Posted on April 6th, 2010
We’ve explained before how alcohol affects the brain during a long night of drinking. As most people know though, the affects of heavy alcohol consumption doesn’t end when you finally make it to bed. If you’re not careful the next morning can often be a miserable experience thanks to the unpleasant symptoms of a hangover.
Much of a hangover’s negative symptoms are caused by the dehydrating effects of alcohol. When absorbed through the digestive system alcohol inhibits the secretion of vasopressin, a hormone which regulates the retention of water in the body. In response the body begins releasing water through the urinary system, which eventually leads to dehydration. This lack of moisture causes headaches, dry mouth and of course, thirst.
Dehydration is only one of the many reasons you can feel crummy the morning after. When the body digests alcohol the various byproducts produced can have some pretty nasty effects as well. The liver breaks down ethanol into acetic acid, a substance which can be up to 30 times more toxic than alcohol itself, contributing greatly to the general sick feeling associated with a hangover. Usually this substance is handled by glutathione, a detoxifying agent produced by the liver, but in the presence of large amounts of alcohol the liver is unable to produce enough of the stuff, causing a build up of acetic acid. The elevated levels of this acid also impair the body’s ability to process glucose and maintain proper blood-sugar levels, especially in the brain, resulting in a lack of energy and ability to focus. On top of all that, alcohol can also affect the lining of the stomach, causing nausea.
As many of you may know, when it comes to hangovers, not all alcohol is created equally. Some drinks tend to cause worse hangovers than others. This is due to certain chemicals found in some types of alcohol, such as congeners and sulfites. Generally speaking, the darker and sweeter a beverage the more of these chemicals are found. A recent study at Brown University found dark liquors such as bourbon and rum contained much more congeners than lighter colored drinks like vodka. Sulfites are also notorious for causing hangovers, although they tend to be found only in red wines.
There are countless folk remedies for relieving the more unpleasant aspects of a hangover, but most scientific studies have found them to be mildly effective at best. Water and food with plenty of healthy vitamins are always good ideas for when you’re feeling sick, regardless of whether it’s alcohol related or not. In particular, a study released last year suggests that bacon may be especially helpful the morning after.
Despite all of this the only guaranteed way to relieve or prevent a hangover remains drinking responsibly. We all have the occasional heavy night out, but if you’re drinking to the point of a hangover on a regular basis chances are you’re drinking too much. You may be endangering not only your health but the health of those around you when you’re intoxicated. If you’re concerned about the alcohol consumption of you or someone you know, please seek professional help.