Welcome to the newest edition of The Why. “Why do we get hangovers?” you ask? This might annoy you but your investigative reporter is among the 23 percent of people who don’t really get hangovers. Honest. A craving for food and a weird feeling in the gut might almost always follow but never a hangover.
Still, for those who will be spending the bulk of the upcoming holiday weekend over-indulging in alcoholic beverages to celebrate the USA’s independence from the UK, this would be an excellent time to review. A “hangover”, in this case, refers to both the psychological and physiological effects the morning after one has drank a lot of alcohol.
It’s a feeling of extreme discomfort that can but does not always last more than a day. A list of typical symptoms could include: anxiety, concentration issues, dizziness, dry-mouth, fatigue, gastrointestinal complaints, headache, hyper-excitability, nausea, over-sensitivity to anything “loud” and sweating. Yeah, you might have another name for ‘em but you sure recognize the symptoms, don’t ya?
So, why do we get hangovers? We get hangovers because we drink too much. What? That’s not good enough for ya? No matter what you over-indulge in one simple mechanism involved is immunosuppression. This is essentially that swollen, “puffy feeling you get after a night of too much drinking. It’s an immune response.
You want more details? Very well. We can break it down according to what you drink.
Why do we get hangovers? Websites like EverydayHealth point the blame at something called congeners. Congeners are essentially “chemical byproducts of the alcohol fermentation process” which are found prominently in darker liquor such as bourbon, brandy, dark beers, red wine and whiskey.
Researchers state that these scent and flavor enhancers are basically toxins which is why they cause hangovers when you take in too many of them. Here’s an interesting statistic, in 2009 an investigative group learned that folks who drank bourbon (which has 37 times more congeners than vodka) “experienced a more severe hangover than those who drank similar amounts of vodka.”
So now you’re saying you drink clear alcohol, right? Now you’re saying without congeners why do we get hangovers? Well, sources agree it’s still possible to “get a hangover from drinking clear alcoholic beverages (vodka, gin, white wine, light-colored beers) if you drink too much of it.”
Why do we get hangovers from the clear booze? Other than drinking too much? There are reasons behind this too.
According to Richard Stephens, a professor of psychology at Keele University in the U.K who has done research on hangovers, a major cause of hangovers is “the way that alcohol is metabolized.” In an interview with The Atlantic he explained that other than ethanol there are generally “other alcohols in smaller quantities in alcoholic beverages” that are not processed with the ethanol.
“One such compound is methanol, and when the body metabolizes methanol, it metabolizes it into toxins—formaldehyde and formic acid. And those make you feel ill, sort of poison you a little bit.” This manufacturing process of formic acid and formaldehyde kicks in approximately 10 hours after one has been drinking.
Biologically-speaking, your body’s enzymes prefer to “break down ethanol first and methanol second.” This means that the “hair of the dog that bit you” belief has some scientific fact behind it as well. If you have a hangover and you drink a bit more alcohol your body will stop breaking down the methanol and creating toxins that make you feel sick and go after the fresh ethanol. This is why Stephens see a hangover as a potential “risk factor for alcoholism rather than a natural block for it.”
Why do we get hangovers? Now you know.
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