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Updated on August 10, 2023
8 min read

Hangover Causes, Symptoms & Remedies

When you drink alcohol, it affects various systems throughout your body. You may develop a hangover the following day after drinking heavily.

Hangovers cause various physical and emotional symptoms. Their severity often correlates with the amount of alcohol consumed the night before.

The effects of hangovers can be serious and cause severe impairment. Long after alcohol leaves your system, your body continues to suffer and recover from an alcohol hangover.

When Does a Hangover Peak?

Hangover symptoms peak when your blood alcohol content returns to about zero. This is usually around 12 hours after your last drink.

How Long Does a Hangover Last?

How long a hangover lasts depends on how much alcohol you drink and whether or not you take hangover cures. Hangover symptoms can last for up to 72 hours. However, most hangovers are shorter, lasting between 12 and 24 hours.

How Do Hangovers Negatively Impact Your Brain?

When you drink, alcohol affects your thinking and reaction times. These are the short-term effects of alcohol and why drinking and driving are illegal.

Alcohol can still affect your brain and cognitive abilities when blood alcohol levels drop. Moreover, the effects of alcohol will linger and become worse well after it leaves the bloodstream. This is especially true for people with alcohol use disorder.


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What are the Risk Factors of a Hangover?

Alcohol affects everyone differently. Some people may experience severe hangovers after a single drink. Others can drink excessively and wake up the next morning without one.

The many factors that make you more susceptible to hangovers include:

Drinking on an Empty Stomach

When your stomach is empty, it releases alcohol into the bloodstream faster. This increases the debilitating effects on the body and increases your risk of a hangover.

Not Enough Sleep

Poor sleep habits before drinking, or the poor quality of sleep that occurs after drinking can contribute to increased hangover symptoms.

A Family History of Alcoholism

Research shows that alcoholism has some genetic components. Gene variants can also affect how your body metabolizes alcohol and increase your hangover risk.

Sulfites can make hangover symptoms worse. The compound is commonly added to wine as a preservative. People with sulfite sensitivities may experience a headache after drinking wine.

Other Substances That Contribute to Hangover Symptoms

Alcohol is the main cause of a hangover. However, certain substances can further increase your hangover risk or worsen it. These include:


Smoking cigarettes while drinking alcohol increases your risk of a hangover and can intensify symptoms. Studies show that cigarette smoke contains acetaldehyde, the same chemical your liver releases to process alcohol.

Acetaldehyde is linked to hangover symptoms.

Drinking Darker Alcoholic Beverages

Dark alcoholic drinks, such as whiskey, contain higher concentrations of congeners than lighter-colored beverages like beer. Drinking clear liquors such as vodka and gin is less likely to result in an alcohol hangover.

Congeners contribute to dark alcoholic beverages' color, taste, and aroma. However, they also interfere with cell function, leading to more severe hangovers.

Symptoms of a Hangover

Drinking alcoholic beverages causes your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to rise. This usually means a BAC of 0.11% or higher for excessive drinkers, which is beyond the intoxication level of 0.08%. 

When these levels drop significantly or are nearing zero, hangover symptoms will start to show. The symptoms of a hangover can vary for each person, depending on the type of drink and how much they drank.

Here are the most common hangover symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Excessive thirst
  • Dry mouth
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Poor sleep
  • Sensitivity to light and sound

Effects of Alcohol On the Body

An alcohol hangover is a consequence of drinking too many alcoholic beverages in a short period. Excessive drinking affects the body’s functions.

The effects of alcohol on the body include:


Alcohol prevents the release of vasopressin—a hormone that regulates kidney function and retains bodily fluids. Drinking alcohol causes the kidneys to release more of these fluids than they should.

It results in increased urination (diuresis) and an excessive loss of fluids. Dehydration causes other hangover symptoms such as:

  • Thirst
  • Dry mouth
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches


Alcohol causes an inflammatory reaction in the body, affecting organs like the liver and brain. Regular excessive alcohol use and the resulting inflammation can damage these organs.

During hangovers, inflammation contributes to muscle pain and general malaise.

Stomach Irritation

Alcohol is acidic and irritates the stomach lining, causing it to produce more gastric acids. This contributes to stomach upset, nausea, and vomiting associated with hangovers.

Blood Sugar Regulation

The body needs sugar to function, and alcohol causes its levels to fall. This drop can result in unpleasant experiences like:

  • Shaking
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Seizures (extreme cases)

Sleep Disruption

After a night of drinking, you may feel ready to jump into bed and will likely fall asleep quickly. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean you will get the rest you need.

Alcohol leads to disrupted and fragmented sleep. It leaves you feeling fatigued and without rest, a common hangover symptom. The lack of quality sleep may also contribute to memory loss, confusion, and trouble thinking.

Exposure to Acetaldehyde

When your liver processes alcohol, it releases the chemical acetaldehyde. This toxic by-product of alcohol contributes to increased inflammation in various body parts.

These body parts include:

  • Brain
  • Gastrointestinal tract
  • Liver
  • Pancreas

Alcohol Withdrawal

When you consume alcoholic drinks, the chemical production in your brain changes. It triggers the release of dopamine, a well-known happy hormone.

While dopamine can make you feel more relaxed, it also gets your brain “hooked” to the feeling. When you stop drinking, the brain will seek the euphoric and relaxing effects of alcohol. It will also cause restlessness and anxiety.

While these are common symptoms when alcoholics undergo withdrawal, similar mini-withdrawal symptoms can occur with an alcohol hangover. Alcohol causes damage to the brain, which can result in:

  • Lack of energy
  • Poor memory
  • Lack of coordination
  • Inability to concentrate

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When Does a Hangover Require Medical Attention?

A hangover will go away over time. However, if symptoms are severe, a person may be experiencing alcohol poisoning.

Alcohol poisoning occurs when you ingest too much alcohol on a single occasion. This can happen after exceeding 6 drinks and reaching a blood alcohol level of 0.31% or higher.

The symptoms of alcohol poisoning are:

  • Confusion
  • Intense vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slow or irregular breathing
  • Pale or blue-toned skin
  • A drop in body temperature
  • Loss of consciousness 
  • Difficulty remaining conscious

If you experience any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical help. A person who is unconscious or doesn’t respond or wake up to stimuli is at risk of death.

Are Hangovers a Sign of an Alcohol Problem?

Withdrawal and frequent hangovers are signs of an alcohol use disorder (AUD). They can affect your relationship, career, and finances, reducing your overall quality of life. AUD requires treatment.

You may have an alcohol problem if you're:

  • Worried about your unhealthy drinking
  • Experiencing severe alcohol withdrawal
  • Having frequent hangovers

Symptoms of Alcohol Misuse & Addiction

Hangovers are common, even among people who don't have alcohol misuse problems. However, if you experience frequent hangovers, it could be a sign that an addiction is forming.

According to The DSM-5, common symptoms of alcoholism or AUD include:

  • Drinking more or for longer than was intended
  • Unsuccessful attempts to cut down or stop alcohol use
  • Spending a lot of time obtaining, using, or recovering from alcohol consumption
  • Cravings for alcohol
  • Weight Gain
  • Failure to fulfill responsibilities at work, school, or home due to drinking alcohol
  • Continuing to drink despite having social problems caused by the effects of alcohol
  • Important social, work, or recreational activities are stopped or reduced because of alcohol use
  • Drinking in physically dangerous situations
  • Continuing to drink even though it's known to have negative effects on your health
  • Developing a tolerance to alcohol
  • Having withdrawal symptoms after stopping alcohol use

Alcohol abuse and heavy drinking can be debilitating and take a toll on the body. If you or someone you know has a drinking problem, seek medical help immediately.


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Natural Remedies for a Hangover

Hangover cures often only mean reducing the symptoms of a hangover to make them less unbearable. They don't remove the hangover completely.

The only two ways to avoid a hangover are not drinking or limiting alcohol intake to a minimum. If you already have a hangover, you must wait for the symptoms to subside.

To ease your hangover symptoms, you can do the following:

  1. Take a cold shower
  2. Drink coffee
  3. Get some sleep
  4. Eat healthy food
  5. Keep drinking water
  6. Exercise
  7. Carbon or charcoal supplements

Treatment Options for Alcohol Misuse & Addiction

There are many treatment options available for alcohol abuse and addiction, including:

  • Inpatient treatment: Inpatient treatment takes place at a licensed residential treatment center. These programs provide 24/7 comprehensive, structured care.
  • Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs): Partial hospitalization programs (PHP) are sometimes referred to as intensive outpatient programs (IOP). Compared to inpatient programs, partial hospitalization programs provide similar services.
  • Outpatient treatment: Outpatient treatment is less intensive than inpatient or partial hospitalization programs. These programs organize your treatment session based on your schedule. Outpatient treatment aims to provide therapy, education, and support in a flexible environment.
  • Medication-assisted therapy (MAT): Sometimes, medications may be used in alcohol addiction treatment. Some medicines can help reduce the negative side effects of detoxification and withdrawal. Others can help you reduce cravings and normalize body functions.
  • Support groups: Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and SMART Recovery are open to anyone with a substance abuse problem. They are peer-led organizations dedicated to helping each other remain sober. They can be the first step towards recovery or part of a long-term aftercare plan.


Alcohol consumption can have short-term and long-term effects on the body. Short-term effects include hangovers, which in severe cases may need medical attention.

Hangover cures such as cold showers, coffee, sleep, and healthy food can help reduce hangover symptoms. Frequent hangovers may be a sign of an alcohol use disorder or addiction.

For those with AUD, treatments include inpatient, partial hospitalization, outpatient, medication-assisted therapy, and support groups. If you have an alcohol problem or are concerned about someone else's drinking habits, seek professional help from a healthcare provider immediately.

Updated on August 10, 2023
7 sources cited
Updated on August 10, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. Bates, C. “Another reason to rethink that late-night cigarette: Smoking DOES make your hangover worse." Daily Mail Online, 2012.

  2. Felman, A. “How to cure a hangover.” Medical News Today, 2023.

  3. Gunn et al. “A Systematic Review of the Next‐Day Effects of Heavy Alcohol Consumption on Cognitive Performance.” Wiley Online Library, 2018.

  4. Hangovers.” Mayo Clinic, 2017.

  5. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Hangovers.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2021.

  6. Rettner, R. “How a Hangover Affects Your Brain the Next Day.” LiveScience, 2018.

  7. Wang et al. “Alcohol, Inflammation, and Gut-Liver-Brain Interactions in Tissue Damage and Disease Development.” World Journal of Gastroenterology, 2010.

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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
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