• Dr. Sarah Dimunno, ND

The Anatomy of a Hangover: Part 1

Long gone are the days that we mistaken a hangover for what really was hunger pains. Today’s article outlines why our bodies get punished after a few too many wobbly pops (aka alcoholic beverages).

The Hangover

Alcohol is hard on our bodies, and that's the ugly truth. It's specifically hard on our liver which is in charge of breaking it down. A hangover begins after the cessation of alcohol consumption as your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) declines, with symptoms peaking when BAC = 0.

As we get older, the liver has a harder time breaking down the drinks we consume. SURPRISE! This is partially because our body gets worse at producing the enzyme needed to remove acetaldehyde, a very toxic byproduct of alcohol breakdown. Decreased removal of acetaldehyde causes this toxin to build up in your body, creating a worse hangover for you!

The Anatomy of a Hangover

  • Headache: This is a symptom of dehydration and electrolyte balance. This occurs because alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it increases urinary output. In fact, drinking approximately 4 drinks (1.5 fl oz each) causes excretion of up to 1 L of urine!! Alcohol gains it’s diuretic title because it inhibits the release of antidiuretic hormone. Reabsorption of water through the kidneys is therefore prevented meaning many visits to the bathroom for you…the reason for the expression “breaking-the-seal”.

  • Upset Stomach/Nausea/Vomiting: Straight up, alcohol directly irritates the lining of the stomach and intestine causing inflammation. It also increases production of gastric acid and pancreatic secretions. So when you feel like your insides are rotting that might be the increased gastric acid.

  • Fatigue: The breakdown of alcohol produces metabolites leading to fatty liver disease and lactic acid build-up. Both of these pathways can shunt away from glucose production. Glucose is the primary food source for the brain and without it we become hypoglycaemic. Pairing our drinks with nutrient poor food further forces our body into a hypoglycaemic state resulting in symptoms like fatigue.

  • Low Mood: In the short-term, alcohol can have a temporary positive effect on our mood. However, due to direct changes in neurotransmitters (the messengers in your brain), we can experience anxiety and depression in the withdrawal phase of alcohol.

  • Tremor/Increased Heart Rate/Sweating: Alcohol acts as a sedative on the central nervous system and it’s withdrawal causes an unbalanced overdrive state. The resulting hyperactivity of the sympathetic nervous system (in charge of the stress response) causes tremors, increased heart rate and sweating seen in hangovers.

  • Disturbed Sleep: Alcohol is a known sedative, so it should help sleep right? WRONG. Alcohol can decrease the time it takes for you head off to dreamland BUT the quality and duration of sleep experienced is compromised due to the hyperactivity mentioned above!

Talking about a hangover is enough to proclaim you’re never going to drink again… Tune in next week to check out our personal favourites for making your hangover more bearable.


Swift, R. and Davidson, D. "Alcohol Hangover; Mechanisms and Mediators". Alcohol Health

and Research World (2016): 54-60.


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the  Eternal Dreamers.

Disclaimer: Any information on this website is for informational purposes only and are not intended to be used in place of professional medical advice.

Always seek the advice of a qualified health care practitioner with any questions or health concerns you may have.


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