how to recover faster from a hangover

The Dreaded Hangover: Mechanism & Therapy

Posted Connie Shoemaker, ND Blog

The dreaded hangover…anybody who’s had one too many drinks knows how unpleasant the next morning can be. It leaves us groggy, reaching for ibuprofen, and reluctant to ever drink again. How can something so pleasurable leave us so miserable in a matter of hours? Although the complete mechanism of the hangover 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 toxic effects of an alcohol by-product, acetaldehyde.[2] Alcohol can be hard on the body, causing dehydration, anxiety, and exhaustion.[3] Therefore, it’s important to take some preventative measures and make some preparations to avoid feeling hungover.

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 taking ibuprofen (NSAID) 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 depression 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 in hangover recovery.[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, making 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 by 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 and regain restfulness.

Hangover Therapy

As previously mentioned, staying hydrated, replenishing serotonin and GABA, and taking an NSAID can alleviate hangover symptoms. 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] Taking a curcumin supplement, rather than an NSAID, may also be an effective way to treat headaches and inflammation associated with hangovers, but without the harmful effects to the liver like NSAIDs.[18],[19] In addition, a product called PartySmart has shown promising results for treating hangovers in a study performed on rats. The product contains a blend of herbs proven to have antioxidant properties, important for preventing liver toxicity.[20] Paying attention to the types of alcohol consumed (purer alcohols, such as vodka and gin, cause fewer hangover effects than red wine or whiskey), spacing drinks out, and avoiding binge drinking are keys to best minimize the chance of a hangover.[21] Please drink responsibly!


[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.


Clinical Contributor

Miranda Satterfield

Miranda Satterfield

Clinical Support Intern at Sanesco Health
Miranda recently obtained her degree in Cellular Molecular Biology from UNCA in Asheville. Hobbies include running, reading, and exploring the artistic world of drawing and painting.
Miranda Satterfield

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    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.