Hangovers, the unfortunate side-effect of drinking alcohol, cause you to feel miserable. Some of the common symptoms include weakness, headache, nausea, muscle aches, thirst, fatigue, stomach pain, sensitivity to sound and light, increased blood pressure, irritability, anxiety, sweating, and vertigo. However, the symptoms you experience might not be the same as someone else’s, so they can’t be generalized. One thing’s for sure; everyone tries their best to avoid these post-drinking effects. But there are certain people, around 3% to 23% of the population, that no matter how much they drink, never seem to undergo this nasty situation. Why is that?
There are certain genes in our body that play a crucial role in determining the level of our hangover and whether we are prone to alcohol addiction or not. A study was conducted on people of Asian heritage where their aldehyde dehydrogenase gene was analyzed. A mutation in this gene resulted in people experiencing worse hangovers because of a higher breakdown of alcohol into acetaldehyde. The more severe the hangovers, the more an individual was safe from developing alcohol use disorders. Another study conducted concluded that genetic factors were linked to whether a person experiences hangovers or not.
Alcohol is a diuretic that makes you urinate more. If you’re drinking alcohol and not replacing lost fluids with water, then you are likely going to dehydrate. This explains why you might get a dry mouth or feel thirsty when you wake up the next morning. But dehydration alone doesn’t contribute significantly to the various hangover symptoms that are experienced.
When out with friends, people sometimes forget about moderation. A survey of 789 Canadian students showed that their hangover was directly related to the amount of alcohol they drank in a certain timeframe. 79% of the students who claimed to not be affected by hangovers had a less than 0.10% level of blood alcohol. The lead author of the study said, “We have been working with Canadian and Dutch students on this issue. In general, we found a pretty straight relationship; the more you drink, the more likely you are to get a hangover. The majority of those who, in fact, reported never having a hangover tended to drink less, perhaps less than they themselves thought would lead to a hangover.”
Women have more fat in their bodies than men. This results in a lower blood volume because muscles have a richer supply of blood than fat. Less blood means women can get drunk faster, and those that are genetically predisposed to experiencing hangovers can feel the weight of the symptoms the next morning.
Each person has a different level of tolerance for and emotional response to hangovers. While you may be drained and prefer staying in bed the entire day, your friend might be up and running as soon as they wake up. This tolerance can also relate to willpower. Some people don’t let a headache get in the way of their day or chores. They simply get out of bed, dress up, and start their routine.
Drinking on an empty stomach
If you drink alcohol on an empty stomach, your bloodstream is more likely to absorb most of it instantly. A full stomach closes the pyloric sphincter, a small muscle separating the contents of the stomach from those of the small intestine. This retains the alcohol in the stomach for a longer time, significantly reducing absorption in the small intestine.
While some alcohol is absorbed by the bloodstream from the stomach, this is much lower than that absorbed from the small intestine. Our liver takes time to break down and remove alcohol from the system. Fast absorption can outpace the body’s breakdown resulting in more chances of getting a hangover. A hearty meal right before drinking, which includes fibrous foods and complex carbs, is always a good idea.
Congeners are chemical byproducts of fermentation and distillation. Consuming higher quantities of these can worsen hangover symptoms. Congeners are in a high concentration in drinks like distilled spirits and red wine and low in clear spirits like vodka. Some examples of congeners include acetaldehyde, histamines, methanol, and acetones. Out of these, methanol, a sugar fermentation product, contributes most to hangover symptoms because it metabolizes at a slow rate and forms formic acid and formaldehyde, both of which are toxic.
Drinking at a slow pace
Chugging any alcoholic drink is never a good idea because it spikes blood alcohol concentrations faster than the body has time to metabolize it. The more the blood alcohol level, the more the formation of acetaldehyde, a toxin. It takes about one and a half hours for the body to metabolize a standard drink. Keep this in mind the next time you drink so that your hangover symptoms are bearable.
Causes of hangover symptoms
- Disrupted sleep right after drinking can result in fatigue and loss of productivity.
- Alcohol irritates the stomach lining and results in increased production of stomach acid, causing discomfort and nausea.
- Alcohol leads to increased inflammation.
- Acetaldehyde, a by-product of alcohol metabolism, is toxic and dangerous for the organs.
- Dehydration, sometimes experienced with drinking alcohol, can lead to symptoms like thirst, fatigue, and headaches.
The fact that some people don’t get hangovers should be taken with caution. Knowing that you will get a hangover the next morning offers some protection against heavy drinking because your first instinct is to avoid the worst. And this instinct only gets stronger with more experience and knowledge of how your body reacts to alcohol. For people who don’t get a hangover, there is always this danger of overconsumption, whether consciously or unconsciously, because they don’t have to worry about terrible symptoms that can ruin their entire day. This overconsumption can turn problematic in the long term, potentially leading to alcoholism. So, if you don’t get a hangover, you should be even more careful with your alcohol consumption.
I am a passionate beer connoisseur with a deep appreciation for the art and science of brewing. With years of experience tasting and evaluating various beers, I love to share my opinions and insights with others and I am always eager to engage in lively discussions about my favorite beverage.