The anatomy of a hangover: Here's why your head hurts right now
Welcome to 2022!
If you are among the many Americans who celebrated the NYE ball drop with several alcoholic drinks, you probably thought you'd be entering the new year in better shape than this.
Your head hurts. Your mouth is dry. Maybe you're a little nauseated. You're probably pretty drained.
Whichever flavor of hangover you're battling right now, you probably want it to go away.
I have good news for you: it will!
Hangovers are only temporary, but the severity and length of them can depend on the person – and how much they drank the night before.
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What are hangovers and why do we get them?
Hangovers are the result of heavy drinking and are characterized by the onset of several not-so-fun symptoms:
That list is according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which also notes that it can be hard to predict how many drinks it takes to spark a hangover. That usually depends on the person.
"Any time people drink to intoxication, there is a chance they could have a hangover the next day," the institution says.
Since hangovers can be a combination of various symptoms, there's not just one cause-and-effect reaction happening when you drink – there are actually several. But they can all be attributed to the same culprit: alcohol.
Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it causes increased urination. That, in turn, can cause dehydration, which explains the thirst, fatigue, dry mouth and headaches you wake up with after a night of drinking, experts say.
Fatigue may also stem from a lack of quality sleep. One too many adult beverages might help you fall asleep quickly, but the nagging symptoms of a hangover might wake you up earlier than normal. Alcohol can also make it hard for your body to regulate its own temperature.
An upset stomach can be one of the more brutal symptoms of a hangover, too. Drinking can affect your organs in a couple ways: it can irritate the lining of your stomach and intestines while also slowing down your digestion rate. All of that can lead to nausea, health experts say.
The malaise or general uneasiness you feel during a hangover can be triggered by inflammation throughout the body, another repercussion of heavy drinking.
And finally, if you feel like hangovers affect your mental state, that could be the "mini-withdrawal" that health officials allude to. Drinking can make some feel more relaxed or euphoric, and the brain adjusts to that to keep a balance. But sobering up can cause those feelings to dissipate, which again forces the brain to adjust, leaving some with feelings of anxiousness or restlessness.
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What are some hangover 'cures' and do they actually work?
You've probably heard of a few so-called hangover remedies (or even tried them yourself): taking a shower, eating greasy food, drinking coffee – or more alcohol.
Many of these tactics don't get the full stamp of approval from health experts, but they can offer a few tips to get you back to your normal self.
Hydrate: Drinking water when you wake up is a great start to combating the symptoms of a hangover, experts say. Even having a glass the night before can help fend off the dehydrating effects. Sports drinks can help with rehydration efforts while also restoring electrolytes.
Eat: It can help to get food in your body, as long as it's the right food.
Health experts generally caution against the common narrative of eating greasy, fatty food when you're hungover. Eating fruits can help restore hydration, while salmon can help boost B6 and B12 vitamin levels.
Cleveland Clinic dietitian Julia Zumpano also recommends "bland" foods like bananas, rice, applesauce and toast, which are easy to digest and can boost blood sugar.
Sleep: Not getting enough sleep can impact your wellbeing regardless of alcohol intake. Getting extra sleep after a night of drinking might help lessen the blow, experts say.
Wait: Health officials tend to agree that the only foolproof way to get rid of a hangover – aside from not drinking in the first place – is time.
“There’s no magic pill, no miracle cure to make a hangover go away. Your body has to catch up and metabolize the alcohol you consumed,” says Cleveland Clinic emergency medicine physician James Roach.
Rehydrating or taking a nap might help deal with some of the symptoms, but to fully get back to normal, you're probably best suited just to wait it out.
If you think you are dealing with alcohol abuse and need help, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism provides resources to find treatment.
Follow Jay Cannon of USA TODAY on Twitter: @JayTCannon
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What causes a hangover? Experts share tips to feel better
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