You probably didn’t know this, but if you’re someone who imbibes frequently chances are you’ve experienced veisalgia. You probably refer to veisalgia as a hangover. A hangover can happen to anyone who drinks, and it’s fascinating that even the scientifically inclined aren’t quite sure why this is so.
Symptoms of a hangover vary on a case-by-case basis, but a great way of summing them up is to say that they make you feel both weird and terrible; in short, they make you feel like dirt.
This awful experience may occur because of some chemical imbalance inspired by process of drinking. More scientifically, our bodies need to convert NAD+ (an enzyme) into NADH in order to process alcohol. The theory is that when our body has more NADH, we have less NAD+ and, thus, we can’t properly regulate electrolyte levels or absorb glucose. This renders our metabolic systems all sorts of messed up and, because of this, our mouths become dry, our limbs get sore, and we are generally just a mess.
Some studies have shown people (people who are quite properly hungover) with appropriate levels of both glucose and electrolytes in the blood, causing some problems for the enzyme conversion theory. Processing alcohol causes the buildup of a rather nasty sounding toxic compound called acetaldehyde, and another theory looks to acetaldehyde as the main culprit behind hangovers. This super-villain-sounding compound is the first byproduct produced as we process alcohol, and it’s said to be somewhere between 10 and 30 times as toxic as booze itself.
Beyond the conversion of NAD+ to NADH and acetaldehyde, there’s no doubt that alcohol’s diuretic properties contribute to the dehydration that often goes along with a hangover. There have also been studies showing how drinking can inspire the release of cytokines, the signal molecules of our immune system. Normally, cytokines can be used to trigger responses to things like infection, but alcohol can also cause cytokines to be released in much more unuseful ways. The result? Muscle aches, headaches, nausea, fatigue, and irritation.
While we don’t exactly know the cause of hangovers, we do know that some things increase the likelihood of us experiencing one. For instance, there are chemicals produced during fermentation called congeners. Having excessive amounts of alcohol with high levels of congeners (usually darker ones like rum, red wine, and whiskey) has been shown to be more likely to lead to a hangover than drinking things with lower congener levels (beer, gin, vodka, white wine).
You may have heard that sugary drinks will also make you feel more hungover, but it seems this isn’t necessarily true. Rather, sugar, when paired with alcohol, appears to slow down the rate at which our bodies process the alcohol. Intoxication deals with the rate (and quantity, of course) at which we consume our drinks, so slowing down the process is more of a positive than a negative. Sugary cocktail mixers and ingredients, though, will mask the taste of booze, potentially inspiring more consumption thus increasing the chance of getting a hangover. Sugar, on its own, can inspire lethargy and other unpleasant side effects. Needless to say, while sugar in your cocktail may not be the chemically responsible reason for your hangover, the following sugary cocktail ingredients aren’t doing anything to make you feel better post-drinking. Combine them with the empty calories that come from alcohol and a session of slight binge-drinking, and you’ll be sure to make yourself feel fat, tired, and like dirt.