Diseases & Conditions

Acute Alcohol Intoxication - Hangover


Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

A hangover is the set of symptoms caused by excessive alcohol intake.

What is going on in the body?

Someone who has a hangover has usually consumed a large amount of alcohol in the previous 24 hours. Most times, the alcohol also dehydrates the person. Some sleep deprivation is common. Alcohol intoxication can cause a simple lack of sleep or a disturbance in proper sleep patterns. Hangovers can cause a wide range of symptoms.

What are the causes and risks of the disease?

Drinking alcohol is nearly always the cause of a hangover. Some alcoholic drinks are more likely to lead to hangovers. These include cognac, wine, champagne, brandy, and some whiskeys. Drinking on an empty stomach, having a low percentage of body fat, or being small in size, can also make a hangover more likely. There is a significant risk of death from alcohol poisoning if individuals drink too much too fast or ignore the symptoms of a hangover and continue drinking.


Symptoms & Signs

What are the signs and symptoms of the disease?

Hangovers consist of many of the following symptoms:

  • headache
  • nausea and vomiting
  • malaise, or feeling discomfort or uneasy
  • stomach cramps
  • sleepiness
  • diarrhea
  • irritability
  • difficulty concentrating

  • Diagnosis & Tests

    How is the disease diagnosed?

    A hangover is diagnosed when drinking alcohol is followed by the common symptoms of hangover.


    Prevention & Expectations

    What can be done to prevent the disease?

    The best way to prevent a hangover is to avoid drinking alcohol. Hangovers are less likely to happen to people who drink moderately on a full stomach, avoid drinking too much, and avoid becoming dehydrated.

    What are the long-term effects of the disease?

    Hangovers usually go away within 24 hours. If they are not treated, they could last as long as 2 days.

    What are the risks to others?

    Hangovers are not contagious. Driving while intoxicated is a leading cause of injury to others.


    Treatment & Monitoring

    What are the treatments for the disease?

    It is important to prevent hangovers by avoiding the causes. If a hangover develops, the person should drink plenty of fluids, rest, and avoid activities that need mental concentration. Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, can be used. A person with a hangover should not drink more alcohol.

    What are the side effects of the treatments?

    Ibuprofen can cause some stomach upset.

    What happens after treatment for the disease?

    There are few complications. Some people can stay dehydrated for as long as 48 hours if they do not make a conscious effort to drink fluids. Hangovers usually resolve easily by this time.

    How is the disease monitored?

    If headaches and stomach upset last more than 24 hours after drinking, a healthcare provider should be called.


    Attribution

    Author:James Broomfield, MD
    Date Written:
    Editor:
    Edit Date:
    Reviewer:Lisa Sterling, PharmD
    Date Reviewed:07/27/01