If you want to know if alcoholics still get hangovers, this article is for you. You might have heard of functioning alcoholics, but does this mean alcoholics don’t experience the same drinking symptoms as everyone else?
Once you’ve finished this short blog, you’ll know why alcohol causes hangovers and why alcoholics experience worse hangovers.
Why Does Alcohol Cause Hangovers?
Unfortunately, there’s no single reason why alcohol causes hangovers. Most hangovers are caused by various factors. Those include:
- Dehydration: Hangovers are partly caused by dehydration. Alcohol acts as a diuretic, increasing urine production, so you notice yourself using the bathroom after drinking.
- Acetaldehyde accumulation: When alcohol is metabolized by the liver, it’s converted into acetaldehyde, a toxic compound. While acetaldehyde itself is toxic, it is quickly converted into acetate by another enzyme called acetaldehyde dehydrogenase. Acetate is then metabolized into carbon dioxide and water, which can be easily eliminated from the body. However, when alcohol is consumed in excessive amounts or too quickly, the liver may struggle to efficiently metabolize acetaldehyde, leading to its accumulation in the body.
- Congeners: Hangover severity can also depend on the type of alcohol consumed. Darker alcohols such as red wine, brandy, and whiskey contain higher levels of congeners, which are chemical compounds produced during the fermentation and aging process of certain alcoholic beverages. The higher the levels of congeners, the more severe the hangover symptoms.
- Sleep disruption: Alcohol disrupts normal sleep patterns, resulting in poor sleep quality. While it may initially make you feel drowsy, it reduces REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is crucial for restorative sleep. You may also feel like your head is spinning while you lie down, which can cause you to throw up and dehydrate yourself, increasing the chance of a hangover.
- Gastric irritation: Alcohol can irritate your stomach lining, which can increase the production of stomach acids. This irritation can cause gastrointestinal discomforts, including nausea, stomach pain, and vomiting.
- Immune system response: Alcohol triggers an immune response in the body, releasing inflammatory substances called cytokines. Increased levels of cytokines can contribute to headaches, body aches, and an overall sense of malaise.
Do Alcoholics Get Hangovers?
Yes, alcoholics get hangovers and usually feel more severe physical and mental symptoms. In most cases, heavy drinkers know they’ll feel terrible the next day, which can lead to drinking more to “put off” the side effects of alcohol. This brings us to our first reason why alcoholics experience more intense hangover symptoms.
“Hair Of The Dog”
The phrase “the hair of the dog that bit you” originated from a practice of treating a rabid dog bite by placing hair from the dog into the wound. Similarly, having another drink can be seen as metaphorically taking hair from the dog that bit you. Individuals with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) often maintain a continuous blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to avoid hangovers, which leads to long-term health consequences, increased tolerance, and chemical dependence.
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a progressive condition that worsens over time. Similarly, the body’s ability to handle injuries, toxins, and dehydration diminishes as well. Once alcohol metabolizes in your body, it turns into the toxic compound acetaldehyde, which can contribute to organ damage.
As you transition from your twenties to thirties, forties, and beyond, your metabolism naturally slows down, impacting various bodily functions, including liver function. This reduced efficiency can potentially hinder your ability to recover from hangovers as you age, particularly as your dependence on alcohol becomes more severe with each passing year.
Chronic alcohol addiction has detrimental effects on the body, including impaired immune system function, diminished nutrient absorption, disrupted sleep patterns, organ damage, chronic dehydration, low blood sugar levels, and increased blood pressure. These diverse health effects accumulate over time, collectively hampering the body’s ability to effectively recover from the immediate impacts of alcohol consumption.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can start anywhere between six to twelve hours after your last drink, depending on your level of alcohol dependence. This means that individuals with AUD may experience withdrawal symptoms when they sleep and wake up, which can be confused with hangover symptoms.
It’s common for those with AUD to feel extremely hungover the morning after their last drink, to the extent that they may consume more alcohol in the morning and exceed the recommended limit for heavy drinking.
Long-Term Side Effects of Alcohol & Hangovers
Hangovers are typically short-term, and their effects subside within a day. However, frequent and excessive alcohol consumption leading to recurrent hangovers can have long-term negative consequences on health. Some potential long-term damages associated with chronic hangovers and heavy drinking include:
- Liver damage: Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to inflammation, fatty liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis. These conditions can severely impair liver function and potentially result in liver failure.
- Gastrointestinal issues: Frequent heavy drinking can irritate the gastrointestinal tract, leading to conditions such as gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining) and ulcers. Chronic inflammation may increase the risk of developing digestive disorders and gastrointestinal cancers.
- Cardiovascular problems: Prolonged heavy drinking can contribute to high blood pressure, irregular heart rhythms, weakened heart muscles, and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Neurological complications: Chronic alcohol use can cause neurological damage, including cognitive impairment, memory problems, and a higher risk of developing conditions like dementia and peripheral neuropathy.
- Mental health issues: Recurrent hangovers and heavy drinking can exacerbate or contribute to mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and alcohol use disorder.
- Increased risk of addiction: Frequent hangovers and heavy drinking can lead to alcohol dependency and addiction, making it challenging to control alcohol consumption and resulting in a cycle of negative health effects.
Contact East Coast Recovery
If you or a loved one is struggling to overcome an alcohol use disorder or is binge drinking to avoid experiencing hangovers, contact East Coast Recovery. Our addiction treatment center in Boston has everything you need to overcome debilitating substance use disorders using evidence-based healing modalities like experiential therapy, medication-assisted treatment, aftercare plans, and more.
Reviewed By A Specialist In The Field
Vernetta received her Master of Science degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Western Carolina University, and she also holds a MA in History and a BA in Theatre Arts. She is trained in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and uses ACT to help clients decrease their suffering and move in the direction of their values. She is passionate about the effectiveness of Experiential Therapy, and has witnessed clients accessing their underlying issues with the aid of creative approaches. She believes in the power and influence of the group process and its ability to propel clients into committed action through the solace of connection. Vernetta is also a HeathRhythms drumming facilitator and enjoys empowering clients to express themselves through rhythm.
Dr. Brady J. Schroer is a psychiatrist in Asheville, North Carolina and is affiliated with Pardee UNC Health Care-Hendersonville. He received his medical degree from Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences College of Osteopathic Medicine and has been in practice for more than 20 years.