It’s a common scenario: You go out with friends, drink more than you intended, and wake up with a nasty hangover. Your head aches, the sun hurts your eyes, and your stomach feels queasy. Is there any way to get rid of a hangover?
Unfortunately, there aren’t any instant hangover cures. But there are some steps you can take to ease your discomfort — and prevent hangovers from happening again. Here’s what you need to know.
How Long Does a Hangover Last?
A hangover is a set of symptoms caused by drinking too much alcohol. Hangover symptoms typically last about 24 hours.
There’s not a lot of scientific research on hangovers. Doctors aren’t sure why, but hangover symptoms are most intense when your blood alcohol returns to about zero. For most people, that’s when you wake up the next morning after a night of drinking.
Hangover symptoms vary from person to person, but typical symptoms include:
- A weak, shaky feeling.
- Nausea or stomach pain.
- Muscle aches.
- Sensitivity to light and sound.
- Increased blood pressure.
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What Causes a Hangover?
Drinking too much alcohol is the root cause of a hangover. People have different tolerances to alcohol, so it can be difficult to predict how many drinks will cause a hangover. Anytime you drink to intoxication, you run the risk of having a hangover the next day.
Specifically, here’s what happens to your body when you have a hangover.
- You become dehydrated. Alcohol increases urination, so your body loses fluids. That dehydration contributes to hangover symptoms like thirst, headache, and fatigue.
- Your sleep gets interrupted. You may fall asleep faster after a few drinks, but drinking alcohol interferes with brain activity, which leads to fragmented sleep. You then wake up feeling groggy and tired.
- Your stomach feels upset. Alcohol irritates the stomach lining and increases the release of stomach acids. That can lead to nausea and stomach pain.
- Inflammation increases. Alcohol ramps up inflammation throughout the body, which can leave you with an overall sense of malaise.
How to Treat a Hangover
There are many myths about how to treat a hangover, such as having another drink in the morning to ward off symptoms. But there are no scientifically proven hangover cures. Recovering from a hangover is simply a matter of time; most hangovers are gone in 24 hours.
But you can sometimes ease symptoms of a hangover. To feel a little better:
- Drink plenty of water. Replace lost fluids with water as soon as possible, especially if your hangover involved vomiting, sweating or diarrhea. Even if you can’t hold anything else down, sipping a little water will help you feel better.
- Get as much rest as you can. Sleep is the best way to help your body recover after drinking. So take a nap if you’re able to.
- Take pain relievers. Aspirin or ibuprofen may help with a headache or body aches. Don’t take acetaminophen (Tylenol); it has a toxic effect on the liver when combined with alcohol.
- Have a cup of coffee or tea. While caffeine won’t banish a hangover, it is a stimulant and can help you feel more alert.
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The easiest way to prevent a hangover, of course, is not to drink alcohol. But if you choose to drink, here are some ways to help prevent hangovers.
- Drink in moderation. If you reduce the amount you drink, you’re less likely to end up with a hangover. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says drinking in moderation means two drinks per day for men, one for women.
- Avoid dark-colored alcoholic drinks. Darker spirits, such as bourbon, contain compounds called congeners, that add to the taste and smell of the beverage. High levels of congeners worsen hangover symptoms in some people.
- Avoid wine with sulfites. Sulfites are preservatives found in some wines. Many people are sensitive to sulfites and develop headaches after drinking wine. Check labels before you buy.
- Eat something when you drink. Food will cause the body to absorb alcohol more slowly.
- Drink water in between alcoholic drinks. You’ll drink less alcohol and also decrease dehydration caused by alcohol.
When to Seek Help for Drinking
If a hangover is more than an occasional problem, you may have an alcohol use disorder (AUD). An AUD is what health care professionals used to call alcohol abuse or alcoholism. An AUD can be mild, moderate, or severe.
Health care professionals typically use a list of questions to help diagnose an AUD. If you answer “yes” to two or more of these questions, you should seek help with your drinking.
In the past year, have you:
- Found yourself drinking more, or longer, than you intended?
- Wanted to decrease or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
- Spent a lot of time drinking? Or experienced being sick afterwards?
- Felt a strong craving or urge to drink?
- Found that drinking or its aftereffects caused problems with home, family, work, or school?
- Continued to drink even if it caused problems with family, work, or school?
- Given up activities or hobbies that were important to you in order to drink?
- Been in situations after drinking where you could get hurt (driving, swimming, having unsafe sex)?
- Had a memory blackout?
- Continued to drink even if was adding to another health problem?
- Had to drink more than you once did to feel the effects of alcohol?
- Felt withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating?
The good news is that even someone with a severe drinking problem can benefit from treatment. Treatment for AUD consists of medications, behavioral therapies, or both. Talk to your doctor about cutting back on alcohol or quitting drinking altogether.
National Library of Medicine, Hangover Treatment, Link
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Hangovers, Link
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, What to Know About Alcohol Treatment, Link
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, What Is Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)? Link
Harvard Medical School, 7 steps to cure your hangover, Link
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