Jul 29, 2011

Negative results of hard drinking: the biochemistry of hangovers.

Hangover –noun--

the disagreeable physical after-effects of drunkenness, such as a headache or stomach disorder, usually felt several hours after cessation of drinking.

Black, but not quite. The kind of black you see from the inside of your eyelids. You’re fully awake but drowsy nonetheless. You can’t concentrate on anything. Mouth and throat are dry. Dizzy. Stomach possibly still turning. Nausea, and anxiety. Brain swimming in your skull - directionless and no where to go. Blood thundering through your ears.

You were fine six hours ago when the alcohol was swimming around and permeating your blood system. Bizarrely enough, now your blood alcohol content has returned to zero you start to feel the effects. The ethanol you’ve ingested has been metabolised to acetaldehyde by alcohol dehydrogenase, mainly in the liver, and then converted into acetate by mitochondrial aldehyde dehydrogenase in many tissues, including brain tissue. And this is when you feel like death. Our best understanding puts acetaldehyde as the cause of the hangover. But it gets more complicated than that.

Popular belief states that the cause of hangover symptoms is simple dehydration. Dehydration is a migraine trigger in some people, and increased water intake has been proposed as a preventive treatment. The holy grail of the hangover cure. In reality, it’s a lot more complicated than that. Alcohol hangover and dehydration seem to be two independent yet co-occurring processes that have different underlying mechanisms. There are a whole host of biochemical changes associated with the Hangover. Endocrine parameters (increased concentrations of vasopressin, aldosterone, and renin) and metabolic acidosis (reduced blood pH values due to increased concentrations of lactate, ketone bodies, and free fatty acids) to name just a few.

Presence and severity of alcohol hangovers are influenced by many factors other than the amount of alcohol. Top among the list is the presence of congeners in alcoholic drinks - the substances that colour and flavour drinks.

The hangover headache is the most common and symptom following a night out. The mechanism of veisalgia cephalgia or hangover headache is unknown. Despite a lack of mechanistic studies, there are a number of theories placing - along with congeners - dehydration or the ethanol metabolite acetaldehyde as causes of hangover headache. Several factors do not cause alcohol hangover but can aggravate its severity; including sleep deprivation, smoking, health status, genetics and individual differences. Not to mention the difference between brandy and vodka; red and white wine, containing sulphites, tannins, phenols, and other compounds involved in the increase plasma levels of serotonin and histamine, associated with causing the hangover headache. Complicated enough to give you an actual headache.

Acetaldehyde has long been viewed as the prime suspect of the hangover, but new research now implicates acetate, the next metabolite in the pathway in the general mechanism. The levels of acetate in the serum is rapidly elevated past that of acetaldehyde. Add to this several key facts:

  • Acetate causes ethanol induced hypersensitivity
  • Caffeine blocks ethanol induced hypersensitivity
  • Ketorolac blocks ethanol induced hypersensitivity
The increase in acetate increases adenosine in many tissues, including the brain, overstimulating adenosine receptors and contributing to your headache. The adenosine receptor antagonist, caffeine, given after ethanol ingestion in rats, blocked the pain from nerve stimulation associated with ethanol. Caffeine and ketorolac are commonly used to treat hangover symptoms in humans. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ketorolac) alleviate the headache pain associated with alcohol hangovers and caffeine is indicated to ease other hangover symptoms, including fatigue and malaise.

Hangover effects are a difficult thing to experiment on. Due to the simple nature of being unable to blind such experiments. Alcohol intoxication and its after-effects are impossible to mimic by a placebo condition. Disentangling the many factors involved in the onset of the hangover is very important to elucidate the actual physiological response to ethanol. To avoid the long-term negative effects of alcohol, an alcoholic needs to get alcohol abuse help the soonest possible time.

What’s the best cure or remedy for an alcohol induced hangover?


Written by Dr. Charles Ebikeme for The All Results Journals.


  1. Anthony Melvin CrastoAugust 29, 2011 at 3:17 PM

    nice to see diverse articles involving chemistry

  2. 5 negative point of hard drinking
    1. It affect the protein synthesis
    2. It lowers testosterone level and increase estrogen
    3.it causes dehydration
    4 it depletes the body vitamin and mineral
    5.it increase fat storage

  3. well, I would add other effects in many part of body : Central Nervous System: S: sleep impairment, peripheral neuropathy, sdr. Wernicke and Korsakoff's psychosis
    Gastro-IntestinalI: esophagitis, gastritis, diarrhea, pancreatitis, fatty liver, cirrhosis and increased risk of cancer.
    S. Hematopoietic: anemia, lymphopenia, thrombocytopenia.
    S. Cardiovascular: IPA, cardiomyopathy, heart failure, atrial and ventricular arrhythmias, paroxysmal tachycardia.

    S. Genitourinary and sexual function: increased sex drive and impotence in humans. Women: amenorrhea, infertility, poliabortività, FAS.

    Other effects: myopathy, elevated CPK, osteonecrosis. Increased cortisol levels and decreased T4.

  4. Dear All,

    How ! Have we to inventory all negative effects of hard drinking ? the list could be very long. Indeed, alcohool has direct toxicity on cells; so can alters all organs: and as liver is the main detoxifying organ of our body; it's it which suffer the most, conducting to cirrhosis.
    Best regards

    PS acute intox conduct to fulminant hepatitis.

    1. Please increase the value of this post with the list you mention. Everybody will enjoy it ;)

  5. Hard drinking is very dangerous. It should not be done always. It's fine to drink occasionally, just make sure to take the responsibility.


  6. Nice to know that hangover is more complex, will have to be careful

  7. Great post! not drinking is for me the best solution... ;)

  8. Just great here, keep sharing! I will look out more from that.

  9. Hangover can occur any time after consuming too much alcohol, most drinkers drink at night and experience hangover side effects the next morning. Hangover symptoms leave you feeling sick with some combination of headache, dizziness, headache, sleepiness, low energy, thirst, and cotton mouth. You will likely be averse to light and noise as well. All of this can make you irritable. The more alcohol consumed, the worse the hangover symptoms and the longer they last. Typical symptoms can last an hour or two up to an entire day as the alcohol slowly seeps out of your body. Most of the hangover symptoms are a result of dehydration that occurs as a result of alcohol’s diuretic effect in the body.
    Drinking issues are not always related to amount and frequency, it can be related more to what happens when a person drinks. Dependency to alcohol is progressive. That means that it gets worse over time and gradually the effects become more serious. If someone is a long-term or heavy drinker, then he or she may need medically supervised detoxification (Detox can be done on an outpatient basis or in a hospital or alcohol treatment facility, where you may be prescribed medication to prevent medical complications and relieve withdrawal symptoms.) Or he/she can join a recovery support group, and also decide to see a mental health professional and take advantage of the latest addiction therapies and programs for his/her betterment. And if you want some more information then you can read this informative article: http://willingwaystoday.willingways.org/alcohol-hangover-hanging-over-the-commode-or-what-2/