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Intoxication and hangover

Published 12 December 2005.

Alcohol is a narcotic substance that paralyses some of the functions of the central nervous system. A small amount of alcohol makes you less inhibited and more relaxed. This is why alcohol can facilitate social interaction. On the other hand, it is precisely the excessive decrease of inhibitions that may cause you to do things under the influence of alcohol that you would not do sober.

The level of intoxication is affected by the degree of innate tolerance and by how used you are to drinking. The tolerance increases when alcohol is consumed continually. Because it is often consumed in order to become intoxicated, even moderate consumption of alcohol may in many cases lead to excessive use. The tolerance is reduced by tiredness, fasting, poor health and stress as well as by certain medications. A prolonged, high-scale use of alcohol will also cause your health to fail, decreasing the tolerance to alcohol.

Hangover is the unpleasant consequence of intoxication. The severity of your hangover depends on how intoxicated you were. Contrary to popular beliefs, the severity of hangover does not depend on the type of alcohol consumed, but simply on the amount. The unpleasant feeling is made worse if you also smoked and stayed up late the night before.

When you have a hangover your blood sugar is usually at its lowest. This is why you should avoid physical exercise that consumes your blood sugar even further. There is no effective cure for a hangover. Plenty of water, some food, sweetened juices and aspirin may alleviate the symptoms to some extent.

These remedies only help with the metabolic changes. They have little effect on the actual hangover. Only rest and time will cure it.

The only way avoid a hangover is to prevent it: not to drink so much as to become intoxicated. When you drink slowly, your liver has the time to metabolize the alcohol so that you don't become intoxicated.

Do not use alcohol to start the day when you wake up with a hangover. It will obviously remove the unpleasant symptoms of hangover by causing a new state of intoxication, but the new hangover may be even worse as withdrawal symptoms tend to get worse the longer you are intoxicated. Treating your hangover with alcohol may easily lead to a vicious circle of drinking. If your hangover is particularly severe, pay a visit to an A-Clinic.

Peter Eriksson
Senior researcher
National Institute for Health and Welfare

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