The Science of a Hangover, Explained

Every fantastic night out drinking can end in a less than stellar experience the next morning. Yes, a hangover is something we’ve all experienced and seems to be life’s way of teaching us about the dangers of too much of a good thing.

Why do we get hangovers, anyway? If you’re currently in bed with an upset stomach and a terrible headache, you’re likely cursing the natural world for creating such a punishment. However, understanding the science of a hangover can also help you to learn how to avoid one in the future.

Ready to learn more? Keep reading and we’ll walk you through all the hangover information you might need.

What is a Hangover?

A hangover is something a person gets when they drink too much alcohol, although you probably already knew that. Why does an abundance of alcohol tend to have this kind of impact on the body? Many people who have been hungover hundreds of times in their lives don’t even know the answer.

Alcohol creates a variety of effects in the body that produce the symptoms that we associate with a hangover. Those symptoms are often headaches, nausea, fatigue, dry mouth, dehydration, dizziness, and fragile mood disruptions.

Increased sensitivity to sound and light is often another major symptom. Where does this all come from?

Alcohol, for one, triggers what is known as an inflammatory response from the body’s immune system. Thus, your body responds to an overflow of alcohol in much the same way it might when it gets sick: shutting down certain parts of the body, creating an inability to concentrate, decreasing your appetite, and so forth.

Alcohol also irritates the stomach lining in your stomach. It can create stomach acid and will also delay the emptying of your stomach content. This is what often leads to nausea and sometimes vomiting.

Alcohol also dehydrates the body and creates more urine. This dehydration can lead to the dizziness and lightheadedness we often associate with being hungover.

What Makes a Hangover Worse?

Some people can get a serious hangover after only a little bit of drinking. Others can have many drinks and feel mostly fine the next morning. What gives?

There’s a lot of factors that go into how bad a person’s hangover might be the night after some heavy drinking. One you might be familiar with is how much food is in the stomach prior to drinking.

Having an empty stomach will mean that the body will soak up the alcohol much quicker. That’s going to lead to a worse hangover the next morning. If you don’t sleep well or long enough after drinking, it can also leave you feeling quite bad.

You haven’t given your body enough time to recover from what you’ve just put it through. Certain drinks will also lead to worse hangovers than others.

Darker colored alcoholic beverages, such as brandies, contain congeners. Congeners can increase the severity of a hangover.

Of course, a person’s genetics and family history also will have a lot to do with how they respond to alcohol. Everyone’s body processes alcohol a little differently, which is why there’s so much disparity between hangovers experienced by individuals.

Don’t get mad at your friend for avoiding their hangover, get mad at your own family history.

Preventing Serious Hangovers

If you’ve found yourself feeling terrible the morning after a night out, you’ve likely had the same thought that many people have had over the long and storied history of drinking: I’m never doing that again.

It is true, of course, that living sober would be the easiest way to avoid future hangovers. You can’t get hungover if you don’t drink.

However, if you’re not ready to take that step yet in your life, there are a few practices you can get in the habit of that can help to lessen the severity of your hangovers in the future.

Making a conscious choice to eat more and drink less is one such way. The more food you put into your stomach, the less your body will take on the full responsibility of soaking it all up. This applies to both before, after, and during your night of drinking.

Even if you haven’t eaten all night, getting home from a night out and eating a little bit can help you feel a little better when you wake up the next morning.

Drinking a lot of water during and after your night out can also help lessen the impact of a hangover the next morning. Your body is going to be dehydrated, as we mentioned, so getting as much water in your system as possible can only help.

Of course, the best thing you can do to avoid a serious hangover is to drink less. The less alcohol you consume, and the slower you can consume it, will have the biggest impact on making your hangover more manageable.

Some people also recommend taking over-the-counter pain medications to help manage their symptoms. It is true that taking an Advil or two before bed might help to muffle the pain of your hangover the next morning.

However, you should always speak to a doctor about taking medication while drinking.

How Does a Hangover Work?

If you’re sick of having hangovers after drinking, it might be time to figure out what actually causes one. Understanding a hangover can help you to lessen the severity of those you might experience in the future.

Need more health advice and information? Keep scrolling our blog for more.