A hangover occurs when your intake of alcohol containing substances is greater than the body’s ability to detoxify or remove this harmful or potentially poisonous substance.
When alcohol is taken into the body it gets absorbed directly into the bloodstream. Eating before drinking will delay but not prevent the affects of alcohol. If it is your habit to drink significant amounts of alcohol in the evening then you may still have a high level of alcohol circulating in your bloodstream the following morning affecting your judgement and ability to function normally, as well as the ‘hangover’ effect being delayed or prolonged.
Some people produce less of an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase that converts alcohol into a less toxic substance allowing it to be excreted. These people are more likely to suffer from the effects of even very small amounts of alcohol, and are best advised to avoid any alcohol intake.
Symptoms of a hangover are generally from the ability of the body to detoxify the alcohol, and the breakdown products cause nausea and vomiting, and headaches from swollen blood vessels in the brain. The dehydration or excessive thirst of a hangover is because alcohol causes increased urination. You may also suffer from diarrhoea or loose bowel motions because the bowel’s ability to reabsorb water is decreased, resulting in further worsening the dehydration.
Most of the alcohol taken in is broken down by the liver, and the liver is only able to break down a limited amount of alcohol, which is why it is recommended to alternate alcohol containing drinks with non-alcoholic ones, to allow the liver to catch up on any alcohol needing to be removed from the body. Black coffee and cold showers will not affect the ability of a body to manage the excess alcohol and thus prevent a hangover.
The best way to treat a hangover is to avoid getting drunk enough to develop a hangover in the first place. However your community pharmacist has treatments available to help you to deal with the effects of one drink or more too many, and will be able to advise you how best to avoid and manage hangovers both now and in the future. Your family pharmacist is able to help you celebrate safely, limiting your risks from too much alcohol.
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