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The Dreaded Hangover Mechanism & Therapy


The dreaded hangover…anybody who’s had one too many drinks knows how unpleasant the next morning can be. It leaves us groggy, often with a headache, and reluctant to ever drink again. How can something so pleasurable leave us so miserable in a matter of hours? Although the complete hangover mechanism is not entirely understood, there are several factors at play and a few things we can do to feel refreshed.

What is a Hangover?

Interestingly, a “hangover” is experienced when the alcohol content in the blood is back down to zero and technically considered “alcohol withdrawal .”[1] What we’re experiencing is the after-effects of alcohol consumption along with the negative effects of an alcohol by-product, acetaldehyde.[2] Alcohol can be hard on the body, causing dehydration, anxiousness, and exhaustion.[3] Therefore, it’s important to take some preventative measures and make some preparations to avoid feeling hungover.

Hangover Mechanisms

Alcohol and Dehydration

Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning that it increases the need to go to the bathroom regardless of how full the bladder is. Consequently, the more you drink, the more often you’ll need to go to the bathroom.[4],[5] Several trips to the bathroom cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, only made worse by vomiting.

It’s dehydration that makes us nauseous, weak, thirsty, and lightheaded due to the loss of electrolytes and water circulating in the body.[6] Dehydration and electrolyte imbalances often go hand in hand, and can put strain on the kidneys and impair their function if not addressed.[7] Therefore, it’s very important to also be drinking water when consuming alcohol. One study suggests properly rehydrating and relieving inflammation before bedtime to ease potential hangover symptoms.

Alcohol and Mood

The anxiousness and irritability experienced during a hangover is caused by imbalances of chemical signals, aka neurotransmitters, in the nervous system. Our inhibitory signals, responsible for making us feel calm, are being dampened by our excitatory signals, which induce stress responses. This happens whenever the body experiences stressors, in this case, the removal of alcohol from the body.[9]

Studies in mice have shown that fear-based thinking, heightened pain perception, and a drop in mood can occur following alcohol consumption due to the decrease in inhibitory signaling and an increase in excitatory signaling.[10] Inhibitory neurotransmitters GABA and serotonin seem to be the most affected by alcohol consumption[11] and balancing them using their natural precursors may also help reduce effects of the hangover mechanism.[12]

Alcohol and Sleep

Many find that it’s very difficult to feel fully awake after a night of heavy drinking. There are a few ways to explain that experience. The most obvious explanation is that if alcohol consumption takes place in the evening and into the night, lack of sleep is certainly contributing to the exhaustion felt during a hangover. In addition to lack of sleep, there are physiological disturbances taking place.

Although alcohol is considered a somnogen, a substance that makes us feel drowsy initially, it actually disrupts overall sleep.[13] The first few hours after drinking may be restful, but disruption occurs once alcohol has been cleared from the bloodstream. This is when a hangover begins.

Alcohol affects sleep by disrupting our sleep-wake cycle, causing neurotransmitter imbalances, and decreasing the spent in REM sleep.[14],[15] There’s controversial evidence on using caffeine as a means of “curing” hangover grogginess; the scientific evidence is lacking but many find a strong cup of coffee helps them feel more alert.[16] In any case, it’s certainly worth going to bed at a normal hour the night after in order to restore neurotransmitter balance, regain restfulness, and shutdown the hangover mechanism.

Therapies Targeting Hangover Mechanism

In summary, to reduce the chance or symptoms of a hangover:

  • Stay hydrated.
  • Replenish serotonin and GABA. Products such as Prolent™ and Lentra™ by Sanesco contain naturally occurring amino acid precursors to serotonin and GABA and are proven to help balance these neurotransmitters and induce feelings of calm and well-being.[17]
  • Relieve inflammation. Taking a curcumin supplement may also be a natural, effective way to treat headaches and inflammation associated with hangovers.[18],[19]
  • Pay attention to the types of alcohol consumed (purer alcohols, such as vodka and gin, cause fewer hangover effects than red wine or whiskey).
  • Space drinks out.
  • Avoid binge drinking.[21]

Please drink responsibly!

If you are interested in products supporting serotonin and GABA, find or become a provider.


[1] Karadayian, A. B. (2013). Alterations in affective behavior during the time course of alcohol. Behavioural Brain Research, (253) 128-138.

[2] Venkataranganna, M. V., Gopumadhavan, S., Sundaram, R., Peer, G., & Mitra, S. K. (2008). Pharmacodynamics & toxicological profile of PartySmart, a herbal preparation for alcohol hangover in wistar rats. Indian Journal of Medical Research, 127(5), 460-6.

[3] Swift, R., & Davidson, D. (1998). Alcohol hangover. Alcohol Health Res World, (22) 54-60.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Roberts, K.E. (1963). Mechanism of Dehydration Following Alcohol Ingestion. Archives of Internal Medicine, (112)154-7.

[6] Op. cit. Swift, K.E.

[7] De Marchi, S., Cecchin, E., Basile, A., Bertotti, A., Nardini, R., & Bartoli, E. (1993). Renal tubular dysfunction in chronic alcohol abuse–effects of abstinence. The New England Journal of Medicine, 329(26), 1927-1934.

[8] Calder, I. (1997). Hangovers. BMJ: British Medical Journal, 314(7073), 2.

[9] Tsai, G., Gastfriend, D. R., & Coyle, J. T. (1995). The glutamatergic basis of human alcoholism. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 152(3), 332-40.

[10] Op. cit. Karadayian, A.B.

[11] Lovinger, D. M. (1997). Serotonin’s role in alcohol’s effects on the brain. Alcohol Health and Research World, 21(2), 114-120.

[12] Chaitow, L. (1985). Amino Acids in Therapy: A Guide to the Therapeutic Application of Protein Constituents. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co.

[13] Thakkar, M. M., Sharma, R., & Sahota, P. (2015). Alcohol disrupts sleep homeostasis. Alcohol, 49(4), 299-310.

[14] Roehrs, T., & Roth, T. (2001). Sleep, sleepiness, and alcohol use. Alcohol Research and Health, 25(2), 101-9.

[15] Op. cit. Swift, R.

[16] Op. cit. Swift, R.

[17] Sanesco International. Targeted Nutritional Therapy™.

[18] Kohli, K., Ali, J., Ansari, M., & Raheman, Z. (2005). Curcumin: A natural antiinflammatory agent. Indian Journal of Pharmacology, 37(3), 141-147.

[19] Op. cit. Swift, R.

[20] Op. cit. Venkataranganna, M.V.

[21] Op. cit. Swift, K.E.


Connie Shoemaker, ND

Connie Shoemaker, ND

“Educating Sanesco’s clients is the culmination of a life’s work.” Beginning when she left the hospital environment to manage a functional laboratory, Genova Diagnostics (formerly Great Smokies Laboratories) in 1987, Dr. Connie Shoemaker has continued to increase her knowledge of herbs and biochemistry as a journey of love. With her bachelor’s in science from Western Carolina University, she had worked in hospital laboratories for the first twelve years of her career. Then, personal health challenges led her to discover a new approach to her health and a determination to share it with others. In 1991, she began teaching and educating innovative practitioners in the U.S. and internationally as a manager of marketing, sales, and customer service.

The addition of her Doctor of Naturopathy degree to her existing knowledge base expanded her knowledge and her respect for a more natural approach to healing through balance. At Sanesco, she initially served to oversee technical development of products and services.

Now, she educates Sanesco’s clients on application of the CSM™ model for their specific patients and how to integrate the CSM™ model with other modalities they offer in their practice. In her personal life, Connie educates private clients on various health topics.

Disclaimer: The information provided is only intended to be general educational information to the public. It does not constitute medical advice. If you have specific questions about any medical matter or if you are suffering from any medical condition, you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider.

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