The Symptoms of a Hangover

Too Much Alcohol Causes Unpleasant Effects

Woman lying in bed, turning off alarm clock
Hangovers Can Affect Your Performance. Antony Nagelmann / Getty Images

A hangover is a collection of unpleasant physical and mental symptoms that occur after a session of heavy alcohol consumption. The severity of hangover symptoms can depend on many factors, such as how much alcohol was consumed and the type of alcohol, but hangovers are caused by only one thing -- drinking too much alcohol.

How much is too much? Some people report hangover symptoms after consuming only two or three drinks, while some heavy drinkers never experience hangover symptoms at all.

But for most people, the greater the amount of alcohol consumed and the longer the duration of alcohol consumption, the more severe the hangover symptoms.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a hangover can include some or all of the following class of symptoms:

Constitutional Hangover Symptoms

Fatigue, weakness, and thirst.

Pain Hangover Symptoms

A headache and muscle aches.

Gastrointestinal Hangover Symptoms

Nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain.

Sleep and Biological Rhythms Symptoms

Decreased sleep, decreased deep sleep and increased slow-wave sleep.

Sensory Hangover Symptoms

Vertigo and sensitivity to light and sound.

Cognitive Hangover Symptoms

Decreased attention and concentration.

Mood Related Hangover Symptoms

Depression, anxiety, and irritability.

Sympathetic Hyperactivity Symptoms

Tremor, sweating and increased pulse, and systolic blood pressure.

The Intensity of Hangover Symptoms

The intensity of these symptoms and the particular set of symptoms can vary from person to person and from occasion to occasion.

A person might experience nausea and dizziness (the feeling that the room is spinning) on one occasion, but experience mainly headache symptoms the next occasion.

Hangover symptoms usually begin within several hours after the drinking session ends when the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) begins to fall.

The symptoms usually peak at the time when the drinker's BAC returns to zero.

Hangover symptoms can last from a few hours to up to 24 hours.

Another Danger of Tying One On

Excessive alcohol consumption can cause more than a general feeling of malaise the next day. Extreme alcohol consumption can cause acute alcohol poisoning which is can be life-threatening.

The symptoms of alcohol poisoning can include many of the same symptoms as a hangover, but they go far beyond a mere hangover. Alcohol poisoning symptoms can include:

  • Difficulty remaining conscious
  • Passing out and can't be awakened
  • Vomiting while passed out
  • Confusion
  • Slow heart rate and bluish-colored skin
  • Cold to the touch and low body temperature
  • Seizures
  • Very slow or irregular breathing

If you see anyone with the above symptoms after drinking, call 9-1-1 immediately. Stay with the person and try to turn them on their side so they do not choke on their own vomit. If they stop breathing entirely, begin CPR. See also "What Should I Do if I Think He Has Alcohol Poisoning?"

Even if you don't see any of the above symptoms of alcohol poisoning, if the person is passed out and cannot be awakened they could be at risk of dying. Seek medical help immediately.

When Hangover Symptoms Become a Problem

If you frequently experience hangover symptoms or your hangover symptoms have begun to affect you at school or work, you may have developed an alcohol use disorder. One symptom of alcohol use disorder is continuing to drink in spite of repeated negative consequences.

If your hangovers have gotten to the point that they are negatively affecting your life, your relationships, or your ability to perform at school or work, you may want to consider seeking professional help or at least an evaluation.

See also: What Is a Hangover?

Is it a hangover or is it alcohol withdrawal symptoms? Take the Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Quiz

Sources:

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. "Alcohol Hangover - Mechanisms and Mediators (PDF)." 14 Jan. 2002

A.D.A.M. "Hangover Treatment." 10 Oct. 2007

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