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Do Alcoholics Get Hangovers?

Lori Minor MSN, MHSA, RN

Medically reviewed by

Lori Minor, MHSA, MSN, RN

February 4, 2019

Hangovers, or the physiological and mental distress that an individual may experience after consuming alcohol, are different for everyone and depend on a variety of factors. Generally speaking, however, the chances of getting a hangover increase with the more alcohol that one consumes.

A hangover refers to the unpleasant ill effects which result when a person drinks too much alcohol. An alcoholic, or an individual with alcohol addiction, can still experience a hangover, but it may take more alcohol to create these feelings. Some research even suggests these people experience more severe hangovers. Regardless if they do or don’t encounter one, alcohol addiction is dangerous and requires treatment.

Many of us are familiar with hangovers, either through experience or by reputation. But do you really know what a hangover is, or why it happens?

What Is A Hangover?

A hangover refers to the physiological and mental distress which occurs after a person drinks. This amount isn’t the same for everyone. Certain individuals may feel this way after only one drink, while some people may drink large amounts before it occurs, and others yet may not experience one at all. However, one thing is certain, your chances of getting a hangover increase the more you drink.

A hangover most notably manifests the next day as physical sickness, which can become extreme and even temporarily disabling. Symptoms range person-to-person and may include:

Physical malaise:

  • achy muscles
  • bloodshot eyes
  • fatigue
  • extreme headache
  • increased systolic blood pressure
  • intense thirst
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • quickened pulse
  • sensitivity to light and sound
  • sleep disturbances
  • stomachache
  • sweating
  • tremor
  • vertigo
  • vomiting
  • weakness

In addition to the physical components, a hangover can alter your mental and emotional states, leading to:

  • anxiety
  • decreased attention
  • depression
  • irritability
  • trouble concentrating

Most individuals experience these symptoms for 24 hours, though some may feel ill up to 72 hours, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. During this time your ability to carry out certain tasks, your productivity, and certain cognitive functions may be impaired. Cumulatively, these effects may be detrimental to your job, schooling, family responsibilities, or other important duties, and may even increase your risk of injury.

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What Causes A Hangover?

Hangovers are dependent not just on the amount of alcohol consumed, but the type. Dark liqueurs, like brandy and whiskey, and darker beers contain certain chemical compounds called congeners which increase the risk. Red wine is reported to produce certain chemical changes within the user’s plasma, which are also linked to hangovers.

Additionally, as reported by Mayo Clinic the following factors contribute to a hangover:

Alcohol:

  • Is an irritant to your stomach, which could cause nausea and vomiting.
  • Drops your blood sugar, which may account for the fatigue, weakness, and mood shifts.
  • Impairs your quality of sleep, which can lead to grogginess and fatigue the next day.
  • Increases your urine output, leading to dehydration.
  • Makes your blood vessels expand, which can lead to headaches.
  • “Triggers an inflammatory response from your immune system.” This may impair your cognitive functions and lead to appetite suppression.

Do Alcoholics Get Hangovers?

Like many questions surrounding addiction, there isn’t a clear-cut answer that applies to every individual in every circumstance. Every person’s body and physiology are different in a way which influences how alcohol affects them and how their body processes it. While it could be easy to think that since an individual with alcohol addiction is tolerant to alcohol they would be tolerant to a hangover, this doesn’t necessarily hold true.

The Atlantic, which interviewed Richard Stephens, professor of psychology, rebuffs this. The article reports that “a number of studies in the U.S. have actually shown the opposite, that alcoholics get the most severe hangovers, even when you control for the amount of alcohol consumed.”

The exact amount of individuals with an addiction who get hangovers isn’t certain. But, as the publication “Alcohol Hangover: Mechanisms and Mediators” cites, “In a study of 43 alcoholic drinkers admitted for inpatient treatment, 50 percent of the subjects reported experiencing no hangovers within the previous year and 23 percent reported never experiencing a hangover.” Why don’t some people with an alcohol addiction get hangovers?

Firstly, not everyone gets hangovers, according to The Atlantic article. In theory, this means that a certain number of people with an alcohol addiction may not get them. Secondly, a person without an addiction may get hungover on the same amount of alcohol a person with an addiction drinks without feeling ill the next day. This isn’t necessarily because the latter person doesn’t get hungover. Instead, due to their tolerance, it requires more alcohol for them to get hungover.

Are Hangovers Connected To Alcohol Addiction?

Further, instead of being a deterrent as one would think, a hangover might actually fuel an alcohol addiction, according to the Atlantic article. It cautions that “the hair of the dog,” or the practice of having a drink the morning after to “cure” a hangover, can actually be a risk factor for alcohol addiction.

The second article asserts “that people who have an elevated personality risk for alcoholism experience more acute…hangover symptoms and may initiate further drinking in an effort to find relief.” They continue, noting that individual with a history of an alcohol addiction within their family have “a decreased sensitivity to the intoxicating effects of alcohol.” This could lead a person to consume more alcohol in pursuit of a buzz, which not only increases the risk of hangover, but also of alcohol addiction.

If You Don’t Get Hungover Is Alcohol Still Damaging?

Even if you don’t get a hangover, alcohol is still a toxic force within your body. Though it doesn’t make you sick the day after you drink, it can make you sick in the long run in a way that is far more severe (and even deadly) in comparison to a hangover. This is especially true for those with an alcohol addiction.

Alcohol greatly disrupts important systems which control essential physical and mental processes. It can lead to a wide range of disorders, illness, and disease, such as:

  • anxiety
  • brain damage
  • cardiovascular complications
  • certain forms of cancer
  • cirrhosis of the liver
  • depression
  • organ damage and failure
  • severe withdrawal
  • stroke
  • suppressed immune system

In order to protect yourself and to help your body regain optimal functioning and health, it’s important that you seek treatment for alcohol addiction.

How To Treat An Alcohol Addiction

Detoxing from alcohol can become very unpleasant, painful, and in certain cases it can cause fatality. If you or a loved one wants to quit drinking, we strongly urge you to let us help you formulate the best plan to do so. Detoxing on your own is very dangerous and should instead be handled by a highly-trained facility which offers a medical detox.

A medical detox most often uses medication-assisted therapies to reduce withdrawal symptoms so that you’re safe and as comfortable as possible during this time. Alcohol can severely dehydrate you and imbalance your electrolytes, so IV fluid hydration may also be administered. Detox shouldn’t be the only way you treat your addiction.

An alcohol addiction affects an individual very deeply. For this reason, treatment needs to dig deep and go beyond detox. A comprehensive alcohol addiction treatment program uses various behavioral therapies to help you to overcome the psychological addiction. Here, you’ll develop coping skills, a relapse prevention plan, and the desire for a fulfilling, alcohol-free life.

A Sober Life Can Be Yours With Alcohol Treatment

If you’re concerned that alcohol addiction is endangering your health or someone you care about, RehabCenter.net can help. Contact us now to get resources on alcohol addiction and treatment. Your call is confidential.

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