How Things Work: Hangovers

Credit: Samantha Ward/Staff Credit: Samantha Ward/Staff

The much-dreaded hangover, which usually follows heavy alcohol consumption and yields nausea or dizziness, is referred to in various parts of the world as “carpenter in forehead,” “made of rubber,” or “hair ache,” according to The Independent News. Although the possibility of a hangover doesn’t usually stop people from going out and enjoying themselves when alcohol is involved, most drinkers probably wouldn’t complain if someone were to come up with a hangover cure.

However, the chances of a cure being invented soon are slim. There are several ethical issues involved in testing any such cure on humans, which makes it very hard for anyone to come up with a hangover-curing drug. For now, the best way to suffer less from hangovers is to learn more about them.

One way to lessen the impact of a hangover is to drink less, especially if you are more susceptible to them. According to IMPACT Magazine, women usually fall into this category because they produce glutathione, the enzyme responsible for clearing the body of alcohol’s toxins, in lesser quantities and more slowly than men do. Women also tend to weigh less and have more body fat than men, which means more alcohol gets into their bloodstream in a shorter amount of time.

The Mayo Clinic, a medical practice and research group focused on specialized health care, says that people with a family history of alcoholism, or those who drink while they are hungry or sleep deprived, are more strongly affected by alcohol than others. In addition, people who do not regularly consume large amounts of alcohol tend to be more susceptible to its effects.

But what is it about alcohol that leads to hangovers? It turns out that alcohol acts in several ways to create discomfort in the human body.

Headaches from hangovers are usually the result of dehydration. Alcohol dehydrates the body by causing it to produce more urine — in fact, alcohol can cause the body to lose nearly four times the volume of liquids it gains by consuming alcohol. This dehydration is responsible for the dry mouth that is one of the classic symptoms of a hangover. In addition, the brain shrinks slightly due to the lack of hydration, causing headaches.

Alcohol also adds toxins to the body that can build up and cause headaches, even vomiting. Certain kinds of alcohols, usually those darker in color, contain compounds called congeners used to add color and flavor. Unfortunately, these compounds are also known to cause severe hangovers.

The fatigue associated with a hangover is a direct result of alcohol confusing the body’s internal clock. Alcohol makes people feel sleepy by changing the levels of the chemicals in their bodies that are responsible for keeping them alert. The body overcompensates when alcohol leaves it, and produces more stimulants than necessary, leading to poor sleeping patterns and ultimately fatigue.

The human body may undergo withdrawal when the effects of alcohol start to wear off, causing people to feel shaky or dizzy from hangovers. Many people also like to mix their alcohol with sugary drinks, which only makes the withdrawal effect worse as the body comes off its sugar high at the same time the alcohol starts to wear off.

Some people like to consume alcohol while also consuming other drugs, such as nicotine. This can cause the alcohol to act in a more potent way and usually results in the drinker suffering a more severe hangover. Alcohol can also irritate the stomach lining; this can lead to nausea and pain.

Many urban legends exist about foods (like bacon sandwiches) that can eliminate all hangover symptoms, but only a few methods are recommended by experts as surefire ways to lessen their severity. Not consuming alcohol on an empty stomach, staying hydrated, taking multivitamins, and getting enough rest are all ways to make the morning after a night of heavy drinking more bearable.