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Do Alcoholics Get Hangovers?

Do Alcoholics Get Hangovers?

While it takes larger amounts of alcohol than it would for less experienced drinkers, alcoholics can still get hangovers. Alcoholism—now known as alcohol use disorder (AUD) due to changes in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM)—is defined by the Mayo Clinic as a pattern of alcohol use that involves problems controlling your drinking, being preoccupied with alcohol, continuing to use alcohol even when it causes problems, having to drink more to get the same effect, or having withdrawal symptoms when you rapidly decrease or stop drinking. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that AUD affects over sixteen million Americans. One of the primary indicators of AUD is the onset of withdrawal symptoms and hangovers.

What Is a Hangover?

A hangover is a term used to describe the painful and sickening physical symptoms that come after a night of incredibly heavy drinking. Anyone can get hangovers, from years-long alcoholics to first-time drinkers; however, less experienced drinkers are generally more susceptible.

Some of the primary symptoms of a hangover include but are not limited to:

  • Fatigue and malaise
  • Dry mouth and thirst
  • Migraine and headache
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Bad breath
  • Sleepiness and irritability
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lightheadedness

Hangovers are not a natural part of life, nor should they be considered some sort of “badge of honor” among hardcore drinkers. They’re a reminder that too much alcohol was consumed and should be considered a glaring signal of what not to do. Hangover symptoms usually take a few hours to develop and can last for hours or all day, depending on severity.

The Science of a Hangover

Excessive drinking places great strain on the body, and there’s a limit to how much the system will actually tolerate. The medical term for a hangover is veisalgia, which actually means “uneasiness following debauchery” in Greek. Simply put, a hangover is a small and isolated period of withdrawal where the body reacts harshly to sudden being deprived of alcohol after a prolonged period of excessive drinking. At first, drinking triggers the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine and other reward-oriented chemicals. As alcohol is metabolized, it is converted into a substance called acetaldehyde, an abundance of which directly accounts for the nausea and stomach illness that sufferers experience during a hangover. In cases of minimum to moderate drinking, the liver is able to effectively use glutathione to break down acetaldehyde and keep it from creating harmful physical effects; however, an abundance of alcohol consumption depletes the liver’s natural supply of glutathione.

Vasodilatation – Why Hangover Victims Need to Know This Word

One of the most common and debilitating symptoms of hangover is headache and migraine. These symptoms occur through a process called vasodilatation, an expansion of the blood vessels that causes even the smallest movements to lead to severe headaches as these vessels contract, it can lead to even more headaches and put hangover sufferers on their backs for an extended period of time. These headaches, as well as the fatigue that hangover sufferers experience, are further exacerbated by a disruption of their bodies’ natural sleep patterns. These symptoms can impact anyone, no matter how long they may have been drinking alcohol.
What Role Does Alcohol Tolerance Play in the Hangover Process?
Anyone who has ever dealt with AUD is acutely aware of tolerance and how it can affect the development of symptoms. As alcoholism progresses, the body requires an increasingly large supply of alcohol to feel the initial effects of intoxication. It also means that the body comes to expect a certain level of alcohol to properly function and reacts negatively when deprived—hence the withdrawal period. The reality of tolerance is that, while it may prevent alcoholics from initially experiencing the immediate symptoms of a hangover, it also causes them to drink more and more, to the point of intoxication and withdrawal.

Age and Gender Differences in Hangovers

Very often, women find themselves more vulnerable to hangovers, and their symptoms are worse. One recent study reports that women were seven percent more likely to be hungover after excessive drinking than men. Another indicated that women who consumed alcohol in amounts equal to men had far worse symptoms, and that women generally become intoxicated faster than men. Older drinkers, even those who with a prolonged history of alcohol consumption, also experience quicker and more severe hangover symptoms. This is due to the body’s progressive inability to effectively metabolize alcohol and avoid physical withdrawal symptoms.

Hangovers get worse with age for a variety of reasons, including:

  • A rise in blood-alcohol concentration
  • A decrease in liver enzymes
  • Generally higher body weight
  • Medication interactions
  • Natural biological breakdown

As the body ages, It’s critical that drinkers begin to mitigate their alcohol consumption to avoid the onset of a hangover and corresponding health issues.

Is There a Hangover Cure?

Despite the claims of various companies and family mythologies, the only cure for a hangover is time. This is a natural and necessary reaction that the body has to excessive alcohol consumption, and it reminds us all of our limitations and thresholds. If our bodies are reacting in such a way to our level of drinking, it’s a good idea to listen to them and avoid engaging in such behavior the next time we feel compelled to drink. The effects of a hangover can last all day, and cause a severe decline in sufferers’ health and quality of life, whether it’s missing work, important family obligations, or more.

No Binge Drinker Is Safe from Hangover

Alcoholics do in fact get hangovers. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been abusing alcohol for six months or sixty years. If hangovers have become a persistent and regular part of your life or that of your loved one, it might be time to seek treatment and end the cycle of binge drinking, withdrawal, and hangover. Alcohol abuse creates a number of serious changes to the brain and body that require medical detoxification and behavioral rehab. Whether you need inpatient or outpatient care, there are more options to help you avoid destructive binge drinking and the hangover that so often comes with it.

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The Four Stages Of Alcoholism

The Four Stages Of Alcoholism: Binging, Coping, Dependency, & Poor Health

The four stages of alcoholism represent a natural progression from casual drinking to full-blown addiction.

Stage One: Infrequent Binge Drinking

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as a pattern of alcohol consumption that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or above. For men, this level is usually reached by drinking five or more drinks within two hours; for women, it’s usually four. Although the lines can get blurred between occasional social binge drinking and a cycle of problematic alcohol consumption, this is often the first step to full blown AUD. First-time or “occasional” binge drinkers may not be aware or mindful of the long-term risks for addiction. Although people at this level may not be constantly preoccupied with thoughts of drinking, their level of consumption can create changes in the brain’s chemistry that facilitate dependency.

Stage Two: Drinking To Cope with Stress and Adversity

Whether it’s acute trauma or everyday stress, many Americans use alcohol as a coping mechanism to deal with the adverse circumstances in their lives. It may start off with a drink or two at the end of the workday to “relax” or “unwind”. Over time, these coping methods leads to constant preoccupation to the point where every minor point of adversity is remedied through drinking. Drinkers at this stage of alcohol abuse will routinely dismiss concerns of others over their drinking and rationalize their increased alcohol consumption as a natural response to life’s adversity. During this stage, relationships may start to become strained and everyday obligations may start to be neglected. Data from the NIAAA as well as multiple other studies indicates that drinking actually exacerbates stress rather than healing it.

Stage Three: Withdrawal and Psychological Consequences

By the third stage of alcoholism, full-blown dependency has set it in, paving the way for a variety of mental health issues, including but not limited to depression and anxiety.

Common behaviors exhibited during this stage include:

  • Withdrawn or isolated behavior
  • Erratic changes in mood and temperament
  • Hostility and aggression
  • Deep guilt and self-pity
  • High-risk behaviors
  • Constant preoccupation with alcohol

These behaviors and actions can lead to full-blown chaos in the person’s life, including legal problems, incarceration, family estrangement, job loss, and more. At this point, loved ones and friends should start the process of intervening in the loved one’s drinking and try to guide them toward treatment.

Stage Four: Physical Changes and Medical Issues

Alcohol comes for the brain first, but the body soon follows. In the final stages of alcohol addiction, the body becomes increasingly vulnerable to profound and potentially deadly physical changes, including but not limited to cirrhosis of the liver, jaundice, heart disease, weight gain, hypertension, diabetes, and much more. This is the most critical stage, and the one in which most alcoholics find themselves before they seek help or hit rock-bottom. It’s also the stage in which they develop serious long-term psychological issues that can impact the rest of their lives. Alcoholics will drink daily to avoid the regular discomfort of withdrawal, often while still insisting they don’t have a drinking problem.

Alcoholism Statistics In The Untied States

Excessive drinking kills approximately 88,000 Americans per year according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A recent study published in JAMA Psychiatry reports that one in eight Americans meets the criteria for alcohol use disorder (AUD). Prolonged and untreated alcohol abuse destroys virtually every aspect of a person’s life, including their physical and emotional health, their relationships with their family and loved ones, their careers, and their overall quality of life. There are, however, multiple stages of behavior and psychology leading up to the worst stages of this disease, during which sufferers can either get help on their own, or their loved ones can step in and intervene in their alcohol abuse.

Intervening in a Loved One’s Alcoholism

There are several red flags that loved ones of alcoholics should be mindful of during the course of this process. Understanding the four stages of alcoholism and how they progress can help loved ones of alcoholics better empower themselves to help get the one suffering into alcohol treatment and recovery. If you or someone you care about is going through the four stages of alcoholism, don’t ignore the signs. Get help now.

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