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Alcohol Addictions: How Long Does a Post-Drinking Headache Last?

After a night out with friends, a person may experience a post-drinking headache the next day due to having one too many drinks. While having a celebratory drink once in a while causes no harm and can be fun, a hangover is anything but a fun time. According to Mayo Clinic, “a hangover is a group of unpleasant signs and symptoms that can develop after drinking too much alcohol. As if feeling awful weren’t bad enough, frequent hangovers are also associated with poor performance and conflict at work.” Generally, the more alcohol a person consumes, the higher the likelihood they will experience a hangover. Since there is no magic formula that a person can follow to avoid excessive drinking, many people have a tendency to go overboard in an otherwise harmless night of fun. In today’s blog, we will go more in-depth on alcohol hangovers.  

The Effects of a Post-Drinking Headache

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, hangovers can last 72 hours in duration, but most people will only experience them the next day after drinking too much. Furthermore, hangover symptoms usually begin when a person’s blood alcohol content drops significantly and is at or around zero. Depending on what and how much a person drank, they may notice:
  • Excessive thirst and dry mouth
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Vomiting or stomach pain
  • Muscle aches and headaches
  • Disrupted sleep
  • Sensitivity to loud sounds and light
  • Constant shaking
  • Dizziness or feeling like the room is spinning
  • Inability to focus
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Mood disruptions, such as anxiety, depression, and irritability
Keep reading to learn about the causes of a hangover.  

Causes of a Post-Drinking Headache

According to a review from Human Psychopharmacology, there are various physiological alterations that result in the experience of a hangover in different individuals, which include:
  • Dehydration as a result of drinking too much
  • Increasing levels of acetaldehyde as a result of the breakdown of alcohol
  • Alterations in hormones due to alcohol consumption that decreases the availability of glucose in one’s system
  • Metabolic acidosis, a condition that occurs when someone’s balance of basis and acids in the bloodstream are thrown off, causing too much acid in their system
  • Difficulties in one’s cardiovascular system as a result of alcohol use
  • Congeners, which are organic molecules found in certain alcoholic beverages that can also mimic the effects of an alcoholic hangover

Is Going to the Doctor to Treat a Hangover Necessary?

For most people, a post-drinking headache will go away on its own after one day. On the other hand, some people turn to their doctor when frequent, heavy drinking results in alcohol withdrawal symptoms, or when regular hangovers negatively impact their quality of life, including relationships and job performance. Some people who drink too much may even experience alcohol poisoning, a serious—and sometimes fatal—consequence of consuming large amounts of alcohol in a short time period. When a person drinks too much in a matter of minutes, their breathing, body temperature, heart rate, and gag reflex may suffer, potentially leading to a coma or death. Someone who is suffering from alcohol poisoning will need immediate medical attention if they are exhibiting the following signs:
  • Confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Slow breathing (less than eight breaths per minute)
  • Seizures
  • Irregular breathing (a gap of over ten seconds between breaths)
  • Pale skin or blue-tinged skin
  • Low body temperature (hypothermia)
  • Finding it difficult to remain conscious
  • Passing out (unconsciousness) and cannot be awakened
It is essential for a person who drinks to know their limit so that they do not experience alcohol poisoning. Unfortunately, if a person experiences constant headaches; does not bounce back as quickly as they used to with common home remedies; or if their hangover effects worsen over the next few days, it may mean they are experiencing an alcohol withdrawal episode. This type of withdrawal is a sign of physical dependence on alcohol, which is one of the primary signs of an alcohol use disorder. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines alcohol use disorder as a “…chronic relapsing brain disorder characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.” An estimated 15 million people in the U.S. live with this condition.  

5 Warning Signs of Acute Alcohol Withdrawal

The following five warning signs may indicate that a person is suffering from more than just a hangover and is undergoing an episode of alcohol withdrawal, which may indicate an alcohol use disorder. 1. The Symptoms are Extreme Signs of acute alcohol withdrawal include rapid heartbeat, uncontrollable tremors, excessive sweating, high blood pressure, irritability, anxiety, and agitation. In severe cases, complications such as delirium tremens and seizures can be life-threatening and require immediate medical attention. 2. The Symptoms Go on Longer than One Day Although everyone experiences withdrawal symptoms differently, if a hangover lasts more than two days, it is a good sign that it is more than a typical hangover. Withdrawal progresses over a period of several days as a person’s body adjusts to the absence of alcohol. 3. The Symptoms are Becoming Worse  When it comes to the average hangover, most people begin to feel better after some rest, eating food, and drinking water. However, if over 24 hours have passed and their symptoms are only becoming more prominent, it may mean they are withdrawing. Some of the worst symptoms of withdrawal can continue to develop beyond two or three days after someone’s last drink. It may be time to seek medical assistance if the situation continues to get worse because the risk of seizures will increase without treatment. 4. Feeling Hungover After Every Drink A person who experiences significantly troublesome hangover symptoms that interfere with their daily routine after each drinking session may be developing a physiological dependence on alcohol; this is one of the first symptoms of alcohol use disorder. Furthermore, one does not have to drink every day for it to become a problem. For instance, a long recovery after binge drinking each weekend could be a sign of maladaptive patterns of use and increasing alcohol dependence. These developments may especially be harmful to those experiencing other negative factors in their lives, such as strained relationships, coming late to work or not showing up at all, and refusing to go to events that do not provide alcohol. 5. The Person Only Feels Happy When They Drink The “hair of the dog” approach has been touted as a hangover cure for decades. However, drinking more when one is already at their limit will not be helpful. Sadly, it will only be postponing the onset of acute alcohol withdrawal. If continuously drinking is the only activity that brings a person joy, this behavior can be seen as a red flag. If someone is displaying any of the above five warning signs, it may time to step in and intervene.  

The Best Way to Handle Alcohol Use Disorder

The first step a person can take to overcome an alcohol use disorder is to admit that they have an addiction. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Treating any form of addiction is a process, but with the right support group and treatment options, recovery is possible. Anyone struggling with drug or alcohol addiction should turn to a treatment center that offers inpatient and outpatient treatment options and holistic treatment programs.  

Turn to Ardu Recovery Center for Guidance

Although a post-drinking headache is to be expected after a night full of drinking, sometimes, it can be a sign of a bigger problem. If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, Ardu Recovery Center can help. We strive to provide our residents with quality care so that they can live their happiest, healthiest, and most fulfilling lives. We are located in Provo, Utah. Reach out to us with any questions you may have.