Hangover & “Hanxiety”


We know it’s coming when we consume too much alcohol, we know that it feels terrible, and we do everything we can to avoid it. But what exactly is a hangover? What’s going on in our bodies that creates the nausea, headache, dehydration, and dizziness? How exactly does drinking alcohol go from feeling good to feeling really, really bad? And what is this “hanxiety” everyone talks about? Let’s dive into the anatomy of the notorious hangover today.

According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of a hangover include:

  • Fatigue and weakness

  • Excessive thirst and dry mouth

  • Headaches and muscle aches

  • Nausea, vomiting or stomach pain

  • Poor or decreased sleep

  • Increased sensitivity to light and sound

  • Dizziness or a sense of the room spinning

  • Shakiness

  • Decreased ability to concentrate

  • Mood disturbances, such as depression, anxiety and irritability

  • Rapid heartbeat

To understand how we arrive at a hangover, we must first call alcohol what it is: a neurotoxin. Neurotoxins are poisons that target the nervous system, like snake venom, chemical weapons like sarin gas, and botulinum toxin (botulism). As you can see, ethyl alcohol (ETOH) - the alcohol we consume when we drink beer, wine, and spirits - is in nefarious company. Alcohol is also a diuretic, which is a fancy way of saying it makes you urinate more.

When we drink alcohol, it not only impacts our nervous system, it touches nearly every system and structure in our body. It leads to increased dehydration, disrupts our REM sleep, wreaks havoc on our gastrointestinal system, causes inflammation throughout our body (including the brain, resulting in headache), stunts production of glucose and lowers our blood sugar levels, and more. With all of this in mind, it’s no wonder we feel poorly after we imbibe.