What causes hangovers?

Getting a hangover is no fun, but why does it happen? I have always thought that it was related to dehydration, but that might not be the case. Since I am usually dealing with a hangover on Sunday, I thought I’d look into what actually causes a hangover. What I found was quite surprising. There is currently no definite cause for a hangover and scientists are still trying to figure it out. From what I gathered, it seems that a lot of different things are involved with a hangover and its severity.




One of the most most common explanations for hangovers is dehydration. According to Joseph Stromburg, alcohol is a diuretic which means it causes you to urinate more frequently. Along with that, people usually don’t drink enough water while they are drinking alcohol. Sant P. Singh, a professor at the Chicago Medical school, says that dehydration makes the symptoms of a hangover more prominent. On the other hand, one study didn’t find a correlation between dehydration and a hangover’s severity. Although they did not find a link, many people think that dehydration does play a part in hangovers.

Another reason we might feel hungover is from something called acetaldehyde. According to Stromburg, acetaldehyde is the first byproduct our body puts off while processing alcohol. It is 10 to 30 times more toxic than alcohol itself. There is a possibility that hangovers are a result from a buildup from acetaldehyde in our bodies.

Another possible explanation for a hangover is the way alcohol affects your immune system. Stromburg explains that the immune system uses a molecule called cytokines as a signaling method. Cytokines usually do things like cause a fever to help fight off an infection. It is possible that the body can release cytokines when someone drinks too much alcohol. This could cause some of the usual symptoms such as headaches and nausea.

Congeners are another possible explanation for hangovers. Singh explains that liquors that are high in congeners tend to give worse hangovers than ones that have less. Darker liquors tend to have more congeners than light liquors so they tend to give worse hangovers. I know from personal experience that certain drinks give me a worse hangover. A lot of other factors play into hangovers as well. Factors such as how much you drank, how fast you drank, the amount of food you had, mixing drinks, etc. These all help determine your hangover and its severity. Since I just talked about what causes hangovers, lets talk about some strategies to reduce them.




There is one definite way to not get a hangover and that is not drinking at all. If you do decide to drink though, there are some ways you can go about reducing and curing your hangover. Stromburg says that having a full stomach, drinking at a moderate rate and staying hydrated will help you reduce your hangover. I know that when I do those things, my hangover is usually not as bad the next day. The kind of drink can also play a part in your hangover. As I mentioned earlier, drink with higher congeners tend to give worse hangover. Staying away from dark liquors such as brandy and red wine can help minimize your hangover.

You might of heard that taking anti-inflammatories might help your hangover. Anti-inflammatories can help with the headaches and other aches that are associated with hangovers. They might help you but Singh says that they should be used cautiously. There is a chance that it could upset your stomach and it isn’t good for your liver. Stromburg states that if you are looking to reduce nausea, taking Tums or Pepto-Bismol can help. There are also a ton of urban legends and even some drugs that claim to cure hangovers but none have much evidence to support them.



After looking into what causes a hangover, I was surprised at what I found. There are a lot more things that go into it than I initially imagined. I always try to keep my self hydrated and drink on a full stomach but i learned there is a lot more I can do to try and reduce my Sunday hangover. Even though scientists are still looking into causes and remedies, one thing that can definitely heal a hangover is time. Rest, food and water are currently your best bet and will be what I am using this Sunday after the Ohio State game. Let’s go Penn State!


Why do hangovers occur?. (2016).Scientific American. Retrieved 20 October 2016, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-do-hangovers-occur/

Stromberg, J. (2013). Your Complete Guide to the Science of Hangovers.Smithsonian. Retrieved 20 October 2016, from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/your-complete-guide-to-the-science-of-hangovers-180948074/?no-ist

The Pathology of Alcohol Hangover. (2016). http://www.eurekaselect.com. Retrieved 20 October 2016, from http://www.eurekaselect.com/94052/article



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