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Understanding Hangovers. What Causes the Nausea, Dizziness, Headache, Anxiety, Thirst...

Updated on November 16, 2008

Know the feeling?

Your head is throbbing as you burrow you head under the covers. You feel anxious, weak, shaky and nauseous - and you look about as good as you feel.

And you did it all to yourself!

Most of us have suffered through a few…or many…hangovers. Most of recognize the cause and effect of drinking to sickness, but few of us understand just what it is in alcohol that seems to feel so good going in, and so terrible about a half day later.

So, in case you were wondering…here is what is going on in your body after a night of partying.

Understanding Hangover Symptoms

Dizziness and lightheaded…feeling spacey

Alcohol can lead to dehydration which is characterized by lightheaded feelings. Alcohol stimulates the anti diuretic hormone, which in turn has you headed for the bathroom every half an hour. You urinate out far more than you take in, and the next morning you pay with dehydration. (It is always a good idea to drink as much water as you can as the evening winds down and prior to bed – your body will thank you for it in the morning.

Drinking enough water long enough prior to bed to cause additional water created urination may also help to flush out toxins in the body before they are able to exacerbate the severity of the hangover. Start drinking water an hour before bed, drink a lot of water, and you will feel better in the morning.


Alcohol will tire you out the next day. Although alcohol is a depressant and will put you to sleep, the quality of that sleep is low and it will not satisfy. Additionally, alcohol wreaks havoc with your blood sugar, and next-day blood sugar drops will leave you feeling pretty lethargic (As well as moody!). Try not to skip breakfast or you'll exacerbate your blood sugar problems.


Alcohol is an irritant in the stomach. If you damage your stomach lining enough you may feel sick to your stomach the next day.


Dehydration causes headache, but alcohol also causes an expansion in blood vessels, which can also create a headache.

Coffee can actually help to reduce this headache as caffeine narrows blood vessels. Try to stay away from acetaminophen as these can be tough for an already overworked liver to handle. Also, don't bother with the old "2 Tylenols before bed" routine. Taking acetaminophen concurrently with alcohol is dangerous, and since the effective life of Tylenol is only about 4 hours, you won't wake up feeling any different anyway.

Other Causes Of Hangovers

Acetaldehyde Poisoning

The exact causes of a hangover remain unknown. Some evidence suggests that many hangover symptoms are created by an over-exposure to acetaldehyde, which is a by-product of ethanol metabolization in the body. Acetaldehyde is toxic and carcinogenic and you expose your body to it with every drink.


Congeners (Fusel alcohols) are by products created in the fermentation and production of certain drinks. In general, the darker colored the liquor (or wine) the greater the quantity of congeners. Greater quantities of congeners are associated with more severe hangovers.

Vodka, particularly heavily filtered vodka, contains very few congeners. Bourbon by contrast, contains many.

Hair of the dog?

Does "the hair of the dog" (having an alcoholic drink in the morning to reduce hangovers) work?

See results


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    • njmanura profile image

      Dr Manura Nanayakkara 6 years ago from Sri Lanka

      Very informative hub about alcoholic hangovers. Voted. Thanks

    • mistyhorizon2003 profile image

      Cindy Lawson 9 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

      I voted yes in your poll regarding 'Hair of the Dog', because there is a scientific reason why it works. Apparently much of the problem with a hangover is the fact your body is working hard at processing the alcohol and the toxins which is why you feel so awful. The moment you have another alcoholic drink the body to all intents and purposes goes on hold and back into drinking mode, hence the hangover vanishes, although you will have to deal with it sooner of later.

      Great hub by the way and lots of interesting information.