How Much Alcohol Causes a Hangover?
The effects of a hangover differ from person to person.1 Some people may have a hangover from just one alcoholic drink, while others can drink excessively and not get a hangover.
The body processes one alcoholic drink per hour (on average). Consuming many drinks in a short time increases the likelihood of a hangover after the intoxicating effects of alcohol wear off.
According to one study, about 75% of individuals who drank excessively the previous night experienced hangover symptoms.
The researchers concluded that 25 to 30% of people who drink might be resistant to hangovers.2
What are the Symptoms of a Hangover?
A hangover may showcase either mild or severe symptoms.3
The mild symptoms of a hangover include:
- Fatigue and weakness
- Thirst and dry mouth
- Decreased/altered sleep
- Increased pulse and blood pressure
- Tremors or shaking
- Vertigo (feeling dizzy)
The severe symptoms of a hangover include:
- Headaches and muscle aches
- Increases sensitivity to sound
- Increased sensitivity to light
- Decreased attention
- Stomach pain
- Depression and anxiety
How Long Does a Hangover Last?
The majority of hangover symptoms go away on their own after your blood alcohol level drops significantly.
However, it’s not unusual for the symptoms to last up to 24 hours.
According to a recent study, the average duration of an alcohol hangover is 18 hours after stopping drinking or 12 hours after waking up.4 However, several factors influence this timeline.
8 Factors That Determine How Long a Hangover Will Last
The following factors will determine how long your hangover will last:
1. The Amount of Alcohol Consumed
In the United States, one “standard” drink comprises about 14 grams of pure alcohol.5 This is equivalent to:
- 12-ounces of regular beer, which is typically around 5% alcohol
- 5-ounces of wine, with an average alcohol content of 12%
- 1.5-ounces of distilled spirits with about 40% alcohol content
The number of drinks you take will not significantly affect the duration of your hangover.
However, consuming too much alcohol is associated with severe hangover symptoms, which are likely to last longer.
2. Amount of Rest You Receive After Drinking
Not sleeping enough after drinking alcohol can lead to severe hangovers.
Although alcohol is known to induce sleep, you’re most likely to have disrupted sleep.6 This makes you feel worse when you wake up, prolonging the hangover symptoms.
3. Level of Hydration
Alcohol is known to have a diuretic effect. In this case, the effects of alcohol inhibit kidney function by suppressing the production of vasopressin antidiuretic hormone (ADH).
ADH is the hormone that signals the brain to balance the ratio of particles and water in the blood (plasma osmolality), influencing the kidneys to either retain or water.8
When ADH production is suppressed, the kidneys release more water causing a frequent urge to pee.
Dehydration caused by alcohol consumption is characterized by a headache or nausea.
4. Drinking on An Empty Stomach
Alcohol is absorbed more slowly when food is present in the stomach before you start drinking. Without food in your stomach, most of the alcohol finds its way into your blood quickly.
This amplifies all the negative consequences of alcohol abuse, including a long-lasting hangover.
Drinking on an empty stomach may cause nausea or vomiting, so you should stop immediately and inform the person you’re with how you’re feeling.
5. Underlying Health Conditions
Some health conditions, especially those that affect how the body processes alcohol, such as kidney disease and liver disease, can influence the severity and duration of your hangover.
Alcohol also affects glucose metabolism, presenting a risk of severe hangovers in people who have diabetes. Severe hangovers are known to last longer.
According to a recent study, a person with type 1 diabetes is likely to experience hypoglycemia the following day after drinking alcohol the previous night.9
Hypoglycemia is a dangerous condition characterized by low blood sugar levels.
Your hangover symptoms are also likely to last longer if you have frequent migraine attacks. This is because alcohol is a common migraine trigger.10
Your body’s metabolism slows down as you age, and this affects alcohol metabolism as well.
Your liver breaks down acetaldehyde, a common toxin and contributor to hangover symptoms. Acetaldehyde is further broken down to non-toxic acetate for easy elimination from the body.
However, since liver function slows down as we age, acetaldehyde will tend to last longer in the system of older people, resulting in prolonged hangovers.
Some people experience less severe hangovers because of their genetic makeup.
Studies have shown that resistance to hangovers is about 43% across both genders (male and female).
This indicates that genes contribute to the ability to drink without experiencing the adverse effects of alcohol intoxication.
However, people who show a reduced response to alcohol intoxication and those with resistance to hangovers have a greater risk of dependency.
8. Certain Medications
Some medications may make it difficult for your body to properly metabolize (break down) alcohol.
As a result, you’ll be more likely to vomit, and your hangover will last longer.
Some drugs that affect the way alcohol is processed in the body include:
- Antidepressants such as tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and dopamine reuptake blockers
- Antibiotics such as erythromycin, metronidazole, and cefoperazone
- Anti-anxiety medications such as Benzodiazepines (alprazolam, clonazepam, diazepam, etc.)
- Allergy medications such as Diphenhydramine (Benadryl), Clemastine (Tavist), and Chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton)
If you take any medications, always check with your healthcare provider before drinking alcohol to avoid negative drug-alcohol interactions that may prolong your hangover.
Are There Any Treatments For Hangovers?
There are no instant hangover cures, but there are remedies to make the symptoms less severe:
- Stay hydrated. Drinking a lot of fluids (preferably water) will help your body stay hydrated and ease the hangover symptoms.
- Get enough sleep. Alcohol significantly affects sleep quality. Even if you fell asleep after drinking, the chances are that it was not restorative. If you wake up feeling weird after a night of drinking, taking more time to rest your body will help ease the discomfort.
- Eat something. You may not have the appetite, especially if your hangover keeps you visiting the bathroom more frequently. However, eating can help replenish the electrolytes lost in your body and settle your stomach. Consider bland foods such as eggs, carbs, soups, and fruits.
- Take pain relievers. A hangover headache and muscular pains may be relieved with an over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication. However, remember that aspirin and ibuprofen may cause stomach irritation. Acetaminophen can harm your already stressed liver if you consume a lot of alcohol. To be safe, take these medications with a meal.
- Take supplements. Although the research is limited, several studies have shown that some supplements may help with hangover symptoms. Such supplements include red ginseng, borage oil, ginger, prickly pear, and eleuthero (Siberian ginseng).
- Drink the next morning. This remedy is also known as “the hair of the dog.” Though it’s mostly based on myth and anecdotal data, there is some evidence that drinking the following morning may help with hangover symptoms. However, this is not encouraged as it may lead to alcohol dependence.
- Do some exercise. After a night of drinking, just getting out of bed, let alone going to the gym, may be difficult. However, kick-starting your day by sweating away toxins is a great method to get rid of a terrible hangover.
Doctors recommend that if you’ve been drinking too much alcohol, wait at least 48 hours before drinking again (even if you don’t have a hangover). This gives your body time to recover.
How to Prevent a Hangover While Drinking
The most effective way to prevent a hangover is to avoid drinking alcohol. However, if you have to drink, the following tips will help you prevent a bad hangover:
- Limit your drinking. Set a limit of how much you intend to drink and stick to it. No matter how much your drinking mates drink, do not be influenced to drink more than you planned to.
- Eat before you drink. The presence of food in the stomach reduces the rate of alcohol absorption into the blood. Slowing the rate of alcohol absorption will reduce the risk of a severe hangover.
- Stick to one type of alcohol. Mixing different types of alcoholic beverages will increase your risk of severe hangovers.
- Choose your alcohol wisely. Light-colored alcohols, such as vodka or white wine, have fewer congeners (hangover-causing toxins). The darker the drink, the worse the hangover.
- Avoid smoking. Drinking and smoking at the same time increase the severity of a hangover.
- Pace yourself. If you find yourself downing your vodka glass too fast, consider substituting a non-alcoholic drink such as Gatorade or coconut water with each alcoholic drink. This will give your body more time to digest the alcohol, translating to fewer hangover symptoms.