Healthy Tips

Quick Dose: What a Hangover Does to Your Brain

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There isn’t a clear formula for how much alcohol causes a hangover (also known as veisalgia), and can sometimes occur after just one drink.

Since alcohol is a diuretic, it causes you to become dehydrated. This causes the brain to shrink in volume and explains that throbbing headache, dry mouth and even moodiness. The lingering effects of alcohol also continues to impact brain function and neurochemistry. Alcohol increases dopamine, which interrupts other neurotransmitters and can wreak havoc on your mood the next day- dubbed as hangxiety. This disruption also impacts the quality of your sleep, resulting in interrupted, restless sleep.

Time is ultimately your best friend, but if you’re feeling the effects of last night, here are some things you can do to help alleviate symptoms:

  • Eat a healthy breakfast. Alcohol causes a drop in blood sugar, so bring it back up with bland foods, such as peanut butter and banana toast. Slow-release carbohydrates will help give you the energy you need. As for greasy foods? Although they’ll slow the rate of alcohol absorption before you drink, trans fats may negatively impact areas of your brain important to memory.
  • Stay hydrated. Water allows your brain to function at optimal levels, which will help alleviate symptoms. Alcohol also impacts the pituitary gland, a hormone that causes kidneys to reabsorb water and electrolytes. Sports drinks with electrolytes can help replenish these nutrients quickly.
  • Rest and recover. This will give your liver time to process the alcohol in your system.
  • Spice it up. Ginger has been shown to be reduce symptoms of nausea.
  • Don’t give in to the hair of the dog. Turning to alcohol to alleviate a hangover can be a sign of withdrawal, which might indicate an addiction.

Not to be a buzzkill, but there isn’t a magic cure that will completely alleviate your hangover. So the next time you sip, think about the impact on your brain. You’ll thank yourself the next day.

- Fan Z. Caprio, MD, Northwestern Medical Group, Vascular Neurology

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