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Hangovers As Explained By An Engineer

Find out what causes that debilitating after-party headache.

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Getting wasted with your buddies can be loads of fun and is one of the best forms of stress relief after work or after school. Spending the night drinking, then drinking some more, then drinking a whole lot more can make for some very memorable ‘memory-lapse’ or ‘how did I even get home’ stories you get to share to your friends the next time you meet.

But that’s not all that you take home after a whole night (or morning) of partying; you also take home the most dreaded, mind-shattering, vision-blurring, sound-altering headaches you’ll ever experience in your entire life. People often call this the ‘I’ll never drink again’ or the ‘don’t shout at me!’ after-party syndrome, commonly referred to as a hangover.

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Veteran drinkers know this sensation all too well but first-timers are often confused about what’s going on inside their heads. If you’d like to learn more about what a hangover really is or what causes it, you’re in luck, ‘cause that’s what we’re here to talk about today. We’ve broken down the entire process of how a hangover works which will give you more information about this devious party-pooper.

The Process

When you drink alcohol, your body almost immediately tries to process it in your liver. The liver converts the ethanol in the drink into acetaldehyde which then gets converted into acetate by the aldehyde dehydrogenase enzyme. The conversion into acetate makes it easier for our body to expel the toxins since acetate can be broken down into water and carbon dioxide.

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This simple process, however, is not very quick. Our liver can only break down alcohol at about 10ml of pure alcohol per hour. That’s why it might take the whole sleep cycle for your body to remove all the alcohol. If you’re wondering how that’s related to hangovers, here’s what happens while your liver is processing all that liquor in your gut.

Getting dehydrated

Ethanol is one of the most common content of any liquor out there. An increase in ethanol in our body lowers our anti-diuretic hormones (ADH) which makes us pee more. This is the explanation of the inexplicable urge to pee every time you drink beer. Since your body gets dehydrated, everything else follows.

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Blood starts to react weird

Alcohol in your system can cause a lot of weird reactions with your blood. First, your blood sugar falls and you become weary. Second, your blood vessels expand which causes headaches. And third, blood is responsible for inflammations triggered by your immune system.


Okay, ethanol is not the only form of alcohol inside your bubbly drink, there are also some other compounds like methanol present. Following the same process, methanol gets converted into formaldehyde, which then gets broken down into formic acid. That byproduct is what makes your hangovers more intense than they should be.

Lowered Immune System

Alcohol can have various effects in the cytokine concentrations in the immune system which causes them to go haywire and increase the effects of the hangover.

Waking up

The last and most painful step in my opinion. Here’s when you realize that your head is pounding and even the slightest bit of sound shatters your brain. Congratulations, you just drank too much.

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Now that you know what it feels like to have a hangover, you’ll probably be like one of those people who vow to not drink any of these alcoholic beverages for the rest of your life but get drunk the night after. The only way you can avoid this nasty headache is to avoid dri—no, I won’t advise that. Just drink water with some hydration salts before you sleep, it might help your head a lot when you wake up. Cheers!

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Cielo Santos

Engineer. Writer. Artist. Gamer. Musician. She dreams of building a time machine and help kittens take over the world. Is secretly the pink power ranger in real life.


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