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
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.
- Mayo Clinic – Alcohol Use Disorder
- NIAAA – Alcohol Use Disorder
- Women Get The Worst Hangover
- Hangovers Worse For Women