What Causes Hangovers
The what, how, why & who of hangovers

After another drunken night do you also wonder exactly what causes hangovers? We did, and found some quiet interesting information

What, not everybody suffers?!

No not everybody suffers after a long night of drinking. Only 25 to 30% of all people who sometimes drink too much are lucky enough to never experience a hangover, the rest of us suffer

Normally your body has no problem breaking down the normal intake of alcohol which is about 1 alcoholic drink per hour. It starts to get hairy however when you start to take in more and more. Too much of it can even kill you, you have to know that it is a poison or a toxin and that's why being drunk is called intoxication

what causes hangovers

Breaking down to pieces

What basically causes hangovers is the following: your system breaks alcohol down in several pieces and the nastiest one is called acetaldehyde. This one is especially guilty when it comes to those terrible hangover symptoms. It's safe to say that:

The happiness comes from alcohol; the hangover comes from acetaldehyde

It does a trick on your brain and your nervous system; it lowers your blood sugar and causes dehydration

How terrible?

How terrible you feel depends on a few things:

  • How much? - How much did you manage to pour down your throat
  • Personal capacity - Your personal capacity to break down the toxins, there is genetics involved
  • Weight - Your weight, a heavier person can get away with more than a lighter one
  • Age - Your age, the older you get the harder it gets for your body to detoxify your system
  • Sex - Your sex, in general women can't take as much as men
  • Genetics - People of Asian descent are also less capable of breaking down alcohol

What Causes Hangovers
Why do some drinks give you a worse hangover than others?

what causes hangovers

Let's get a little bit scientific, not too much, just enough to explain what causes hangovers and what makes one worse than others

Scientists discovered impurities called congeners in alcoholic drinks. The concentration of these congeners also plays a big role in how hard a hangover will hit you

Drunk & happy or sick and sad?


The party favor in your drink is the ethyl alcohol (ethanol) this gets you drunk and happy. The after party killers named congeners, which are other sorts of alcohol, and especially methanol (the congener mother of mothers...) are said to play a leading role in the severity of your hangover

Basically the darker the liquor the more congeners it contains. The more congeners means most of the times more serious hangovers

Clear liquors like vodka and gin are generally lower in congeners than e.g. brandy, cognac, whiskey, rum, bourbon, champagnes or red wine. It depends on the filtering process of the specific drink

Also the cheaper the booze the more likely it will contain all kinds of additives or impurities that will make your hangovers more serious

Lower blood sugar levels 

Your blood sugar levels drop significantly when you start to drink alcohol, and the more you drink... This may cause you to feel weak, tired or shaky. It can also seriously disturb your mood


As you may or may not know, alcohol can make you very sleepy...BUT, there's a big but, the quality of your sleep is very poor. So when you wake up you'll feel weak, tired and probably a bit groggy


The headaches are actually caused by blood vessels expanding because of alcohol...your head can't handle that


Also a not very unfamiliar effect of drinking is that you visit the bathroom a bit more often than usual. All this urinating may lead to dehydration which expresses itself in thirst, lightheadedness and dizziness

Irritation of stomach lining

When you drink alcohol your stomach produces more stomach acid and it will make the emptying of your stomach more difficult. As a result you may feel abdominal pain, nausea or you may (surprise, surprise) vomit

Your immune system acts up

Drinking alcohol may trigger an inflammatory response from your immune system. Meaning that your immune system responds with different symptoms as a result. You may have memory problems, don't feel so hungry, can't concentrate or you lose interest in things that are normal during non intoxicated times   

Red wine bonus

what causes hangovers

Now what causes hangovers from drinking red wine to be so, let's say specific? And the frequent drinkers know what we mean. Red wine has an added "bonus" called tyramine. This is the stuff that can cause the most evil red wine headaches

Finishing an already open bottle of red can also have another drawback. This because the ethanol and the fresh air in the open bottle already started the process of making acetaldehyde for you, which means no extra work for your body and a straight off the shelve or instant hangover for you...cheers!

Want to know more about hangovers?

If after this you want to know more about hangover symptoms, remedies or cures or prevention, check out our other hangover pages:

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For a more expanded explanation of what a hangover is and why it feels like it does please visit Mayoclinic hangover causes page

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