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University of South Florida

Last Call – The Anatomy of a Hangover

It starts innocently enough, one cocktail, then another and another. The next day begins with “I will never ever drink again. I promise, if I live through this, I will never touch another drop.” The hangover of your nightmares has arrived, bringing with it a massive headache, cotton mouth, nausea, dizziness and depression. You ask yourself “why does something so good hurt so bad?”

Hangovers can result after one alcoholic drink in some individuals, whiles others are able to consume considerable amounts and wake rested.

Dr. Fareeha Hussaini of USF Health Family Medicine said “”In my sleep clinic I see a lot of patients who have this misconception that a “night cap” will help them get better sleep. The truth is alcohol may help you fall asleep quickly but it fragments your sleep and gives you overall poor sleep quality; you do not get the deep sleep that your body needs to feel refreshed.”

To better understand the hangover, it is best to understand how alcohol affects our bodies. And always remember moderation: According to the CDC, the recommended limits of alcohol per day is up to one drink for women and two drinks for men.

Dissecting a Hangover

An informal office poll indicated that a greasy pizza or a cheeseburger and an ice cold soda alleviate various symptoms of the hangover. There is scientific evidence as to why these homeopathic cures help alleviate a hangover.

The symptoms of a hangover vary from person to person, but the physiological causes are universal:

– Excessive Thirst
The morning after imbibing is often followed by excessive thirst. Alcohol consumption leads to dehydration because it causes the body to produce more urine, therefore causing you to urinate more often, therefore losing water. This can lead to dehydration, hence the ice cold soda craving.
– Headaches
Alcohol consumption (intoxication) causes vasodilation, meaning expansion of the blood vessels. The blood vessels than begin to contract as the effects of the alcohol wear off, this process is known as vasoconstriction, which exacerbates the headache.
– Queasy Stomach
Alcohol can inflame your stomach lining by increasing excessive stomach acid, and causing your stomach to delay emptying, which in turn causes vomiting and abdominal pain.
– The Cravings Are Real
Alcohol consumption contributes to the production of the neuropeptide galanin, a chemical in the brain known for playing a role in the increased appetite or cravings for fatty foods.
Hankering For A Drink The Next Day
The “hair of the dog” theory, which fosters the idea that another alcoholic beverage will bring relief, has some scientific merit. Galanin has also been linked to craving alcohol. The greater the alcohol intake the more the body craves alcohol.
Feeling Exhausted After Drinking
Alcohol robs you of your sleep by preventing deeper stages of sleep and causing you to awaken during the night.
Alcohol Effects Blood Sugar
If you’re feeling weak, shaky and experiencing mood disturbances after drinking alcohol, it could be because alcohol causes a drop in your blood sugar.

Avoiding a hangover is the best cure

There is no actual cure for a hangover despite the many claims from over the counter pills and medications.
Some helpful tips to avoid a hangover are:

– Sip your cocktail, drink slowly
– Eating before and during drinking to help your body absorb the alcohol slowly.
– Alternate alcoholic beverages with water, it will help you drink less and stay hydrated.
– Do not give into pressure to drink, know your limits.
– Educate yourself on which alcohols contain congeners, (beverages with greater amounts of toxins found in dark liquors such as whiskey and red wines, bourbon etc.). Beverages with less congeners are known to be less likely to cause harsh hangovers. Keep in mind that all alcohol causes hangovers.


Written by Ercilia Colón