Symptoms associated with hangovers vary according to different factors such as the quantity that was absorbed, how quickly it was absorbed, the age and gender of the person, etc. Among the symptoms, you may notice:
- Great fatigue,
- Excessive thirst,
- Difficulty concentrating,
- Gastrointestinal problems,
- Increased sensitivity to light and sound,
- Memory problems,
- Palpitations, shakiness, sweating,
- Feelings of distress, anxiety,
Hangover symptoms are in full effect 12 to 14 hours after heavy drinking, that is when blood alcohol content has dropped significantly and is at or near zero.
Multiple factors, still misunderstood
Despite alcohol being omnipresent in certain cultures over many centuries, scientific studies on the topic of hangovers are still very recent. Research may have intensified over the past years, but some mysteries still need clearing up. Certain factors, however, have been identified and explained. One thing is certain: no one factor alone can explain the hangover.
Alcohol has diuretic properties, meaning it is a substance that causes frequent urination, thus dehydrating the body. Dehydration causes an imbalance of electrolytes in the blood which the body needs for various functions. However, the concentration of electrolytes seems to have little effect on the severity of the hangover. Therefore, dehydration alone cannot explain this occurrence.
Quality of sleep
After a few too many drinks, some may fall asleep very quickly and can even do so anywhere. Heavy drinking can cause extreme drowsiness and falling asleep can happen quite suddenly. The quality of sleep, however, can be severely affected by the alcohol. Therefore, sleep is lighter and interrupted by more phases of wakefulness which can last longer. Bad sleep contributes to the fatigue and the decrease in coordination and concentration felt when hungover.
Nature of the alcohol
Alcohol is made up of congeners, among others. Congeners are substances resulting from the alcohol fermentation process and bigger quantities of them are found in brown alcohol (whiskey, red wine…) rather than in white (vodka, gin…). Many studies regarding hangovers have focused on this substance and have proven that hangovers are worse when the ingested alcohol is more concentrated in congeners.
Drinking alcohol causes blood glucose levels to drop which is linked to dehydration. This state of hypoglycemia can cause symptoms of a hangover. However, if a lack of glucose was the main problem, glucose intake would be the solution, which, a lot of studies proved, is not the case.
When alcohol is ingested, it is gradually broken down by the liver which transforms it into a substance called acetaldehyde. This substance is toxic and was the focus of several studies to determine whether it was responsible for hangover symptoms. These studies showed that this substance was efficiently eliminated by the body to the point that there was none left the next day. Therefore, it could not solely be responsible for a hangover.
These various factors are just some examples among many that are currently being explored by scientific research, such as genetics or even immunity.