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What is a hangover?

A hangover describes the sum of unpleasant physiological effects following heavy consumption of alcoholic beverages. Including but not limited to: headache, nausea, sensitivity to light and noise, lethargy, dysphoria, diarrhea and thirst, typically after the intoxicating effect of the alcohol begins to wear off. While a hangover can be experienced at any time, generally speaking a hangover is experienced the morning after a night of heavy drinking. In addition to the physical symptoms, a hangover may also induce psychological symptoms including heightened feelings of depression and anxiety.

The 411 on Hangovers

Ever wonder why we get hangovers and what makes them worse? Here are some factors that play into why we get them. 

1. Drinking too much alcohol

The number one reason we get hangovers is because we drink too much alcohol. For most people, the body can only process one alcoholic drink per hour, so when we consume multiple drinks in a short amount of time, we run the risk of a nasty hangover.

2. Dehydration

Alcohol is a diuretic and causes our system to shed water. The more water we lose the more dehydrated we get and the more likely we are to experience a hangover. The headache of a hangover is actually caused by the shrinkage of our brain dura (the membrane that encases our brain) due to dehydration.

3. Congeners

Congeners are natural by-products of alcohol fermentation. They are impurities contained in alcoholic beverages that enhance the symptoms of a hangover. Alcoholic beverages that are darker in color contain more congeners.

4. Reduction in Vitamin B

Processing alcohol drains our system. We expend energy metabolizing alcohol and its byproducts. One side effect is the reduction in vitamin B. Without vitamin B we feel fatigued and tired.

5. Not eating before drinking

Drinking on an empty stomach can increase the likelihood that we will experience the irritating effects of alcohol in our gastrointestinal tract. Eating something before you start drinking can reduce the heartburn or upset stomach of a hangover.

6. Mixing

Avoid alternating the types of alcohol you consume. If you begin with beer, stick with beer for the whole evening. Starting with a mixed drink? Stay with that specific type of alcoholic drink. For many, downing different kinds of alcoholic drinks can lead to hangovers.



 1. Swift, R., & Davidson, D. (1998). Alcohol hangover. Alcohol Health Res World22, 54-60.

2. Penning, R., van Nuland, M., AL Fliervoet, L., Olivier, B., & C Verster, J. (2010). The pathology of alcohol hangover. Current drug abuse reviews3(2), 68-75.