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Straight, No Chaser: Five Frequently Asked Questions About Hangovers…

By Jeffrey Sterling, MD March 29, 2020

 If you’re planning on enjoying the end of 2017 with alcohol, you probably don’t want to let things get out of hand! So… Let’s get this part of the conversation out-of-the-way. There is neither any way to tell you how much you have to drink to get a hangover, nor is there a magical hangover cure that will work for everyone or for anyone every time. Now, let’s delve into some FAQs about hangovers.


1. So what actually is a hangover? Well, you know it when you feel it, right? A hangover is that group of symptoms and physical signs you develop after overindulging in alcohol. The symptoms as just the results of the physiologic effects of alcohol on your body. Here are some examples:

  • Alcohol makes you urinate more and it irritates the lining of your stomach. These can result in nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dehydration and the resultant dizziness.
  • Alcohol expands your blood vessels. When this occurs in your scalp, this causes headaches.
  • Alcohol drops your blood sugar. With enough (read: too much) alcohol and enough of a drop in your blood sugar, dangerous symptoms such as weakness, fatigue, jitteriness, seizures and mood swings are likely to occur.
  • Alcohol is a toxin that produces a response from your immune system. These response can produce inability to concentrate or sleep, decreased memory, appetite and interest in routine activities.

2. So what can I expect if I’m having a hangover? In more of a list, symptoms and signs include headaches, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, fatigue, dizziness with or without room spinning, weakness, fast heartbeats, poor sleep and concentration and moodiness.

3. Are hangovers ever suggestive of something life threatening? When should I see a physician? Here’s a quick non-exclusive list (use your own judgment; if you feel bad enough, just go to an emergency room):

  • Symptoms lasting over 24 hours.
  • Prolonged confusion, blackouts or inability to arouse
  • Nonstop vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty breathing or alterative in breathing pattern
  • Dramatic change in skin color or temperature


4. Does anything make a hangover more or less likely? Yes. You’re more likely to have a hangover if you drink on an empty stomach, don’t get enough sleep after drinking, combine alcohol with other drugs (even including cigarettes) or have a family history of alcoholism. Also, as a rule, darker liquors (such as brandy, whiskey, cognacs, red wine and dark beers) are more likely to produce hangovers than clearer liquors such as gin or vodka (tequila is a notable exception – no, it’s not because of the worm).
5. How do I treat a hangover? You don’t, and don’t fall for “hangover cures.” The best you can do is to avoid a hangover (meaning you prevent it), or you can chase symptoms by taking medicines for the headache or vomiting, or drinking water or eating to reverse the dizziness. Alcohol is removed from the body at a specific rate per hour, so once it’s in you (absorbed into your bloodstream), only time will heal you. Your best bet is to limit your intake. When someone tells you not to eat on an empty stomach, it’s because the sooner you get full, the less alcohol you’ll drink. That bread you’re eating isn’t absorbing anything!


Your best bet is to know your limits, don’t exceed your limits, and if you are otherwise safe, sleep it off. Happy New Year!
Feel free to ask your SMA expert consultant any questions you may have on this topic.
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