A hangover is when you have a bad headache, sickness, dizziness and dehydration after drinking alcohol. Usually, the more your drink, the worse the hangover will be.
Hangovers usually get better by themselves. The best treatment is prevention: don’t drink, or if you decide to drink, do it sensibly and within the recommended limits.
What is a hangover?
Some people get a hangover after just one drink, while others may drink heavily and not experience a hangover at all. It depends on how the body processes alcohol. The symptoms of a hangover are:
- Headache: Alcohol makes the blood vessels expand, which leads to a headache.
- Dehydration: Alcohol is a diuretic (meaning it removes fluids from the body), so drinking excessively can lead to dehydration. It is the dehydration that causes many of the symptoms of a hangover, including thirst, dizziness and light headedness.
- Feeling ill: Alcohol triggers the immune system to release chemicals that cause problems with concentrating, loss of appetite and memory problems.
- Nausea, vomiting and aching tummy: Alcohol irritates the lining of the stomach and increases the amount of acid in it.
- Shakiness: Alcohol can cause blood sugar to fall, which can make you weak, tired and shaky.
- Tiredness: Even though you may fall asleep when you drink, alcohol prevents the body from reaching the deeper stages of sleep. You may wake in the middle of the night after drinking heavily. You may even wake up and still have some alcohol in your system the next morning, delaying the onset of a hangover until later that day. This means you may not be safe to drive or operate machinery.
Can you ‘cure’ a hangover?
Hangover cures are generally a myth. There are no cures for a hangover. All you can do is ease the symptoms and wait until it goes away.
Drink water to treat dehydration. Don't drink any more alcohol — it will make you feel worse.
Try to eat some simple food to boost your blood sugar and settle your stomach.
Take pain relief for your headache and go back to bed to sleep it off if you can.
Tips to avoid a hangover
To avoid a hangover, don't drink more than you know your body can cope with. If you're not sure how much that is, be careful.
To minimise the risk of future serious health problems, men and women shouldn't drink more than 10 standard drinks per week or more than 4 standard drinks on any one day.. One standard drink contains 10g of pure alcohol which is found in (approximately):
- 250ml full strength beer
- 375ml mid strength beer
- 100ml wine
- 1 nip (30ml) of spirits
In Australia, all bottles, cans and casks containing alcoholic beverages are required by law to state on the label the approximate number of standard drinks they contain.
Once you know how much alcohol a standard drink contains, you can keep track of what you're consuming. You may be surprised a couple of glasses of wine can quickly add up to a lot more than you intended to drink.
Follow these tips to lessen the chances of getting a hangover:
- Don't drink on an empty stomach. Before you go out, have a meal that includes carbohydrates (such as pasta or rice) or fats. The food will help slow down the body's absorption of alcohol.
- Drink slowly and don't have more than one alcoholic drink every hour.
- Don't drink dark-coloured drinks if you've found that you're sensitive to them. They contain natural chemicals called 'congeners' (impurities), which irritate blood vessels and tissue in the brain and can make a hangover worse.
- Drink water or non-sparkling soft drinks in between each alcoholic drink. Carbonated (sparkling) drinks speed up the absorption of alcohol into your system.
- Drink plenty of water before you go to sleep. Keep a glass of water by the bed to sip if you wake up during the night.
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Last reviewed: August 2020