Unpleasant signs and symptoms can develop after drinking too much alcohol — but severe signs may indicate alcohol poisoning, a life-threatening emergency.
A hangover is a group of unpleasant signs and symptoms that can develop after drinking too much alcohol. As if feeling awful weren't bad enough, frequent hangovers are also associated with poor performance and conflict at work.
As a general rule, the more alcohol you drink, the more likely you are to have a hangover the next day. But there's no magic formula to tell you how much you can safely drink and still avoid a hangover.
However unpleasant, most hangovers go away on their own, though they can last up to 24 hours. If you choose to drink alcohol, doing so responsibly can help you avoid future hangovers.
Hangover symptoms typically begin when your blood alcohol content drops significantly and is at or near zero. They're usually in full effect the morning after a night of heavy drinking. Depending on what and how much you drank, you may notice:
Hangovers after a single night's drinking go away on their own. Talk with your doctor if you're concerned that frequent, heavy drinking may lead to serious alcohol withdrawal, or when regular hangovers affect your quality of life, including your personal relationships or your performance at work. Treatment for alcohol problems is widely available.
More-severe signs and symptoms that accompany heavy drinking may indicate alcohol poisoning — a life-threatening emergency. Call 911 or your local emergency number if a person who has been drinking shows signs of:
A person who is unconscious or can't be awakened is at risk of dying. If you suspect that someone has alcohol poisoning — even if you don't see the classic signs and symptoms — seek immediate medical care.
Hangovers are caused by drinking too much alcohol. A single alcoholic drink is enough to trigger a hangover for some people, while others may drink heavily and escape a hangover entirely.
Various factors may contribute to a hangover. For example:
Alcoholic beverages contain ingredients called congeners, which give many types of alcoholic beverages their flavor and can contribute to hangovers. Congeners are found in larger amounts in dark liquors, such as brandy and bourbon, than in clear liquors, such as vodka and gin.
Congeners are more likely to produce a hangover or increase the severity of a hangover. But drinking too much alcohol of any color can still make you feel bad the next morning.
Anyone who drinks alcohol can experience a hangover, but some people are more susceptible to hangovers than others are. A genetic variation that affects the way alcohol is metabolized may make some people flush, sweat or become ill after drinking even a small amount of alcohol.
Factors that may make a hangover more likely or severe include:
When you have a hangover, you're likely to experience problems with:
Not surprisingly, this temporary dulling of your abilities increases your risk of a number of problems at school or work, such as:
Despite various over-the-counter pills and tablets that claim to prevent hangovers, the only guaranteed way to prevent a hangover is to avoid alcohol. If you choose to drink, do so in moderation.
Moderate alcohol use for healthy adults means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger.
The less alcohol you drink, the less likely you are to have a hangover. It may help to:
Some people take over-the-counter pain relievers, such as aspirin or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), to prevent hangover symptoms. But ask your doctor if this is safe for you and what dosage is best for you. These medications may interact with other medications, and acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) may cause liver damage if too much alcohol is consumed.
Time is the only sure cure for a hangover. In the meantime, here are a few things you can do to help yourself feel better:
Proposed alternative remedies for hangovers abound, but studies haven't found any natural remedies that consistently improve hangover symptoms.
Talk with your doctor before trying any alternative medicine. Keep in mind that natural doesn't always mean safe. Your doctor can help you understand possible risks and benefits before you try a treatment.