptoms than men.

Hangover symptoms usually begin within several hours after the drinking session ends, when blood alcohol concentration (BAC) begins to fall. The symptoms usually peak when BAC returns to zero. Hangover symptoms can last from a few hours to up to 24 hours.

When Hangover Symptoms Become a Problem

If you frequently experience hangover symptoms or your hangover symptoms have begun to affect you at school or work, you may have developed an alcohol use disorder. One symptom of alcohol use disorder is continuing to drink in spite of repeated negative consequences.

Chronic, heavy alcohol use can contribute to a range of health problems, including digestive problems, cardiovascular disease, liver disease, weakened immunity, and neurological problems. It can also contribute to bone damage and increase the risk of several types of cancer.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you die from a hangover?

    Consuming too much alcohol too quickly can lead to depressed breathing, low body temperature, loss of consciousness, seizures, decreased heart rate, and vomiting. Alcohol poisoning is serious and can be potentially fatal.

  • How much alcohol will cause a hangover?

    While it varies for each person, consuming more than one drink per hour increases the risk of getting a hangover. Tolerance also plays a role. Some people may feel hangover symptoms after two or three drinks, while others who have a much higher tolerance may rarely experience hangovers.

  • Are there any remedies for a hangover?

    According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, no hangover remedies have been scientifically proven to work. While you can't cure a hangover, self-care can help you feel better while you wait for symptoms to pass. Get enough rest and drink water to help rehydrate your body.

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7 Sources
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