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What does a hangover feel like? 8 symptoms to look out for

For those of you that drink more than a couple of drinks during a night out – you know that feeling of waking up the next morning and not feeling 100%. So if I asked you – What does a hangover feel like? You would probably have a pretty good idea of some or maybe all of these common hangover symptoms.

‘Feeling hungover’ is often the term used to describe your current state after a night of drinking.
However, you may not know the specific causes of a hangover (more than just ‘drinking too much alcohol” of course). Your body is only able to efficiently process between one to two standard alcoholic drinks per hour.

Any alcohol above this amount is stored in your body until it can be processed. This alcohol that remains unprocessed in your body is what can cause hangover symptoms such as headache, nausea, vomiting and dehydration. Some of these symptoms may be related to each other such as dehydration and headaches.

1. Hangover dehydration

Alcohol is a diuretic – in laymen terms that means that it makes you pee more. “It acts on the kidneys to make you pee out much more than you take in – which is why you need to go to the toilet so often when you drink.” In fact for every 1 gram of alcohol that is consumed, urine excretion increases by 10ml.

Unfortunately, drinking less volume of alcoholic drinks won’t help hangover dehydration as it’s the alcoholic content and not the volume that is the issue. So having shots instead of pints to reduce dehydration is not the answer!

Hangover dehydration can cause other hangover symptoms such as hangover headaches (see below). The effects of hangover dehydration are often felt the next morning when you wake up with a dry mouth and/or lips. The feeling of dehydration is a lagging indicator so you are already well dehydrated by this stage.

If you do feel the need to urinate the next morning, the colour of your urine is often a darker shade of yellow which is a tell-tale sign of dehydration. Hangover dehydration will last as long as you let it. Drinking water until your urine becomes a lighter shade of yellow is generally a good way to judge your progress.

2. Hangover headache

The body requires water to function and it will pull it from anywhere it exists when required – which can mean drawing it from the cells in your brain. This reduces brain volume and can cause the dreaded next morning headaches.

Obviously drinking water can help relieve a hangover headache. However some people also swear by aspirin and other pain medication for relief, though some claim that this may actually be more taxing on your liver.

3. What does a hangover feel like – Hangover nausea

Alcohol’s effect on the stomach lining can account for nausea after drinking because alcohol stimulates the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. Hangover nausea can also be experienced with an upset stomach (as both can be cause by an increase in stomach acid) and may be followed by vomiting.

4. Upset stomach and hangover vomiting

The reason for vomiting during a hangover is relatively straightforward and well-known. The consumption of alcohol causes your body to produce more stomach acid and delays the metabolism process in order to accommodate this increased production. This process can result in stomach pains and in some people it induces vomiting.

What does a hangover feel like - Vomiting
Man vomiting in toilet bowl

Generally vomiting occurs during the drinking process but some people also suffer from hangover vomiting which can be caused from trying to consume liquids or food the next day. Even if you don’t feel like vomiting you may still experience an upset stomach after drinking.

5. What does a hangover feel like – Hangover fatigue

Drinking interferes with brain activity during sleep, so a hangover may be a form of sleep deprivation. Hangover fatigue can be the result of having a restless sleep the night after drinking.

Alcohol impacts the hormones that regulate our biological clocks. This may be why a hangover can feel like jet lag and vice versa. Alcohol can also trigger migraines, so some people may think they are hungover when it’s really an alcohol hangover headache or migraine from which they are suffering.

What does a hangover feel like - Hangover fatigue

6. Hangover and anxiety

Hangover and anxiety is relatively common – so much so that it has its own term – ‘Hangxiety’. Most people are pretty familiar with the usual physical symptoms of a hangover which we have discussed already.

However hangovers can have psychological symptoms too, especially feelings of anxiety. This may be compounded by the physical hangover symptoms. If you live with anxiety, particularly social anxiety, you may find that a drink or two helps you relax and cope with nervous or anxious feelings before (or during) a social event.

“About two drinks, or a blood alcohol concentration of 0.055, tends to increase feelings of relaxation and reduce shyness,” Cyndi Turner says.

But as the effects of alcohol begin to wear off, anxiety tends to return. Physical hangover symptoms can compound anxiety and make you feel even worse. So when asking “what does a hangover feel like” you also need to consider the mental aspects of a hangover.

7. Sore throat after hangover

If you have ever had a sore throat after hangover then it’s most likely because the excess alcohol has inflamed both your esophageal and stomach lining. You may even experience diarrhea as your bowels are having trouble re-absorbing water after first being exposed to all that alcohol.

Well that, or the fact that you have been yelling too many expletives during the footy game or belting out your favourite tunes at the local karaoke night (which may have been exacerbated by your drinking). Drinking water whilst consuming alcoholic beverages or before you go to bed may help to soothe the irritation.

8. Heart palpitations hangover

A rapid heartbeat from a hangover (or whilst drinking) is when the systolic (the upper number) blood pressure goes up, the heart beats faster than normal and sweat glands overproduce. This is the “fight or flight” response being revved up by the consumption of alcohol. The more you drink, the faster your heart beats.

Waking up with your heart racing can be distressing but it’s not necessarily a sign of something serious. Palpitations are very common and usually harmless. However if you have been drinking the night before than the rapid heartbeat is most likely due to a hangover.

How can understanding what a hangover feels like help me?

The hangover feeling the next day after a night of drinking due to hangover symptoms is far from ideal. However the majority of us enjoy a drink or two to relax so understanding the question ‘what does a hangover feel like’ and what causes it can be useful in improving your drinking habits.

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