Anyone who drinks is familiar with those unpleasant hangover feelings: a pounding headache, body aches, dizziness, and nausea.
Sometimes it may feel like you’re going to die.
But can a hangover actually kill you?
In this article, we take a closer look at the effect alcohol has on your body and the dangers of excessive drinking you should be aware of.
When you drink, alcohol enters your bloodstream through your stomach and small intestine. It is then rapidly distributed to your brain, kidneys, lungs, and liver. It takes only 5 minutes for alcohol to reach your brain and within 20 minutes your liver will start processing it.
On average, the liver needs an hour to break down one unit of alcohol—that’s approximately 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or a shot of vodka. If you drink alcohol faster than your liver can metabolize it, your blood alcohol concentration will rise and you will start feeling intoxicated.
Some people tolerate alcohol better than others. Your reaction to alcohol will depend on several factors:
- How fast you consume your drink. If you drink quickly, the alcohol will build up in your bloodstream, intensifying the side effects.
- The concentration of alcohol in your beverage. For example, with an alcohol concentration of about 20%, sherry will increase the levels of alcohol in your blood faster than beer that contains 3-8% alcohol.
- How frequently you drink. If you drink regularly, the receptors in your brain will gradually adapt to the effects of alcohol. As a result, you’ll tolerate alcohol better than if you only occasionally have a glass of wine or beer.
- Your age. As you get older, your metabolism slows down and it gets more difficult to process alcohol.
- Your gender. Men produce higher quantities of the liver enzyme, acetaldehyde dehydrogenase, that helps break down alcohol before it reaches the bloodstream. That’s why men often tolerate alcohol consumption better than women.
- Your ethnicity. Some ethnic groups have higher levels of a liver enzyme responsible for breaking down the alcohol.
- Your body type. Heavier and more muscular people have more fat and muscle to absorb the alcohol.
- Whether you’ve had something to eat. Food dilutes the alcohol and prevents it from passing quickly into the small intestine, slowing its absorption into the bloodstream.
Unless you’re among those lucky few who are resistant to hangovers, you’re bound to feel hangover symptoms after you’ve consumed more alcohol than your body can handle. Here’s why.
Statistics show that close to 80% of people who drink alcohol experience hangovers. But despite how common hangovers are, we still know very little about why they occur. Several different factors may be responsible for your hangover after a night of drinking:
- Alcohol is a diuretic. It makes you urinate more often, possibly leading to dehydration, which in turn will make you feel dizzy, sleepy, and lethargic.
- Alcohol causes electrolyte imbalance that can make you feel tired and cause muscle weakness and cramps.
- Alcohol can irritate your stomach lining, causing vomiting and diarrhea.
- Due to too much alcohol, your blood vessels will start expanding, and you’ll start feeling a headache.
- Alcohol interferes with glucose production, resulting in low blood sugar. If your body is not producing enough glucose, you'll feel sluggish and tired.
- Alcohol disrupts both the circadian cycle, sleep rhythms, and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, so that you’ll feel exhausted even after a full night’s sleep.
- Alcoholic drinks contain congeners, impurities created during the fermentation process. These compounds react with your cells causing inflammation and making hangovers more intense.
You’ll usually start feeling a hangover a few hours after you stop drinking. The most common hangover symptom is headache, followed by nausea and vomiting. If you’re experiencing a hangover, you’re probably also sensitive to bright lights and loud noises. Other common hangover symptoms include:
- Intense thirst
- Muscle pains
- Weakness and fatigue
- Inability to concentrate
- Lack of appetite
- Stomach ache
- Trembling or shaking hands
- Increased heart rate
- Irritability, anxiety, or depression.
You may feel like your hangover symptoms are getting worse as you get older. But do hangovers really get more difficult to bear as you age?
Do Hangovers Get Worse With Age?
If you feel that your hangovers are getting more intense with age, you’re probably right. Your liver produces less of the enzymes that help metabolize alcohol. As your metabolism slows down, it takes your body more time to eliminate alcohol from the blood. The alcohol lingers longer in your system, leading to more severe hangover symptoms.
What’s more, as you get older, your immune system gradually deteriorates, a process known as immunosenescence. As a consequence of the changes in your immune system, recovering from any condition becomes more challenging with age, and hangovers are no exception.
Hangover symptoms can get pretty severe, but can they actually kill you?
Can You Die from a Hangover?
Although a hangover might make you feel like you’re going to die, the good news is that it can’t kill you, at least not on its own. But it is possible to die from drinking too much alcohol.
Alcohol poisoning occurs when you drink more alcohol than your body can safely process. When there is too much alcohol in your bloodstream, the areas of the brain controlling basic bodily functions, such as breathing, heart rate, and temperature control, begin to shut down. If it isn’t caught in time, alcohol poisoning can be fatal. On average six people die of alcohol poisoning each day in the United States.
Holiday heart syndrome
Excessive drinking can lead to arrhythmia or abnormal heart rhythm. This rare condition is known as holiday heart syndrome as it typically occurs on holidays when people drink more than usual. The syndrome affects otherwise healthy individuals with no underlying medical conditions, so any chest pain or palpitations during a hangover should be taken seriously.
Alcohol suppresses the release of the antidiuretic hormone vasopressin, preventing your kidneys from holding water and leading to increased urination. Other common hangover symptoms like diarrhea and sweating further contribute to dehydration. Severe dehydration associated with a hangover can cause seizures, brain damage, cardiac arrest, and even death.
Alcohol disrupts the body’s ability to maintain control of blood sugar levels. The low blood sugar concentration after drinking is the main cause of weakness and fatigue, but it can also provoke seizures that may lead to brain damage and death.
Slower reaction times
Alcohol is a depressant that affects the central nervous system, slowing down messages between your brain and the rest of your body. Drinking alcohol slows down your reaction time, impairs your vision and coordination, and prevents you from thinking clearly. Driving a car under these conditions increases the chances of lethal accidents.
When you drink too much, you’re more likely to feel anxiety and depression and act on impulse. People who suffer from mental health issues are at a higher risk of suicidal thoughts and actions when they’re intoxicated.
Some hangover symptoms require seeking immediate medical assistance. Here’s what to look for.
When Should You Go to the Hospital for a Hangover?
Hangovers usually resolve on their own. But some symptoms should be attended to right away if they persist after a night of heavy drinking. You should go to the hospital as soon as possible in the following cases:
You suspect alcohol poisoning
You should seek instant medical help if you suspect alcohol poisoning. The symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:
- Severe confusion
- Low heart rate
- Slow or irregular breathing
- A sudden drop in blood pressure
- Low body temperature
- Pale skin or blue lips or fingers
You feel chest pain or palpitations
Holiday heart syndrome can affect healthy individuals who have no underlying medical conditions. That’s why you should visit the emergency room if you’re feeling chest pain or palpitations after you’ve had too much to drink.
Your hangover symptoms get worse
Your hangover will usually clear up in about 24 hours. Fatigue and some other mild symptoms may linger for another day or two, especially if you haven’t slept well or haven’t been hydrating properly. However, if your symptoms don’t ease up or are getting worse after a day or so, you should go to the hospital to get checked out.
You have a medical condition
If you have a medical condition, such as heart disease or diabetes, hangover symptoms like low blood sugar and rapid heart rate can increase the risk of complications. See your healthcare provider if you’re experiencing severe hangover symptoms or if they persist for more than a day.
Completely avoiding a hangover may be impossible, but fortunately, there are ways to ease your symptoms and speed up your recovery.
Ways to Combat a Hangover
If you’ve had too much to drink, there are some simple things you can do to quickly recover from a hangover.
One of the most important ways to combat a hangover is to rehydrate. Drinking plenty of water will help you reduce some of the main hangover symptoms such as thirst and headache.
Get some sleep
Hangover symptoms like fatigue, headaches, and irritability are often made worse by a lack of sleep. Getting a good night's rest and allowing your body to recover will alleviate these symptoms and make a hangover more bearable.
Eat nutritious food
Having a light, nutritious meal will help get your blood sugar back up after drinking and replenish lost electrolytes. If you’re feeling nauseous or having stomach pain, you should stick with bland foods like crackers, toast, and soups. Try to avoid greasy foods as they will only make your hangover worse.
Have a cool shower
Taking a shower will not only improve your circulation and reduce muscle inflammation, but it will make you feel more alert and put you in a better mood.
Take a painkiller
Over-the-counter painkillers may help you get rid of a pounding headache and the overall body ache. However, avoid taking Tylenol as it may increase acetaminophen's toxic effects on your liver.
IV therapy for hangover
One of the fastest ways to combat common hangover symptoms is IV therapy. Reset IV offers a range of hangover packages to help you recover from a night of partying and drinking:
Our IV bags contain special blends of hydrating fluids, antioxidants, anti-nausea medication, and vitamins. They will detox and rehydrate your body, restore nutrients lost after drinking, and cleanse your system so that you’ll be back to feeling your normal self in no time. We also provide custom blends and add-ons to address your specific needs.
To learn more about Reset IV therapy for hangover and schedule an appointment, feel free to call us at 1-833-737-3848 or send us a message and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.