A hangover is a group of unpleasant signs and symptoms that can develop after drinking too much alcohol. As if feeling awful weren't bad enough, hangover is also associated with poor performance and conflict at work.
As a general rule, the more alcohol you drink, the more likely you are to have a hangover the next day. But there's no magic formula to tell you how much you can safely drink and still avoid a hangover.
However unpleasant, most hangovers go away on their own, though they can last longer than 24 hours. If you choose to drink alcohol, doing so responsibly can help you avoid future hangovers.
Hangover symptoms typically begin when your blood alcohol drops significantly and is at or near zero. They're usually in full effect the morning after a night of heavy drinking. Depending on what you drank and how much you drank, you may notice:
When to see a doctor
More-severe signs and symptoms that accompany heavy drinking may indicate alcohol poisoning — a life-threatening emergency.
Call 911 or your local emergency number if a person who has been drinking steadily develops:
Hangovers are caused by drinking too much alcohol.
A single alcoholic drink is enough to trigger a hangover for some people, while others may drink heavily and escape a hangover entirely. In general, however, more than three to five alcoholic drinks for a woman and over five to six for a man will usually result in a hangover.
Various factors may contribute to the problem. For example:
Anyone who drinks alcohol can experience a hangover, but some people are more susceptible to hangovers than are others. A genetic variation that affects the way alcohol is metabolized may make some people flush, sweat or become ill after drinking even a small amount of alcohol.
Research hasn't clearly shown whether light drinkers or heavy drinkers are more likely to experience hangovers. Some evidence suggests that frequent drinkers may build up a tolerance that decreases their risk of hangovers.
Factors that may make a hangover more likely or severe include:
When you have a hangover, you're likely to experience problems with your:
Not surprisingly, this temporary dulling of your abilities increases your risk of a number of problems at work, including:
Treatments and drugs
Time is the only sure cure for a hangover. Here are a few things you can do to help yourself feel better in the meantime:
From stimulating your scalp with hair-pulling to drinking sauerkraut juice, alternative remedies for hangovers abound.
A few small studies have identified natural remedies that may improve hangover symptoms. These study results haven't been duplicated, however, and large, controlled trials are needed to learn more about the safety and benefits of these supplements.
Natural remedies that some doctors believe are worth further research include:
Talk with your doctor before trying any alternative medicine. Natural doesn't always mean safe. Your doctor can help you understand possible risks and benefits before you try a treatment.
Despite various over-the-counter pills and tablets that claim to prevent hangovers, the only guaranteed way to prevent a hangover is to avoid alcohol. If you choose to drink, do so in moderation. The less you drink, the less likely you are to have a hangover.
It may help to:
Also know your limits. Decide ahead of time how many drinks you'll have — and stick to it. Don't feel pressured to drink.
Some people take aspirin or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as Advil, Motrin or others, to prevent hangover symptoms, but be sure to ask your doctor if this is safe for you to do and what dosage is best for you. These medications may interact with other medications, and in the case of acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) may cause liver damage if too much alcohol is consumed.
Last Updated: 2009-12-17
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