Excessive alcohol consumption isn’t something that health professionals promote; however, if you happened to have one too many cocktails or other alcoholic beverages, then you most likely know what it’s like to wake up with a head-pounding hangover in the morning. In fact, over 75% of adults say they wake up with hangovers following a night of drinking. As for what actually causes a hangover, there are a number of reasons. When you drink, your body produces more urine. The more urine you pass, the higher the risk is that you will become dehydrated, which is associated with hangovers. Alcohol can also trigger an inflammatory response from the immune system, irritate the stomach lining, and cause your blood sugar to fall. Many alcoholic beverages also contain congeners, which is an ingredient that gives alcohol its flavour. Congeners have also been linked to hangovers, as well as an increase in severity of hangovers. Your risk of developing a hangover not only increases depending on how much alcohol consume, but also if you consume it on an empty stomach, combine alcohol with certain medications, drink alcohol that appears darker in colour, or if there is a family history of alcoholism. Hangovers also increase your risk of workplace injuries, and you may also see a decline in school or work performance as well as have increased conflict with others.
Along with headaches, some of the other common symptoms that are associated with hangovers include fatigue, weakness, dizziness, problems with balance/shakiness, dry mouth, thirst, body aches and pains, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, lack of sleep, sensitivity to light and/or sound, poor concentration, rapid heartbeat, and mood disturbances (such as irritability, anxiety, and/or depression.) More severe symptoms such as confusion, slowed or irregular breathing, pale skin or skin that appears to have a blue tinge, decreased body temperature, trouble staying awake or passing out could be a sign of alcohol poisoning, which can potentially be fatal and therefore requires immediate medical attention.
While a hangover might keep you in bed all day, there are some things that you can do to relieve them. Because alcohol can cause a decline in essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, vitamin B, zinc and potassium, it’s important that you replace them with some key foods. To increase your intake of some of these vitamins and minerals, I recommend eating meat, poultry, fish, eggs, avocados, as well as vegetables that are orange or yellow in colour, and bananas. Keeping yourself hydrated with water is also crucial as it will help prevent dehydration and can even relieve hangover-related headaches. Alcohol is a diuretic, so when you drink it you are pushing liquid out of the body. Once your body is without liquid, it will then pull it from any source, including the brain, which is what causes the headache to develop in the first place. It’s not only a good idea to consume water after drinking alcohol, but the following day as well. Some other beverages like coconut water or Gatorade can also help replace lost electrolytes. Adults can also drink Pedialyte, which is designed for children but can be just as effective in treating hangovers. You should avoid extra-sugary beverages as they can do more harm than good. Herbal tea, such as ginger or peppermint tea, can also help reduce nausea caused by hangovers. Another helpful food for nausea and an upset stomach is crackers, but these can be loaded in potentially harmful preservatives, so try to opt for a healthier whole-wheat version.
Many people will also often take acetaminophen or ibuprofen as a precaution against a hangover, but when combined with alcohol these medications can be potentially dangerous, putting you at risk of liver damage and stomach bleeds. You should only take these medications when alcohol is out of your system — however, keep in mind that the more alcohol you drink, the longer it will be in your system, and the longer you will have to wait to take these pain relievers. For example, one drink typically stays in your system for one hour, while four drinks can stay in your system for as long as four hours.
Of course the best way to avoid hangovers is to not drink at all. If you or someone you know has a problem with alcoholism or other substances, you can find some helpful resources to get you back on the right path by visiting HealthLink BC.
Originally published at alighahary.ca on December 5, 2018.