What Is a Hangover? What Causes a Hangover?

There are several factors that contribute to a hangover the morning after the night before. First and foremost, ethanol, the chemical in alcoholic drinks that we commonly refer to as ‘alcohol’, is a diuretic, which means that it stimulates the body’s urinary system to produce more urine than usual. This excessive passing of water causes our body to become dehydrated, and it is this dehydration – an insufficient amount of water in the body – that causes many of the symptoms of a hangover, including headaches and dizziness.

In small amounts, ethanol is harmless. In fact, there has been much research to suggest that a small amount of alcohol enjoyed as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle, can be beneficial to our health. However, in larger amounts, alcohol can be toxic and damages the stomach and the liver. Having an upset stomach may disrupt our sleep patterns, contributing to our mood in the morning, and the temporary damage caused is what causes us to feel nauseous and prone to vomiting.

How can a hangover be avoided?

Of course, the only guaranteed way to avoid a hangover is simply to not drink alcohol, but if you choose to, how you avoid getting a hangover? Here are the top five ways.

• Avoid drinking alcohol on an empty stomach

Binge drinkers say ‘eating is cheating’, but if you want to avoid a hangover, eating a carbohydrate rich meal, such as pasta or potatoes, before your drinking session, will help to line your stomach and prevent the irritation that can make you sick.

• Drink a glass of water for every alcoholic drink

Drinking a glass of water with each alcoholic beverage will help to keep you hydrated, thus reducing the likelihood of you feeling hung-over in the morning. Drinking a glass or two of water before you go to bed will also help to reduce dehydration overnight.

• Try not to drink more than one unit of alcohol per hour

Although each person is different, it takes on average, one hour for your liver to break down and process the toxins found in one unit of an alcoholic drink – drinking more than one unit an hour means there is excess alcohol in your system. Try to stop drinking an hour or more before the end of your night so that your body can process the remaining alcohol – when you sleep, your metabolism slows down and it takes longer for the alcohol to be eliminated so you risk waking up still intoxicated.

• Avoid smoking excessively at the same time as drinking

According to 2013 research published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, smokers are more likely to have a worse hangover than non-smokers. The reason for this is not yet clear, but researchers who studied the drinking and smoking behaviour of college students found that those who smoked and drank alcohol suffered significantly more hangovers, and more intense hangovers, than non-smokers.

• Choose your drinks carefully

Research carried out in 2010 and published in the journal, Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research found that what you drink may affect the level of hangover you get in the morning. Scientists from Brown University found that bourbon drinkers suffered worse hangovers than vodka drinkers, and this may be to do with the other ingredients – flavourings, colourings and so on – found in darker alcoholic drinks compared to clearer, whiter spirits.

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Lisa Martin

Lisa Martin is a qualified biology teacher and experienced freelance science writer from Warwickshire in the UK. She is fascinated by how the human body works and is particularly interested in writing about new research and discoveries in science and medicine.

Follow Lisa on Twitter: lisaamartin1

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