You’ve woken up with a hangover thinking: How much longer is this going to last?
Well, you’re in the right place to find out everything you need to know.
Alcohol affects your body in many different ways and hangover symptoms can last for a lot longer than you may think.
In this article, we’re going to walk you through all the factors that affect how long a hangover lasts.
And more importantly, if there’s anything you can do to help speed up your recovery.
What are the causes and symptoms of a hangover?
To be able to determine how long a hangover lasts, we first need to go over how alcohol affects your body in the first place.
When you drink, alcohol is absorbed quickly and easily from your stomach and small intestine lining into your bloodstream.
It then passes through your liver so that it can be metabolized to produce energy, just like other food sources.
Your liver is only able to break down alcohol at a certain rate. Typically, it’s around 1 drink per hour, which if you think about it, isn’t that much.
If you drink more than this amount, your blood alcohol levels rise faster than the rate at which your liver is able to break the alcohol down.
As a result, your blood alcohol levels continue to rise which makes you feel the pleasurable aspects of alcohol as it starts to exert its relaxing and sedating effect on your brain and body.
However, while this is happening, alcohol has several different negative effects on your body which we will highlight next.
Toxic buildup of by-products
Your liver breaks down alcohol to produce toxic by-products like acetaldehyde. In normal circumstances, your liver is able to quickly break down acetaldehyde further into acetic acid which is not harmful.
However, as your liver struggles to deal with the alcohol load, you get a buildup of acetaldehyde which is a highly reactive substance and damages the cells it comes into contact with.
This produces of damage and inflammation is called “oxidative damage” and has been attributed, at least in part, to your hangover symptoms.
The Diuretic effect of alcohol
Alcohol blocks a hormone being released from your brain called antidiuretic hormone. This hormone is responsible for allowing your kidneys to hold onto water.
Therefore, alcohol blocks this and causes you to lose water in your urine. This diuretic effect of alcohol is probably the most obvious when drinking alcohol and explains the frequent toilet trips.
Ultimately, this leads to dehydration.
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Alcohol is known to disrupt your hormonal balance by altering the release of things such as insulin and cortisol.
Drinking excessively can drop blood sugar levels for this reason.
Drinking alcohol can severely disrupt your sleep cycles by blocking you from reaching the deeper stages of sleep.
So even though alcohol may allow you to fall asleep easily, your sleep quality is much worse after drinking and you won’t wake up as fresh, even if you’ve slept the same number of hours.
Congeners in alcohol
Darker colored drinks contain more congeners which are known to cause hangovers. These are substances produced as a by-product of the alcohol fermentation process.
Darker colored drinks like whiskey and red wine have much higher congener levels and therefore make hangovers a lot worse.
So overall this results in your typical hangover symptoms which include:
-Nausea and vomiting
-Lack of energy
-Dry mouth and thirst
-Poor concentration and focus
Now that we’ve got the science of hangovers out of the way, we can look at what makes some hangovers last longer than others.
What factors determine how long a hangover lasts?
So we now know that hangovers are caused by a few different factors, all of which contribute to your symptoms.
There are also a few practical aspects that play a big role in how long your hangovers last:
The Amount of alcohol consumed
This point goes without saying. The amount of alcohol you drink is one of the main factors that determine how long your hangovers last.
simply speaking, the more alcohol, the more toxic by-products, congeners and dehydration you’ll experience.
How fast you drink
The amount of alcohol you drink in a given period of time is often overlooked and one of the most important factors in how long your hangover the next day will last.
As mentioned earlier, your liver is only able to process around one drink per hour. So if you’ve had 3 glasses of wine in one hour, your blood alcohol levels will be much higher than if you drank 3 glasses in 3 hours.
The damaging effects of alcohol are more severe the higher your blood alcohol concentrations are.
Eating before drinking
This point ties in closely with the one above. Having a meal before drinking massively affects how fast alcohol is absorbed into your bloodstream.
Having food in your stomach slows down how fast alcohol is absorbed, therefore, reducing your peak blood alcohol concentrations.
So going back to our previous example, having 3 glasses of wine on an empty stomach will have a bigger effect on how long your hangover will last the next day compared to if you have 3 glasses with a large meal.
Type of alcohol you’ve been drinking
Congeners in darker colored drinks make hangovers much worse by causing further inflammation and damage.
Your hangovers will naturally last a lot longer if you’ve been drinking whiskey all night instead of something like gin which has far fewer congeners.
How much sleep you’ve had
Rest and sleep are key to allowing your body to recover after night out. If you’ve had a late night and are due to wake up early, it’s going to make your hangovers last longer.
When you’re in your teens or early 20’s, hangovers are a breeze. A quick shower and some food are all it takes to recover from your hangover. Your hangover symptoms may not even last half a day!
Those days feel like an ancient memory once you’ve reached your late 30’s because your body does not recover as fast. Unfortunately, It’s an unavoidable reality of aging. You can read more about this in our article about why hangovers get worse with age.
We’ve now covered all the factors that are responsible for how long your hangovers last. It’s a complex process and is affected by so many different factors.
Some hangover symptoms last longer than others, which is what we’ll look at next.
There are many factors which contribute to how long your hangover symptoms will last and all of them are important to consider when planning your night out.
How long do specific hangover symptoms last?
It would be impossible to state exactly how long each hangover symptom lasts as it’s totally unique to each person.
That being said, some symptoms generally last longer than others.
Nausea and vomiting
Arguably one of the worst symptoms of a hangover, nausea and vomiting is normally worst in the first few hours of your hangover.
This is because your stomach is at its most fragile after being battered by the toxic effects of alcohol. In addition, your blood glucose levels will be low and hormonal imbalances being at their peak which all contribute to hangover nausea.
In most cases, hangover nausea will last anywhere from 1 to 3 hours. If it lasts more than 24 hours, it may be that your symptoms are not just from your hangover.
Headache from migraine is also relatively short lasting for most. Typically around 6 hours or so and can be helped with acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Although it’s important to mention that these don’t come without side effects when hungover.
For some people, drinking can trigger migraines which last anywhere from 12 to 72 hours.
Lack of energy
Energy levels will be less than normal for a good 24 hours in most cases. Usually, it requires you to have a good nights sleep and a couple of hearty meals to regain your normal levels of energy.
Focus and concentration
Concentration levels pick up throughout the day. At first, it’s a complete right-off. Efforts to try and get anything productive done are futile.
As your brain tries to reset itself, it can take up to 8 hours to be able to focus on things again.
Alcohol is well known to impact mood negatively and in some people can trigger feelings of anxiety or worsen depression.
Binge drinking can have a lasting effect on your mood and cause problems well into your week. In some cases, this can last 3 or more days.
How long your hangover will last depends entirely on your own personal circumstances, but generally speaking, most hangovers last up to 24 hours.
Why do some hangovers last 2 or 3 days?
You may have experienced hangover which lasts significantly longer than your standard 1 day of suffering.
In most cases, it’s due to the fact that you’ve had way, way too much to drink the night before and your body has gone into a state of shock trying to piece itself together.
2 or 3-day hangovers are also much more common after you’ve reached your late 30’s. In this case, it doesn’t even have to be that much alcohol that can leave you feeling less than 100% for a few days.
In rare cases, hangovers that last a few days could be as a result of dangerously high levels of congeners such as methanol.
Buying alcohol from unknown sources is a risky business and there have been several cases of alcohol poisoning from methanol around the world.
Feeling disproportionately bad when hungover, especially if it lasts several days could suggest that the alcohol you were drinking was not just the standard drink you were expecting.
Always opt for reputable brands when buying your drinks and avoid knock-off cheap versions to avoid the risk of poor quality and dangerous alcohol.
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Genetics and hangovers
If you’re someone who feels like their hangover is starting after drinking one or two drinks, you may have Asian flush syndrome.
People with Asian flush lack the enzyme that breaks down alcohol which means they feel the negative effects of drinking alcohol soon after their first alcoholic beverage.
Common symptoms include facial flushing or going red and developing hives in addition to the standard hangover headache and nausea.
It’s caused by a defect in a gene that is particularly common in Asia, hence the name Asian flush. In fact, some estimates state that the majority of people of Asian descent will suffer from the flush reaction to a certain extent.
As a result, hangovers will last a lot longer in people with Asian flush, especially if you don’t stop drinking soon after the onset of negative symptoms.
Is it possible to reduce how long a hangover lasts?
There are many ways to reduce how long your hangovers last by giving your liver the best chance to deal with the alcohol you’ve been drinking. Aside from drinking less, here are some top tips:
Drinking slowly over a longer period of time will reduce hangover severity and how long your hangover symptoms last the next day.
If you leave more time between each alcoholic beverage, it gives your liver some time to deal metabolise more alcohol and it’s by-products safely.
Eat before going out
Having a meal before going out is key to reducing how long your hangovers last. There are many myths about which food is best such as “lining your stomach” with milk or bread.
In actual fact, studies have shown that eating anything before going out helps. Something that’s not too hard to digest is ideal. By this, we mean avoiding too much salad or red meat.
It can often be hard to rehydrate adequately when you’re hungover. You’ll have lost a lot of fluid the night before and drinking enough eater can be difficult if your stomach is feeling fragile.
Rehydration sachets are a great way to restore the balance and also supply your body with some essential electrolytes.
Stocking up on antioxidant vitamins and minerals could help protect against oxidative damage caused by alcohol’s toxic by-products.
Sleep it off
By far one of the most effective ways to reduce how long your hangover lasts is rest and sleep.
When it comes to reducing how long your hangover lasts, prevention is key and taking simple steps such as having a meal before going out and sticking to lighter coloured drinks makes a big difference.
That brings us to the end of our look at how long hangovers last.
We’ve walked you through all the factors that can make hangovers last more than usual and the best things you can do to reduce them.
Hangovers are a sign from your body that you’ve probably had too much to drink, therefore, you may want to consider cutting down.