Alcohol-induced hangovers (medically known as veisalgia) are the feeling of general misery people get on the day after excessive drinking. You may be familiar with some of the symptoms: headache, dry mouth, nausea, gastrointestinal distress, and dizziness. Typically, the hangover begins within several hours after drinking stops, when a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) begins to drop, and with symptoms usually peaking at around the time BAC is back to zero.
The exact reason why alcohol causes a hangover is not well-understood, but it seems that immune, hormone, and dehydration-related factors are involved. More specifically, scientists have been looking at the following putative mechanisms: (i) alcohol’s direct effects on electrolyte balance, gastric irritation, low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), sleep disturbances, cytokine and prostaglandin production, dehydration, and vasodilation, and (ii) alcohol’s indirect effects on oxidative status through alcohol metabolites, such as acetaldehyde, and through congeners (substances that are present in alcoholic drinks), such as amines, amides, acetones, polyphenols, methanol, and histamine.
Despite the fact that hangovers seem to have important socio-economic costs in terms of absenteeism from work, lower productivity or work performance, work-related accidents, interpersonal conflicts, and academic underperformance, little research exists on how hangovers may be managed or prevented. A 2017 systematic review of the few available human trials concluded that a handful of herbal products may potentially help in the treatment and/or prevention of hangovers. However, none of them were effective in relieving all hangover symptoms. The main results are shown in Figure 1.