A hangover may seem like a simple but painful reminder of a long night out on the town, but in truth it’s actually much more than that. Drinking too much alcohol affects your body in a number of unhealthy ways! If you’ve ever wondered why hangovers hurt so much and last so long, consider what is really happening to your body the morning after you have had too much to drink.
Alcohol is a drying agent, and what happens to your skin when you apply rubbing alcohol is exactly what happens to your insides when you drink alcohol. Cells are sapped of moisture in all your systems when you drink too much, and this dehydration is one symptom of a hangover.
As you drink and recover from your drinking, the body will redirect moisture to rehydrate your stomach lining, and in so doing it takes moisture from the brain itself. This is one reason why you have a headache the next day, and why you may experience stomach cramps. When any muscle or organ is dehydrated, it begins to close up on itself, causing that pounding or cramped feeling.
Another reason that you may experience headaches is that alcohol interferes with what are called cytokines, which act as chemical messengers to control inflammation. When these proteins are suppressed, you may experience inflammation around the head, causing a throbbing ache. Generally speaking, the darker the liquor, the more it interferes with cytokines. For example, if drink bourbon rather than white wine, you may notice even more of a headache.
Your liver is a natural filter for toxins, but it can only handle about one standard drink every hour. If you’re drinking more than that (such as when doing shots), your liver will not be able to filter all those toxins and they will build up in your system. Your liver works overtime in response, and it may get damaged by the toxins that can’t get filtered through. This is why regular, heavy drinkers often experience liver damage over time.
You may throw up immediately after drinking, but when experiencing a hangover you might still be nauseated and need to vomit. The thought of food might also be repulsive to you while you recover.
The toxicity of the alcohol that builds up in your system and cannot be filtered through the liver is partly to blame for this, but the damage alcohol does to your stomach lining also plays a role. As your stomach struggles to rehydrate and heal, you may not be able to keep food down. Vomiting is also one of the body’s ways of getting rid of anything toxic in your system, so you may be throwing up as a way for your stomach to get rid of that residual alcohol.
Some of the symptoms of a hangover are actually caused by withdrawal from alcohol. When the body ingests any substance that changes its chemical reactions, these changes cause cravings for that substance when it no longer gets enough. This is true even if the substance is unhealthy, such as tobacco and narcotics. When you drink heavily and the body adjusts to the amount of alcohol in your system, you may experience shaking, sweatiness, and anxiety when you stop drinking. This is your body trying to force you to drink again.
The effects of alcohol on your brain interrupt your sleep cycles. Although you may collapse into bed when you get home, chances are that your sleep is not very deep or restful. When you wake up the next day, you may still feel exhausted and groggy, and it may be difficult to concentrate and think clearly. You may still struggle to get quality sleep while any alcohol remains in your system, so even a nap might not do much good.
Keep in mind all this damage that overdrinking does to your body, and remember that the symptoms of a hangover are signs of that damage being done. Too much alcohol is dangerous for your brain, your liver, and your stomach, and it can cause a permanent decline in health over time. Rather than trying to fight the symptoms of a hangover when they occur, it’s always good to think about avoiding one in the first place by drinking in moderation or spreading out your drinking over an evening.