How long does a hangover last?

How long do hangovers last, what are the symptoms and how can you help or prevent them?

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If you’ve ever dealt with a throbbing headache, a queasy stomach and general sense of regret after a night of drinking, you’re not alone. When it comes to the effects of alcohol after a night out, hangovers are a familiar and often unpleasant experience, resulting from drinking too much.

When you’re in the throes of a hangover, you might be wondering how long it will last and the things you can do to make yourself feel better. Here, we explore hangovers in more detail, including how long they last, what symptoms to expect and practical things you can do to ease or avoid them.

Whether you’re recovering from a 3 day hangover, or just looking for some tips for a better morning after, this article offers information and advice.

How long do hangovers last?

In most cases, a hangover will last anywhere from a few hours to about 24 hours after your last drink. However, there are instances where the effects of a hangover can last for longer than this.

The duration of a hangover can vary from person to person and depends on a number of factors. Understanding these can help shed light on why some hangovers may be more prolonged than others. These factors include:

  • How much alcohol you drink - the most significant factor affecting how long your hangover lasts is the amount of alcohol you consume. Binge drinking is more likely to increase the length and intensity of your hangover
  • Alcohol content - the type of alcoholic drink matters as well. Drinks with higher alcohol content, like spirits, tend to lead to more severe hangovers, compared to drinks with lower alcohol content
  • Individual tolerance levels - everyone’s body processes alcohol differently, depending on their tolerance levels. This can help explain why some people experience shorter or milder hangovers, while others endure longer and more severe ones
  • Hydration - alcohol is a diuretic, which means it increases how much you urinate. This can lead to dehydration, which often results in longer and more severe hangovers
  • Sleep quality - poor sleep can make your hangover symptoms worse and prolong their duration
  • Age - younger people may be able to metabolise (break down) alcohol more efficiently, which can lead to shorter hangovers. On the other hand, older adults might find that their hangovers last longer because their metabolism is slower
  • Underlying health conditions - certain medical conditions, such as liver problems or digestive disorders, can affect how your body processes alcohol. This can potentially extend the length of your hangovers
  • Medications - some medications can interact with alcohol and affect how it’s metabolised. This can lengthen the time it takes for your body to recover. For example, mixing antidepressants and alcohol can cause a range of problems, including more severe hangovers

While hangovers are often described as being ‘self-inflicted’, this doesn’t diminish how debilitating they can be. That’s why it’s so important to understand how you can help and prevent them.

Symptoms of a hangover

Hangovers often consist of a range of unpleasant symptoms. These can be both physical and psychological.

Physical symptoms of a hangover

  • Severe headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dehydration, leading to a dry mouth and excessive thirst
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Aching muscles
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • The appearance of alcohol withdrawal symptoms

Psychological symptoms of a hangover

  • Poor concentration
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety, which is often referred to as ‘hangxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Impaired ability to cope with stress

How to help a hangover

Dealing with a hangover can be uncomfortable, but there are steps you can take to alleviate the symptoms and help your body recover more quickly.

Firstly, getting hydrated is essential. Drinking plenty of water, or fluids that are rich in electrolytes such as sports drinks and coconut water, can help to counteract the effects of dehydration.

Taking pain relief medication, such as ibuprofen, can provide relief from headaches and muscle aches. This is better if you take it with some food. Avoid taking paracetamol if possible, as this can be hard on the liver when combined with alcohol.

Getting plenty of rest and sleep can also help your recovery. It’s also important to eat easily digestible foods, such as toast or bland soup, to soothe a sensitive stomach. If you’re feeling sick or being sick, ginger or peppermint tea can help.

While there’s no ‘miracle cure’ for a hangover, these measures can help you feel more comfortable and get back to your normal self sooner.

How to prevent a hangover

Here are some practical steps you can take on your night out that can reduce the chances of you being hungover the next day:

  • Drink less and drink slowly – the most effective way to prevent a hangover is to drink alcohol in moderation. Remember, our bodies can only process the equivalent of one alcohol unit an hour. Try to limit the quantity and pace of your drinking, or don’t drink at all
  • Stay hydrated – alternating between alcoholic drinks and water can help you stay hydrated and reduce the risk of a hangover
  • Take breaks – give your body time to process alcohol by taking breaks in between drinks. This can help reduce the overall amount of alcohol you drink and helps your body start the recovery process sooner
  • Choose wisely – opt for drinks with a lower alcohol content, such as beer or wine, over stronger drinks like spirits, as these tend to lead to more severe hangovers
  • Eat before drinking – having a meal before drinking can slow down the process of alcohol being absorbed by your body. This can reduce the impact of a hangover. Focus on foods that are high in protein and healthy fats
  • Avoid mixing drinks – stick to one type of alcohol throughout the evening. Mixing alcoholic drinks increases the different types and strengths of alcohol that your body has to process, which can increase the chances of you getting a hangover
  • Know your limits – be aware of your alcohol tolerance and avoid excessive drinking. It’s important to know when to stop
  • Get enough sleep – a lack of sleep can make your hangover symptoms worse. That’s why it’s important to try and get a good rest after a night out

Remember, none of these methods are guaranteed to prevent a hangover. The best way to avoid a hangover entirely is to drink in moderation, or choose not to drink alcohol at all. Your health and wellbeing should always be your top priority.

Get help for a drinking problem

If you’re regularly getting hangovers, this might be a sign you’re drinking too much. While an occasional hangover is fairly normal, frequent and severe hangovers could indicate a deeper issue with alcohol consumption, or even an addiction.

If you’re concerned about how much you’re drinking, your first port of call may be for you to speak to your GP. They’ll be able to address your alcohol-related concerns and point you in the direction of more specialist support, if this is needed.

Or you may wish to contact a private provider, like Priory, directly. We offer a free, no-obligation addiction assessment where you can discuss your worries in confidence and receive advice on next steps. This might include support groups, therapy and alcohol addiction treatment.

It’s essential to recognise when your drinking habits might be harming your health and wellbeing. Getting help for a drinking problem is a brave and vital step towards a healthier and more balanced life.

Page clinically reviewed by Dee Johnson (Mbacp, MNCS), Addiction Therapist at Priory Hospital Chelmsford.

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