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How long does a hangover last?

Written by Brandon Okey. Mina Draskovic, B.Psy., reviewed this content for accuracy.

A hangover is the unpleasant aftermath of excessive drinking. Depending on the amount of alcohol consumed, hangover symptoms can range from mild to severe and typically resolve within a few hours, but may persist for a day or two.

According to a 2010 paper, hangover symptoms usually start several hours after drinking, when blood alcohol concentration (BAC) decreases. You’ll experience the worst symptoms when BAC reaches zero, around 12–14 hours after drinking, and these symptoms may last up to 20 hours or even more.

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If you find yourself frequently experiencing severe hangovers or struggling to control your alcohol consumption, it may be a sign of a more serious problem. Ardu offers a comprehensive alcohol rehab program to help you achieve and maintain sobriety.

Why do people get hangovers?

Alcohol consumption can lead to a range of unpleasant symptoms collectively known as a hangover. A hangover can impact your well-being the day after drinking. While many people experience hangovers, the exact mechanisms behind them are complex and involve many different factors. 

We’ve boiled them down to ten reasons why people experience hangovers after drinking:

  1. Alcohol’s potent diuretic properties
  2. Mineral depletion caused by alcohol drives dehydration
  3. Alcohol irritates the stomach
  4. Alcohol triggers widespread inflammation
  5. Heavy drinking disrupts blood sugar levels
  6. Alcohol expands blood vessels to contribute to headaches
  7. Toxins from alcohol’s metabolism worsen hangover symptoms
  8. Alcohol disrupts normal sleep patterns
  9. The effects of post-drinking on neurotransmitters
  10. Alcohol’s negative effects on the brain may linger in hangovers

One: alcohol’s diuretic effect leads to dehydration

Alcohol acts as a diuretic by inhibiting the release of vasopressin (antidiuretic hormone) from the pituitary gland, which normally signals the kidneys to reabsorb water. Without this signal, the kidneys excrete more water than usual, leading to significant fluid loss that often exceeds the volume of liquid consumed.

A 2017 study proposes that the diuretic effect of alcohol becomes stronger as the concentration of alcohol in the beverage increases. Drinks with higher alcohol content cause more pronounced urine production and fluid loss. As the body loses water, it also loses essential electrolytes, further exacerbating the dehydration effect. 

Two: mineral depletion causes electrolyte imbalance

With water loss, alcohol consumption depletes important nutrients and electrolytes such as potassium, sodium, magnesium, and calcium. These play crucial roles in your body. 

  • Potassium is vital for proper heart function and muscle contraction. 
  • Sodium helps regulate blood pressure and fluid balance. 
  • Magnesium is involved in hundreds of enzymatic reactions and helps with muscle and nerve function. 
  • Calcium is essential for bone health and muscle contraction. 

The imbalance of these and more vital electrolytes disrupts nerve signaling, muscle operation, and fluid balance. That’s why when hungover you often experience weakness, dizziness, fatigue, and muscle cramps.

Three: stomach lining irritation causes gastrointestinal distress

Chari, et. al. posit that alcohol disrupts the gastrointestinal tract by increasing intestinal permeability, allowing more toxins to enter the bloodstream and contributing to inflammation throughout the body. During a hangover, the irritation and inflammation of the stomach and intestines caused by alcohol consumption lead to nausea, abdominal pain, and sometimes vomiting or diarrhea. 

Four: alcohol triggers a systemic inflammatory response

When alcohol is metabolized, it produces acetaldehyde, a toxic compound that triggers the release of inflammatory cytokines. These cytokines, such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α) and interleukin-6 (IL-6), cause systemic inflammation. 

This inflammatory response provokes fatigue, cognitive impairment, and loss of appetite. With chronic alcohol consumption, the inflammation also affects the liver, increasing the production of enzymes and potentially contributing to long-term liver damage.

Five: disrupted glucose production lowers blood sugar levels

When you drink, your liver is busy breaking down the alcohol instead of doing its usual job of keeping your blood sugar steady. This can make your blood sugar drop, especially if you haven’t eaten. You might feel weak, tired, moody, or have trouble focusing—all classic hangover symptoms. 

Six: expanded blood vessels contribute to hangover headaches

Alcohol causes vasodilation, or the expansion of blood vessels. This is why people often feel warm when drinking, as more blood flows near the skin’s surface. Vasodilation also occurs in the blood vessels of the brain. As these vessels expand, it puts more pressure on the skull, contributing to the throbbing headache often associated with hangovers. 

Heavy drinking can take a toll on your heart health. Chronic alcohol abuse increases the risk of high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, and weakened heart muscle. If you’re struggling to control your drinking, don’t hesitate to reach out to Ardu for professional help and support in overcoming alcohol addiction.

Seven: buildup of toxic acetaldehyde worsens hangover symptoms

When alcohol is metabolized in the liver, it’s first converted into acetaldehyde by the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase. Acetaldehyde is a highly toxic substance, even more so than alcohol itself. If alcohol is consumed faster than the body can metabolize it, the buildup of acetaldehyde may cause nausea, sweating, rapid heart rate, and flushing. 

Eight: alcohol interferes with restorative sleep patterns

While alcohol might help you fall asleep faster, it severely disrupts the quality of sleep, particularly Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. Alcohol increases the amount of adenosine in the brain, which initially promotes sleep. As the body metabolizes the alcohol, adenosine levels drop, often causing a person to wake up before they’re fully rested. 

Alcohol also suppresses REM sleep, which is crucial for cognitive functions such as memory consolidation and learning. This disruption leads to a less restful night and contributes to the fatigue, grogginess, and cognitive impairment associated with hangovers. 

Nine: glutamine rebound causes post-drinking restlessness

Alcohol suppresses glutamine, a natural stimulant in the body and one of the most abundant amino acids in the brain. Glutamine plays a crucial role in brain function and the immune system. When you drink, glutamine production is suppressed, but when you stop drinking, the body compensates by overproducing glutamine. This sudden increase, known as glutamine rebound, leads to a stimulant effect when you’re trying to sleep off the alcohol. 

Messing with glutamate causes restlessness, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping, which increase the fatigue and irritability you often experience during a hangover. The glutamine rebound can also contribute to tremors, sweating, and in severe cases, even seizures in individuals going through alcohol withdrawal.

Hangovers and alcohol withdrawal can share some symptoms. The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are typically more intense and potentially life-threatening and they occur in people with alcohol dependence. Hangovers are a temporary condition affecting anyone who consumes too much alcohol in a single session.

Ten: lingering effects of alcohol impair cognitive function

Alcohol affects brain function in many negative ways. It enhances the effects of GABA, the main inhibitory neurotransmitter, causing sedation. At the same time, it inhibits glutamate, the main excitatory neurotransmitter, which affects memory formation and learning. These changes negatively affect concentration and memory, and slow reaction times. These symptoms can persist long into the hangover period. 

A 2019 study found that higher blood alcohol concentrations from the previous night were significantly associated with worse hangover symptoms and poorer cognitive performance the next day. Higher BACs correlated with slower completion times on a test of working memory and executive function. 

Over time, increased tolerance, addiction, and alcohol withdrawal symptoms all boil down to the way alcohol messes with your brain’s chemistry. But the good news is, your brain is plastic and can recover once you stop drinking. Ardu can help you overcome your alcohol addiction and withdrawal symptoms. We will teach you healthy coping strategies to deal with alcohol cravings. 

“I hold the experience I had at Ardu very close to my heart and stringing some words together won’t ever be able to adequately describe what it did for my life. Which is save it. Ultimately, I know it was me who made the decision to change, but without the guiding hand, compassion, challenges, and honest work from the therapist and staff, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Lani Lye


Common hangover symptoms

The most common hangover symptoms are typically mild, but they can significantly impact a person’s daily functioning. Here are the most common hangover symptoms people encounter after a night of heavy drinking:

  1. Fatigue and weakness
  2. Headache
  3. Dry mouth and thirst
  4. Nausea
  5. Sensitivity to light and sound
  6. Difficulty concentrating
  7. Mood disturbances
  8. Muscle aches
  9. Dizziness
  10. Gastrointestinal issues (e.g., stomach pain, diarrhea, or loss of appetite)

Experiences vary from person to person, and the severity of hangover symptoms is heavily influenced by the amount of alcohol consumed. While mild to moderate symptoms are common after a night of drinking, chronic excessive alcohol consumption can lead to more severe hangover symptoms. 

Severe hangover symptoms

Severe hangover symptoms are potentially dangerous. These symptoms may indicate alcohol poisoning or other underlying health issues. Severe hangover symptoms include:

  1. Excessive vomiting that causes dehydration and electrolyte imbalances
  2. Severe dehydration marked by extreme thirst, dry mouth, dark urine, and dizziness
  3. Rapid heartbeat, tachycardia, or heart palpitations
  4. Uncontrollable shaking or trembling of the hands or body
  5. Confusion or memory loss, difficulty remembering events from the previous night, or disorientation
  6. Difficulty breathing such as shortness of breath or slow, irregular breathing
  7. Severe headache
  8. Hallucinations
  9. Loss of consciousness
  10. Seizures

If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. 

What affects the duration of a hangover?

The way alcohol affects a person is a unique interplay of different factors. The amount of alcohol a person consumes is often the most crucial factor in determining how long and how serious your hangover is going to be, but it is not the only one. 

  1. Amount of alcohol consumed. The more alcohol you drink, the more time your body needs to process and eliminate it from your system. Higher alcohol intake leads to more severe dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and a buildup of toxic byproducts, all of which contribute to longer-lasting hangover symptoms.
  2. Type of alcohol consumed. Alcoholic beverages that have higher congener content (e.g., whiskey, brandy, and red wine) are more likely to cause severe and longer-lasting hangovers than drinks with lower congener levels (vodka or gin).
  3. Individual metabolism. Your body’s ability to process and eliminate alcohol depends on your genetics, liver function, and overall health. Some people have genetic variations that affect the enzymes involved in alcohol metabolism, so they are more susceptible to hangovers. If your liver function is impaired, it may take longer to process alcohol, hence the prolonged hangover symptoms.
  4. Age. As you age, your body’s ability to process alcohol declines. Your body changes composition (e.g., decreased muscle mass and increased body fat), your liver function weakens, and the enzymes that break down alcohol decrease over time. These age-related changes result in higher blood alcohol concentrations and longer-lasting hangovers.
  5. Sex. On average, women have a higher body fat percentage and lower water content than men. When a woman and a man of the same weight consume the same amount of alcohol, the woman will have a higher blood alcohol concentration. Higher blood alcohol levels lead to more severe and prolonged hangover symptoms. There are also hormonal differences between men and women that play a role in hangover severity.
  6. Hydration levels. As a diuretic, alcohol makes you pee. When you pee often, you lose fluid. The more fluid you lose, the more dehydrated you become, so it’s not a bad idea to drink water or other non-alcoholic beverages between alcoholic drinks. This may reduce the severity and duration of a hangover.
  7. Food consumption. Eating before or while drinking can slow down the absorption of alcohol into your bloodstream. The presence of food in your stomach delays the emptying of alcohol into the small intestine, where most of the absorption takes place. When you slow down alcohol absorption, you reduce the severity of hangover symptoms and potentially shorten the duration of a hangover.
  8. Sleep quality. While it may help you fall asleep initially, booze interferes with the normal sleep cycle. Poor sleep quality and insufficient sleep duration can exacerbate hangover symptoms and make them last longer.
  9. Overall health. Pre-existing medical conditions can affect your body’s ability to process and eliminate alcohol. For example, certain mental health conditions can be exacerbated by alcohol consumption and contribute to worse and longer hangover symptoms.
  10. Medications. Many medications interact with alcohol and affect the severity and duration of a hangover. In combination with alcohol, blood thinners such as aspirin and ibuprofen increase the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding, which worsens hangover symptoms. Certain pain relievers put additional stress on the liver when consumed with alcohol, prolonging the hangover duration.

If you want to minimize the length of your hangover or avoid severe hangover symptoms, stick to moderate drinking. If you find that you’re unable to control your alcohol consumption despite your efforts, you may be facing alcohol use disorder (AUD). 

Our alcohol detox program is a crucial step towards regaining control of your life and health. Our compassionate and experienced staff provides a safe and supportive environment to get you through the detox process safely and guide you on the path to lasting recovery.

Does drinking the next day help cure a hangover?

Many people misguidedly believe that drinking more alcohol can cure a hangover. This “hair of the dog” approach is a myth—drinking alcohol the next day can make your hangover worse in the long run. 

A drink or two while hungover may temporarily take the edge off some symptoms, but more alcohol throws your body back into the same cycle without giving it a chance to recover. Also, using alcohol as a crutch to get through a hangover can lead you down a slippery slope to unhealthy drinking patterns and increase your risk of alcohol abuse.

The only surefire way to avoid a hangover is to drink in moderation or not at all. If you do end up with a hangover, there are other, safer steps you can take to help your body recover.

Is there a way to cure a hangover fast?

Unfortunately, there is no fast cure for a hangover. Your body needs time to metabolize the alcohol and recover. Here are some things you can do to alleviate hangover symptoms and feel better:

  • Drink plenty of water, sports drinks, or other electrolyte-rich beverages to combat dehydration and restore balance to your system.
  • Eat a balanced meal with complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, and healthy fats to stabilize blood sugar levels and provide your body with essential nutrients. Bland, easily digestible foods such as toast, crackers, or soup are helpful if you’re experiencing nausea.
  • Get plenty of sleep. If possible, take a nap or relax in a comfortable environment to allow your body to recharge and heal.
  • If you have a headache or muscle aches, try with an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen or naproxen. Avoid acetaminophen (Tylenol) because it can put additional stress on your already overworked liver.
  • Some people find relief from hangover symptoms by taking supplements such as B vitamins, zinc, or ginger. 
  • If you’re feeling groggy or fatigued, a cup of coffee or tea may help you feel more alert. Just be sure to drink it in moderation and with plenty of water to avoid further dehydration.
  • Get some fresh air. If you’re feeling up to it, a gentle walk or some light exercise in the fresh air can boost your mood and promote circulation. Just be sure to avoid overexerting yourself.
  • While it may be tempting to reach for another drink to temporarily ease your symptoms, this approach ultimately prolongs your recovery and can lead to unhealthy drinking habits.

Hangovers take time to resolve, and there’s no instant cure, so arm yourself with patience. Focus on self-care, be kind to yourself, and allow your body the time it needs to fully recover. If your symptoms are severe or persistent, don’t hesitate to seek medical attention.

When to seek professional help

If you find that you’re consistently drinking more than you intended or struggling to cut back on your alcohol consumption, it may be time to seek professional help. 

Frequent or severe hangovers can be a sign that your drinking has become problematic and is negatively impacting your health and well-being. For many people, alcohol use is causing problems in relationships, work, or other areas of life. If this is you, reach out for support. 

At Ardu, we understand the challenges of alcohol addiction and are here to help you reclaim control of your life. Our expert team offers comprehensive, personalized treatment plans tailored to your unique needs and the severity of your addiction. 

Whether you require medically supervised detoxification, intensive outpatient therapy, or residential care, we have the expertise and resources to support your recovery journey. Our evidence-based treatments include:

Don’t let alcohol control your future. Take the first step towards a healthier, more fulfilling life today. Contact Ardu Recovery Center to speak with our admissions team.

Your path to healing starts here. Call us at 801-872-8480 or fill out our initial consultation form and get started on your road to recovery today. 

For more information about rehab, here’s a helpful list of things to bring to treatment.

Brandon Okey

Brandon Okey is the co-founder of Ardu Recovery Center and is dedicated to empowering people on their journey to sobriety.

Hangover headache FAQ

Can a hangover last 3 days?

While it’s uncommon, a hangover may last up to 3 days in rare cases. This is more likely if you’ve engaged in binge drinking or consumed large amounts of alcohol over an extended period. Typically, hangover symptoms peak about 12–24 hours after drinking and resolve within 24–48 hours. If you’re experiencing hangover symptoms beyond 72 hours, consult a healthcare professional.

Can I sleep off a hangover?

Extra sleep can help with a hangover, but it’s not a magic cure. Sleep allows your body time to metabolize alcohol and recover, but it won’t instantly fix dehydration or electrolyte imbalances. Try to get good quality sleep, drink a glass of water, and eat some bland foods when you wake up. Napping might help you feel better temporarily, but it can also disrupt your regular sleep schedule, potentially prolonging your recovery.

When do hangovers peak?

Hangovers peak when your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) returns to zero, which is usually 12–24 hours after you stop drinking. The exact timing depends on how much you drank, your body weight, and your metabolism. You might feel worse when you first wake up, but symptoms can continue or even intensify throughout the day as your body works to eliminate the toxins from alcohol.

What drink kills a hangover?

Unfortunately, there’s no magic drink that instantly “kills” a hangover. Certain drinks can alleviate symptoms. Drinking water is crucial for rehydration. Sports drinks or coconut water can replenish electrolytes. Some people swear by “hair of the dog” (more alcohol), but this only delays the hangover. Ginger tea can help with nausea. 

Do showers help hangovers?

A shower can provide some temporary relief from hangover symptoms. The steam and warm water can make you feel more alert and refreshed. A cool shower might reduce inflammation and ease headache pain. Be cautious if you’re feeling dizzy or lightheaded. The change in temperature could make you feel worse. A shower—no matter how good it feels—won’t cure your hangover or speed up your body’s alcohol metabolism.

Is a 4-day hangover normal?

A 4-day hangover is not normal and could be a sign of a more serious issue. Typical hangovers last 24–48 hours at most. If you’re experiencing symptoms for 4 days or more, it could be alcohol withdrawal, which is more common in people with alcohol use disorder. It could also indicate another health problem exacerbated by alcohol use. If you’re experiencing extended hangover symptoms, seek medical attention.

What is hangxiety?

“Hangxiety” is a blend of “hangover” and “anxiety,” referring to feelings of worry, guilt, or stress that often accompany a hangover. It’s caused by a combination of factors: alcohol’s effect on brain chemistry, poor sleep quality, and sometimes regret over behavior while drinking. 

Hangxiety can be particularly strong for those prone to anxiety. While it typically subsides as the hangover does, persistent or severe hangxiety might indicate an underlying anxiety disorder or problematic relationship with alcohol.

Should I nap when I’m hungover?

Napping when hungover can be helpful, but it’s a bit of a double-edged sword. 

  • On one hand, extra sleep gives your body more time to recover and metabolize alcohol. It can also help with fatigue, a common hangover symptom. 
  • Napping might also disrupt your regular sleep cycle, potentially prolonging your recovery. 

If you do nap, try to keep it short (20–30 minutes) and earlier in the day. 

What should I avoid while hungover?

When you’re hungover, there are several things you should avoid to help your body recover and prevent worsening your symptoms:

  1. Greasy food: you might crave it, but greasy food can cause an upset stomach and make nausea worse.
  2. More alcohol (“hair of the dog”): this only delays the inevitable hangover and can lead to unhealthy drinking patterns. If you do decide to drink again, avoid darker alcohol. Dark liquor tends to worsen hangover symptoms more than lighter ones.
  3. Intense physical activity: because your coordination may be off balance, exercise can dehydrate you more and may increase your risk of injury.
  4. Caffeine in excess: while a small amount might help with headaches, too much can further dehydrate you and increase anxiety.
  5. Loud noises and bright lights: these can exacerbate headaches and sensitivities often experienced during a hangover.
  6. Important decision-making or cognitively demanding tasks: your brain activity is temporarily impaired during a hangover, so it’s best to avoid situations requiring peak mental performance.

Instead, focus on rest, hydration, and gentle nutrition to allow your body to recover.


Verster, J. C., Stephens, R., Penning, R., Rohsenow, D., McGeary, J., Levy, D., McKinney, A., Finnigan, F., Piasecki, T. M., Adan, A., Batty, G. D., Fliervoet, A. L., Heffernan, T., Howland, J., Kim, J., Kruisselbrink, L. D., Ling, J., McGregor, N., Murphy, J. L., . . .  Young, M. (2010). The Alcohol Hangover Research Group Consensus Statement on Best Practice in Alcohol Hangover Research. Current Drug Abuse Reviews, 3(2), 116. https://doi.org/10.2174/1874473711003020116

  1. Polhuis, C. M., C. Wijnen, A. H., Sierksma, A., Calame, W., & Tieland, M. (2017). The Diuretic Action of Weak and Strong Alcoholic Beverages in Elderly Men: A Randomized Diet-Controlled Crossover Trial. Nutrients, 9(7). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9070660

Chari, S., Teyssen, S., & Singer, M. V. (1993). Alcohol and gastric acid secretion in humans. Gut, 34(6), 843-847. https://doi.org/10.1136/gut.34.6.843

Scholey, A., Benson, S., Kaufman, J., Terpstra, C., Ayre, E., Verster, J. C., Allen, C., & Devilly, G. J. (2019). Effects of Alcohol Hangover on Cognitive Performance: Findings from a Field/Internet Mixed Methodology Study. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 8(4). https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm8040440

Further reading

How does alcohol affect birth control?

Learn the stages of alcohol recovery

Is there an alcoholic personality?

Is alcoholism a genetic condition?

Why does booze dry the skin?

How many alcoholic drinks make me fat?

Can alcohol cause pancreatitis?

The negative impact of drinking on aging

What are the common symptoms of alcoholism?