Alcohol 101: Why A Hangover Feels So Bad

June 5, 2015


You went out last night. Not only did you “go out,” but you partied hard. Really hard. When you woke up the next morning you had a migraine and your head was spinning. You kicked yourself for not closing the curtains before you went to bed because the morning light was blinding. You got out of bed and realized you were nauseous and thirsty. On top of all of this, you couldn’t remember what happened last night.

What’s the diagnosis? A Hangover.

Many of us have had hangovers at some point in our lives and they really make life miserable. But what is a hangover, really, and why do we get them after a night of drinking?

A hangover is a constellation of symptoms that can occur after ingesting alcohol. Symptoms include headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, thirst, decreased sleep and sound/light sensitivity, among others.

The reasons why we get hangover symptoms are numerous:

  1. Alcohol irritates the stomach lining which can cause nausea and vomiting
  2. Brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, are altered by alcohol. This causes impaired memory and mood.
  3. We urinate more when we drink because alcohol stimulates chemicals which increase urination. This promotes fluid loss and dehydration.
  4. Alcohol interferes with the quality of sleep. So, we wake up feeling unrefreshed.
  5. Blood sugar often rises or drops as a result of too much alcohol
  6. Alcohol is a common trigger for headaches

Keep in mind, there are many other factors that determine if you get a hangover and how severe it is. Eating on an empty stomach, your medical conditions and medications, and even your family history can make a difference. Also, consider what you drink because all drinks are not created equally:

One Standard Drink:

= 12oz regular beer (5% alc)

= 8-9oz Malt liquor (7% alc)

= 5oz Wine (12% alc)

= 1.5oz 80 proof spirits (whiskey, gin, rum, vodka, tequila) (40% alc).

So, what’s the ultimate hangover cure, you ask? Well, there is no magic pill that will make hangover symptoms go away. Making sure you have food on your stomach, drinking plenty of water, getting enough sleep and taking a mild pain reliever for headache can help. But, the best solution is to not drink at all. If you choose to drink, drink responsibly and in moderation.



Dr. Caudle is a board-certified Family Physician and Assistant Professor in the Department of Family Medicine at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine. She appears regularly on television as a media expert and appears regularly on CBS Philadelphia News, Fox News, CNN, The Dr. Oz Show, HuffPostLive, Doctors Radio (Sirius) and others. Visit at, and follow her on twitter/Instagram at @drjencaudle.

Information in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and is not intended to provide medical consultation or serve as a substitute for medical advice provided by a physician or qualified medical professional.

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