Do Alcoholics Get Hangovers?
Many American adults are familiar with the symptoms of a hangover even if they lack firsthand experience with muscle aches, stomach pain, malaise, bloodshot eyes, rapid heartbeats, headache, sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, and vomiting that come with excessive drinking.
But fewer understand how alcohol use disorder (AUD), which is informally known as alcoholism, changes the symptoms and intensity of hangovers.
Alcoholics & Severe Hangover Symptoms
Evidence suggests that a majority of those suffering from AUD don’t just get average hangovers after a day or night of drinking.
People with AUD actually experience hangovers that are more severe and more mentally and physically taxing than those experienced by the general population, even taking into account the amount of alcohol consumed.
This seems counter-intuitive. After all, those who drink chronically develop an increased tolerance to the effects of alcohol over time, allowing them to “hold their liquor” better than average.
And many adults who have had hangovers remember their worst as having occurred early in their lives, usually the morning after some night of binge drinking in their teens or twenties.
So, why is this the case?
Why Alcoholics Tend To Experience Worse Hangovers
AUD is subdivided into mild, moderate, and severe cases, and the physical and mental effects of this disorder can vary dramatically across these different levels and from individual to individual.
As such, there are a number of different reasons why hangovers can be especially nasty for those with a dependence on alcohol, even if hangovers occur much less often for some with AUD.
Hair Of The Dog
This curious expression, short for “Hair of the dog that bit you,” is used to describe the act of drinking alcohol to reduce the uncomfortable effects of a hangover.
But while alcohol can provide temporary relief from hangover symptoms due to its depressant, pain-relieving, and euphoric effects, this hangover cure only delays the inevitable suffering that will resume once you stop drinking.
This is why many with AUD don’t stop drinking, maintaining a steady blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to avoid hangovers for an extended period of time at the cost of long-term health effects, increasing tolerance, and chemical dependence and addiction.
One interesting theory holds that those who are already naturally prone to severe hangovers and begin drinking in excess will also tend to begin drinking the day after to treat their hangovers, launching a vicious cycle that can develop into AUD with time.
AUD is a progressive condition, meaning that it grows worse with time.
The same is true for the body’s diminishing ability to cope with injuries, toxins, and dehydration, all of which alcohol (a diuretic that metabolizes into the toxin acetaldehyde, leading to organ damage) can trigger.
As you move from age twenty to thirty, forty, and beyond, your metabolism will slow down and many of your bodily functions, including liver function, become less efficient.
This can potentially lead to a reduced ability to bounce back from hangovers when they occur, even as your dependence on alcohol grows in severity year after year.
The effects of chronic alcohol addiction on the body can impair immune system function, reduce nutrient absorption, lower your quality of sleep, damage organs, and contribute to chronic dehydration, low blood sugar, and increased blood pressure.
Over a long period of time, these varied health effects together will work against the body, reducing its ability to effectively recover from the short-term effects of alcohol consumption.
Depending on your level of alcohol dependence, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can begin anywhere from six to twelve hours after your last drink.
This means that for many with AUD, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can present in the time between when they go to sleep and when they wake up again in the morning. These symptoms may commonly be mistaken for the symptoms of a hangover.
It’s no surprise that many with AUD feel so hungover the next day after their last drink that they open up another alcoholic drink in the morning hours and greatly exceed the weekly criteria for heavy drinking.
Choice Of Drink
Strong, dark-colored alcoholic beverages like whiskey, cognac, and red wine have high concentrations of compounds known as congeners, byproducts released by yeast as part of the fermentation process.
If a person drinks congeners in large quantities the symptoms of alcohol hangovers tend to be much more severe.
Treatment Options For Alcohol Use Disorder
Whether you consider yourself an alcoholic, a functioning alcoholic, an occasional heavy drinker, or just someone with a minor drinking problem, any form of compulsive substance abuse can have serious consequences that impact your health, loved ones, finances, and more.
Addiction treatment programs for individuals with a wide variety of substance use disorders, including mild to severe alcohol addiction, likely include detox to help you stabilize and begin the recovery process.
To learn more, please contact us today.
Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
©2021 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
This page does not provide medical advice.
Mayo Clinic - Hangovers - Symptoms and causes
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) - Alcohol's Effects on the Body
The Atlantic - Hangovers, Why
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