What is a Hangover?

Waking up a bit queasy one Sunday morning you might ask yourself, “what is a hangover?” Simply put, a hangover is a subset of unwanted physical and mental symptoms due to the excess consumption of alcohol.

Veisalgia, the formal name for a hangover, is defined as an “uneasiness following debauchery”. Hangovers can range from a benign subset of unpleasant alcohol related side-effects to posing a substantial risk to the sufferer even in the absence of alcohol in the blood.

The hangover has been around since the discovery of alcohol. In fact, hangovers are even documented in the Bible. Check out this verse from Isaiah 5:11: Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them!

There is some debate about the exact etiology of a hangover. The truth is that it’s a combination of several factors: dehydration, gastronomical distress, electrolyte and glycogen cannibalization, alcohol toxicity, allergens, compromised sleep architecture and other factors still being discovered.

Along with being a nuisance, the alcohol hangover has substantial social, health and economic consequences. In America, the total cost of alcohol use and abuse has been estimated as high as $148 billion per year (although this figure has been criticized for using unrealistic criteria).

Hair of the Dog

Contemplating grabbing a little of the hair of the dog that bit you for hangover relief? You drank too much last night and are having a rocky morning and you are thinking you could try drinking a little more to take the edge off? The term “Hair of the Dog” comes from the old saying about “biting the dog that bit you”. In turn, some people find that treating their hangover with a little more alcohol helps them get relief.

Hair of the Dog

Part of the reason you feel bad after boozing comes from what is in the alcohol you had, while the other part comes from your body’s withdrawal of the alcohol. Luckily, drinking some more in the morning can put off the aches, pains and queasiness that come from this withdrawal. This is a chance to get rid of the pain and get a little buzz, which is plausible as long as you don’t have a real life to get back to.

A drink like the famous Bloody Mary is helpful in this situation because vitamins and minerals are in the vegetable juice base. Stocking up on the vitamins and minerals that were lost the night before will help you feel better.

Drinking sugary alcoholic drinks may make you feel better temporarily, but it will probably make for a worse hangover later on that day. The same goes if you try to repeat the night before by drinking just as many drinks. Your hangover may disappear for a while but probably rear its ugly head again later on and have a bigger bite…

Bottom line: although you might gain some temporary relief you are only prolonging the inevitable and this method really is not a cure.

Hangovers and Vitamin B

Vitamin depletion is part of the reason for hangovers and Vitamin B levels can get tapped out when you drink. Therefore, Vitamin B supplements could potentially be beneficial before or after you go out drinking.

Two glasses of water and a vitamin B supplement is a good step toward preventing your next hangover. Doing this before you drink helps keep your vitamin B levels high before hitting the booze, which could drop your levels lower than normal. The supplement could also help your body process the liquor and the extra glasses of water will help with hydration, always good when it comes to partying.

Follow up the night with another glass of water and a second hit of vitamin B in the morning. Make sure you eat something before you pop a pill to insure you do not upset your stomach.

Stick with this ritual and you just may find yourself a happier camper come morning. Even though Vitamin B supplements won’t stop the side effects of major drinking, if you put them on the guest list, your next morning will most likely be a little easier.

The Effects of Alcohol

The effects of alcohol on the body are many, especially if you are a chronic drinker. There are many long-term effects that can plague heavy drinkers. These range in severity from chronic dehydration and hypoglycemia to the life-threatening symptoms associated with withdrawal. Alcoholism is another condition that can arise from alcohol consumption, which is both an effect of liquor consumption, but is also a catalyst to other ill effects associated with drinking.

The Effects of Alcohol

The short-term effects of drinking liquor (as it pertains to the human body) are as diverse and plentiful as the long-term effects. There are physical effects from drinking alcohol which include:

  • Lowered inhibitions (technically a psychological effect)
  • Reduced muscle control
  • Nausea

…And because alcohol is a drug, there are also the side effects of alcohol to consider, such as:

  • Weight gain
  • High blood pressure
  • Lowered immune system

All of the body’s cell membranes are highly permeable to alcohol, so when you drink you are affecting almost every one of your organs and biological systems. In short, drinking is enjoyable and can be a lot of fun, but when moderation and constraint are not adhered to boozing does takes a toll on your body.

Hypoglycemia and Alcohol

Hypoglycemia takes place when blood sugar levels are so low, your blood does not provide proper energy for the body to function. Much like a lot of sugar can give you a temporary high, low blood sugar levels make you feel lethargic. A study has shown that alcohol can cause hypoglycemia. Each time you drink, your body is focused 100% on breaking down the alcohol. During this time it is impossible for your liver to create consistent amounts of blood sugar. This doesn’t occur every time you drink but is likely to happen if there’s nothing in your stomach and you opt to drink a lot. Pregnant women and folks recently recovering from heart, liver or kidney issues are extremely susceptible to this condition.

Low blood sugar can be very dangerous because it can cause fainting. Signs that this may occur include hunger, sweating without reason, nervousness, exhaustion, feeling light-headed and having a hard time talking. Therefore, if you think you are going to be drinking heavy it is not a bad idea to snack or eat a small meal before boozing. Focus on foods high in fiber and try to stray from sugary foods. Regular exercise is also a great combatant as it’s hard to take down a healthy body and exercise helps regulate your internal systems.


Vasopressin is a hormone that is made in your body, created in the hypothalamus and released by the pituitary gland. It gets its name because it is a vasopressor (which in biological terms means it causes the action of stimulating contraction of the arteriole muscles). One of its main functions is to regulate your body’s hydration and prevent you from expelling diluted urine. In a sense, it is the irrigation regulator of the human body.

When you drink more than moderate amounts of alcohol your body sends a signal to the pituitary gland to block the creation of this antidiuretic hormone. Basically, when you are drinking your body’s cells do not get properly hydrated (and dehydration occurs at the cellular level). Furthermore, your kidneys begin sending water directly to your bladder instead of reabsorbing the water into the body for use. This is what we drinkers call “breaking the seal” and it is about this time in the night that we need to start frequenting the restroom every fifteen minutes.

As we continue to expel fluid throughout the night, we are dehydrating the cells in the brain as well. If we are not thinking about hydration while consuming alcohol, a headache is almost assured to be had come morning time because these shrinking brain cells pull on the internal walls of the skull. As if this were not enough, constantly having to go to the bathroom flushes the body of electrolytes — even if we are staying hydrated – leading to fatigue. We also lose a lot of our body glycogen through urine which leads to even lower levels of energy in the morning.

According to researchers, consuming a quarter liter of liquor can cause your body to release up to four times that amount in water because of this hormonal imbalance. So when you wake up in the morning from a night of drinking with a dry mouth, a headache, and urine the color of Tang… at least you’ll now know why.

Greasy Food

Need another reason to eat cheeseburgers? You’re in luck because greasy foods can be helpful in attempting to prevent and treat hangovers. Burgers, fries, pizza and hot dogs may not normally be considered “good for you”, but when eaten before or after heavy drinking these foods might actually provide some benefit.

Greasy Food

If you know that your night is going to involve drinking try having a greasy meal beforehand. The theory goes that the grease in the food coats your stomach and intestines. This slows down the alcohol absorption in your system.

If you’d like to avoid foods with high cholesterol you can opt for some olive oil instead. Swallowing a large spoonful of olive oil will coat the stomach with good fat as opposed to what is found in hash browns or chicken nuggets.

Making your first meal after drinking a greasy one might also provide you with some hangover assistance. Round two of the grease further helps with slowing the absorption of alcohol in the system.

However, make sure to stay away from spicy oily foods like the morning favorite Spanish chorizo and eggs, because spicy food can irritate the stomach and have the opposite desired effect.

What is the Effect of Drinking Craft Beer?

Craft beer is generally created from small, independent and traditional breweries (as determined by the Brewers Association). Other names given to craft breweries are brewpubs, microbreweries, and regional breweries. A brewery is considered small if it produces no more than two million barrels per annum. If 25% of the brewery is owned or controlled by any non-craft alcoholic beverage industry member, then the brewery is not considered to be a producer of craft beer. The final criterion is determined with the brewery either has an all malt flagship beer, or  at least 50% of its volume in either all malt beers or beers that use adjuncts to improve taste. Normally, barley is used in brewing but brewers may use other adjuncts such as oatmeal, rye, fruits and spices. The most commonalternative adjuncts used are corn and rice. They have little impact on the beer’s flavor and usually cost less than barley. The drawback is beer that tastes thin and sometimes almost flavorless.

Craft Beer

Because microbreweries also use the same ingredients as regular beer, it also has the same potential for ill-effects. Whether it’s a commercially produced beer or a locally made one, hangovers primarily are determined by alcohol content. Maximum alcohol content (in beer) varies per state and per country. On average, craft beers usually contain 7% to 9% alcohol content. What everyone could probably agree on is that anyone who intoxicates themselves with too much alcohol will get the dreaded hangover effect. This includes bad decisions, loss of muscle control, all the same risks as regular beer. However, craft beer can (with its higher alcohol content) catch you off guard if you are not careful. Drinking four microbrews can be like drinking a twelve pack of domestic light beer (with regards to alcohol content). That is an important point to remember, because as such generally it will take less craft beer to get a hangover than mass produced beer that has less alcohol (by volume).


Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and glutamine is arguably the most important amino acid of the bunch. Without it, our immune system would not operate effectively because many of the supporting cells in our immune system rely on it for energy. Furthermore this amino acid is believed to be an essential part of normal brain activity and digestion.

Unfortunately, the consumption of alcohol depletes the body of this essential substance. When you stop drinking however, your body starts creating it to restore your body’s natural balance. The process ends up wreaking havoc on your sleep architecture because this restoration of balance is an active physiological process.

After a night of drinking too much booze it appears that you pass out, but your body and mind are not really at rest. Your body and mind need rapid eye movement (REM) sleep to feel refreshed in the morning but you are robbed of it when you drink. This, coupled with the fact that you also depleted glycogen from last night’s activities as well, leaves you with no energy and a feeling of lifelessness.

If you are lucky you will only be robbed of a good night’s sleep. If you are not adaptable to this kind of rebound you might have to suffer through more severe symptoms like: anxiety, tremors or “the shakes”, poor memory, poor cognition, and/or increased blood pressure.

Diets that include glutamine rich foods have been linked in one study to improve intestinal efficiencies and to have cleansing properties and effects. It is important for digestion. When the body’s supply is reduced due to drinking it can aggravate your already inflamed stomach and also hinder the body’s recovery process (which you desperately need after a rough night to get you back on your feet). In theory, increasing your glutamine levels while drinking (before your body takes over at night) may help you regulate the mayhem caused by drinking. However, there is no clinical science to back this up only anecdotal tales.

What Causes Hangovers?

You already know what causes hangovers… it is the digestion of alcohol. You take a sip of your favorite drink and swallow it. The liquid goes down your esophagus and enters your stomach. So far you are probably pretty safe unless you are drinking Everclear or 151 straight up, in which case there is a good chance you have already irritated your throat. Now the fun begins…

Gastronomical Distress

When the alcohol hits your stomach it immediately begins to irritate the stomach lining. Alcohol also causes your stomach to secrete something called hydrochloric acid. If you fill your belly with too much booze this acid will trigger a message to your brain that you are harming yourself. This message comes in the form of feeling nauseous. Although puking is never that fun, it might be in your best interest if you have been drinking heavy because there will be less alcohol in your system to process.


If you do keep the liquor down it eventually enters your bloodstream, which triggers your pituitary gland to stop the creation of a chemical called vasopressin. I’ll spare you from the biology lesson here, but in short this chemical tells your body it is time to start releasing fluid. This loss of fluid is also what causes hangovers. This is what us drinkers call “breaking the seal”. Most of the liquid you consume from this point forward goes directly to the bladder instead of getting absorbed into your body… leading to dehydration.

Brain Shrinkage

Your body will now try to protect itself. In fact, it will try to let you know that you are getting dehydrated, often times in the form of a dry mouth. Unfortunately these signals usually cause you to drink more alcohol (instead of water). Your internal organs will attempt to replenish themselves by stealing water from your organs (including your brain). When your brain is robbed of fluid it shrinks and pulls on membranes which connect to your skull. Hello headache!

Electrolyte Loss

As you continue to piss the night away (pun intended) salt and minerals are also lost.

Loss of Glycogen

Furthermore, your continued consumption of alcohol begins to turn your body’s supply of glycogen into glucose and sends it (along with salt and minerals) out of your body in your pee. This loss of electrolytes and glycogen is also what causes hangovers, subsequently limiting your energy reserves in the morning.

Reduction of Glutamine

If you have really tied one on you probably will not get restful sleep. When alcohol enters your bloodstream it reduces a protein called glutamine. However, once you stop drinking your body will try to compensate for this reduction in glutamine by producing more. The surplus of glutamine created from this yo-yo effect now over-stimulates your brain and messes with your REM sleep (severe glutamine rebound can even cause tremors, anxiety, restlessness, and increased blood pressure in some people).


To put it bluntly, if you feel poisoned in the morning it’s because you have basically just poisoned yourself. Congeners, acetaldehyde and (in some instances) histamine are also what causes hangovers.

There is some truth in the claim that what causes hangovers is what type of alcohol you drink. Red wines and dark liquors such as brandy, scotch, tequila, bourbon and whiskey contain the greatest amounts of congeners. White wines and clear liquors such as gin, vodka, and clear rum will have fewer congeners comparatively. As a result some people will find that they feel worse the next day from consuming dark colored alcohols compared to lighter colored alcohols. Want to learn more about what causes hangovers regarding different types of alcohol? Click here.

As mentioned above, when alcohol is finally broken down in your liver you are left with a toxin called acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is actually more toxic than the alcohol you’ve consumed, so it is quickly attacked in your body by two compounds (acetaldehyde dehydrogenase & glutathione) working together to form acetate. If you only drank a small amount of alcohol you’ll be okay… but you probably would not have read this far if you are a tea toddler and unfortunately for you, your liver only has a limited amount of glutathione. So guess what? At this point you and your liver are now enemies. You can learn a little more about alcohol metabolism here.

Lastly, histamines (which are found in the skins of grapes) will increase the severity of hangover symptoms in some people (if they are sensitive to histamines). Red wine will affect a histamine-sensitive drinker more than white wine because red wine has spent more time in contact with grape skins.

And that my friend is what causes hangovers.