Hangovers explained

Woken up with a blinding headache? You’re not the only one, there’s genuinely been at least three films made on the subject. Regardless, feeling sucky can...well....suck, but it might feel a little better if you actually know what’s happening to you. Let’s walk you through the science behind a hangover…

A young man is sitting at a desk with his laptop. He wants hangovers explained to him. He looks tired. This is a wide-angle image.

What is a hangover? What do they feel like? 

If you’ve downed a lot of alcohol and woken up feeling lousy, chances are it’s a hangover. Some of the symptoms of a hangover include: 

  • Headaches
    Dehydration is the main reason why you’re left with such a sensitive head. Alcohol has diuretic properties, which means it makes the body lose water. This could even lead to an electrolyte imbalance if you’re losing too much fluid. Waking up with a pounding in your head and a raging thirst is basically your body’s way of telling you that it needs fluid and nutrients right now in order to restore balance and harmony. Pretty hippy if you ask us.
  • Nausea and trembling
    Your blood sugar levels drop in the wake of a night out, which contributes to you feeling so sick and deeply delicate. Alcohol is also considered to be an irritant, which is why drinking can leave your stomach unsettled, and can contribute to stomach ulcers if you’re drinking heavily on a regular basis. It’s also the reason why vomiting is so common both the day of and morning after a sesh.
  • Irritability
    This one is triggered by the fact that alcohol is a depressant drug and you’re suffering from the comedown. It doesn’t help that people will have little sympathy for the way you feel.

I’ve been punished enough. Just gimme a hangover cure! 

Now that we’ve answered the question ‘what is a hangover’, you’re probably wondering how to avoid one. Sadly there is no guaranteed  cure for a hangover, besides the advice to avoid alcohol.

The severity of a hangover depends on your drink of choice, as well as physical factors like your body size/height/metabolism. That hasn’t stopped hangover cures from being spread around though. Some people take precautionary measures before they hit the town. Others have a morning after strategy that works wonders for them. So before you check out The Mix’s own favourite techniques, here are some basic tips:

  • Drink plenty of water, preferably during your boozing session. Pacing yourself in this way should ensure your body doesn’t dry out too badly. A pint of water before you sleep the booze off can also prevent headaches, but it may mean going to the loo more often. Or waking up to a wet bed.
  • Eat well before you drink and your body will be better equipped to soak up the alcoholic beverages. Go for food that takes a long time to digest, such as bread, cheese, potato and pasta, as this will line your stomach. A pint of milk is also thought to have the same effect (might not be as tasty though). If it’s too late and you’re already in hangover hell, then try to eat small amounts frequently. Just thinking about food may be enough to make you want to hurl, but you’re not going to feel any better until you restore your glucose levels.

Tips while drinking

  • Try not to mix your drinks, because you’re only adding to the number of toxins that your body has to deal with. If you’re planning on a rager, then stick to one kind of poison. That way you won’t crash out so badly.
  • Respect the power of alcohol. If you can pace your drinking, and know when enough is enough, your system won’t floor you the next day. That big fancy drinking game might seem like a laugh, but it’s not so funny when you wake up in the morning with sick all over your joggers. 
  • Ditch ‘the dog’. A hair of the dog drink might help blunt your headache, basically by making you drunk again, but all you’re doing is delaying the inevitable alcohol comedown. You’re preventing your immune system from being able to recoop after the alcohol has temporarily weakened it.

For future reference, why does a hangover feel so lousy? 

Anything that goes into your stomach, be it food or drink, has to be broken down by your body. The reason you feel so bad the morning after a boozing session is largely down to the by-products left in your system. Darker drinks such as beer, red win and brandy are most likely to leave the worst damage because they contain more congeners – elements that give the drink its character but which the body regards as impurities – meaning you feel like absolute shite the morning after.

Next Steps

  • Drinkaware offers advice and information on alcohol and your drinking habits.
  • Are you drinking too much? Drinkaware has a useful self assessment tool to help you discover if your drinking habits are healthy, or something to worry about.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.



By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 10-Aug-2021