Does Alcohol Withdrawal Cause Hangover?

Robert Gerchalk

Robert is our health care professional reviewer of this website. He worked for many years in mental health and substance abuse facilities in Florida, as well as in home health (medical and psychiatric), and took care of people with medical and addictions problems at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He has a nursing and business/technology degrees from The Johns Hopkins University.

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Is A Hangover Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol is a common psychotropic drug that is considered socially acceptable and marketed for sale in many stores. However, there are many issues that arise from alcohol’s inherent addictive properties despite its mass cultural acceptability. The psychoactive effects of alcohol as it is consumed cause changes in mood and behavior. Some people may also develop an abusive pattern where they become dependent. Alcohol dependence can result in numerous negative effects, such as physical and mental health deteriorations, poor relations, and overall general well-being. The process of trying to stop consuming alcohol, or reducing it, may result in withdrawal, which demonstrates how complex and difficult it is to cope with alcohol dependence.

Factors Contributing to Alcohol Dependence and Withdrawal

Genetics

There is a heritability risk that ranges between 40% and 60% in cases involving parental history of alcohol dependence. Certain genetic variations contribute to alcohol metabolism, influencing how one’s body treats alcohol. The other genes play a role in brain reward circuits, causing pleasure or reinforcement involved with drinking alcohol. Some genes may also make certain people more prone to stress and using alcohol consumption as a coping strategy.

Mental Health Conditions

Mental health conditions are relevant factors that determine the complicated association between alcohol abuse and other disorders, which include depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The combination of these mental health problems can lead certain individuals to turn to alcohol for relief. Alcohol can offer a momentary escape from the stress and sadness that accompanies mental illness by producing a numbing or euphoric effect, which in turn can intensify the addiction. However, simultaneous treatment of mental disorders and alcohol dependency would be necessary since an intervention not taking into consideration the other factor would yield an incomplete effect.

Early Exposure to Alcohol

It has been established that early alcohol exposure, and specifically starting to drink before the age of 15, has an important role in the development of alcohol use disorder (AUD) during adulthood. The critical period goes hand in hand with brain development. As such, consumption of alcohol by adolescents is likely to affect some cognitive functions and behaviors. This early experience changes the neural pathways related to rewards and decisions, leading to enhanced response to alcohol reinforcement. Additionally, the onset of risky drinking patterns and tolerance that leads to chronic dependency are probable.

Peer Pressure and Social Environment

In this regard, associating with peers who support or normalize heavy consumption of alcohol can increase the feeling of belonging. Adolescents and young adults usually want to get along with people in their social circles and may be strongly affected by social influences that can drive them into adopting harmful drinking practices. Peer pressure alone is not just about copying actions; it also involves social interactions that may be reflected in individuals’ attitudes toward drinking and their perceptions of what the usual behavior or norm is with respect to drinking.

Trauma and Severe Stress

Often, people who are fleeing from painful feelings brought about by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), childhood trauma, or other highly stressful events, turn to excessive use of alcohol as an escape mechanism. It may just give temporary relief; however, it soon becomes an addiction mechanism. Long-term effects of self-medication can worsen mental health as well as lead to alcoholism. It is important to address trauma and stress when conducting therapeutic intervention procedures in breaking the cycle because it helps people acquire better survival strategies.

Factors Influencing Severity of Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal starts once a person stops consuming alcohol. Subsequently, this phase involves the body and mind going through considerable modifications after discontinuation from the recognized compound. Withdrawal experiences vary in length and strength, with each factor impacting extensively on the level of general severity and permanence of the symptoms.

Amount of Alcohol Consumed

Withdrawing from heavy drinking becomes very difficult and noticeable because of the large amount of alcohol a person drinks regularly. A significant level of dependency is established after chronic or heavy drinking. The physiological adjustments that occur in the body when there is an abrupt cessation of ordinary intake of alcohol result in a wide variety of withdrawal symptoms. They may range from mere feelings of discomfort to serious complications such as shakes and epilepsy, among others. This highlights the need for individualized services and medical surveillance to protect people suffering from severe alcohol withdrawal.

Polydrug Use

The complexity and severity of alcohol withdrawal are closely tied to polydrug use, especially involving combinations of drugs with individual withdrawal periods. Interactions of substances such as additional depressants with alcohol tend to worsen withdrawal symptoms, hence requiring complicated medical attention. Polydrug use worsens the symptoms and presents further difficulty for clinicians in devising effective detoxification regimens. Withdrawing from a number of substances at the same time increases the risk of adverse reactions, seizures, and other serious outcomes.

Nutritional Deficiencies

In most instances, heavy and prolonged consumption of alcohol causes vitamin and mineral deficiency, making it difficult for the drinker’s body to handle withdrawals. Additionally, deficiencies of some essential nutrients, such as magnesium, thiamine, and vitamin B6, can lead to more serious symptoms, including neuropsychiatric complications of Wernicke encephalopathy. Malnutrition because of chronic alcoholism undermines the body’s general resistance and slows healing.

Pre-Existing Medical Conditions

Individuals suffering from underlying illnesses like heart problems, epilepsy, or diabetes are highly susceptible to aggravation of the symptoms and even additional complexities that may arise during withdrawal. The physiological changes that take place while giving up alcohol can only worsen these pre-existing conditions. Withdrawal symptoms like this can even make the prevailing problem worse, so special medical attention and monitoring are imperative to ensure the safety of the client.

Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

Withdrawal symptoms normally occur between a few hours and even up to multiple days after ceasing alcohol consumption. Symptoms usually peak in intensity after two or three days and decline gradually for about a week. In more severe withdrawal, these symptoms can last longer.

Anxiety

Anxiety is among the most common and disturbing symptoms that occur when an individual is withdrawing from alcohol use. It may be associated with sensations like an accelerated heart rate, profuse sweating, or visible trembling. Anxiety in withdrawal is a result of the deep effect alcohol cessation has on the central nervous system. The body goes into withdrawal mode when it lacks alcohol, causing the levels of excitatory neurotransmitters to increase, hence the overstimulation. This highlights the link between mind and body during withdrawal.

Insomnia

Insomnia during withdrawal arises as a result of increased anxiety levels, physical pain, and changes in brain chemicals. Additionally, sleeplessness during alcohol withdrawal can be partly attributed to the absence of the sedative effects of alcohol. 

Sweating

One of the most vivid symptoms of alcohol withdrawal is sweating, which occurs together with hot flashes. Excessive perspiration assists in the regulation of temperature and adjusts the neurochemical changes that occur after abstaining from alcohol. When alcohol withdraws from the central nervous system, the body’s thermoregulation is out of order, and this causes variations in body temperatures.

Nausea and Vomiting

Withdrawal causes chemical changes in the brain that result in gastric irritations. These irritations, together with the body’s effort to adjust to the lack of alcohol, can lead to nausea and vomiting. These symptoms make it harder for a person with AUD to withdraw.

Hangovers and Headaches

A hangover is what happens after drinking too much alcohol and experiencing several notorious symptoms, which are due to the body getting rid of the consumed alcohol. The hangover usually occurs the morning after heavy drinking with symptoms like headache, weakness, nausea, irritability, and sensitivity to light. It is based on psychologically related factors such as dehydration, inflammation, and the effects of alcohol on neurotransmitters and the blood vessels. Heavy drinking leads to excessive production of urine, resulting in dehydration, which causes headache and dizziness. Moreover, the body has inflammation of the liver caused by alcohol, which may cause or worsen headaches. Alcohol can cause headaches because it expands the blood vessels and increases blood flow.

Treatment Options for Alcohol Withdrawal

Fluid Replacement

People going through withdrawal normally experience increased urination, resulting in dehydration and disturbance of electrolytes. IV fluids are efficient and immediate in restoring hydration and maintaining normal electrolyte balance. This treatment option is meant to stabilize the body’s functions while minimizing any complications. 

Vitamins and Minerals

Individuals taking in a lot of alcohol have low levels of important nutrients in their bodies, such as thiamin, magnesium, and vitamin B. The provision of these essential vitamins and minerals goes a long way in reducing withdrawal effects and restoring the normal nutritional status. Thiamine is crucial for the prevention of Wernicke encephalopathy, a serious neurologic disorder. Providing vitamins and minerals alongside also helps to relieve some withdrawal-related issues like low blood sugar.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is an essential treatment choice in the management of alcohol withdrawal symptoms, with a focus on equipping people with good coping skills that will help them overcome the craving and avoid relapse. Based on the connections between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, this evidence-based therapeutic technique focuses on treating negative thinking and alcohol use behaviors. CBT provides guidance for identifying and coping with the triggers that could result in relapse when withdrawing from alcohol usage. 

Medication

Benzodiazepines such as  diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), and chlordiazepoxide (Librium) are commonly prescribed for withdrawal and help reduce anxiety, tremors, and insomnia. Benzodiazepines act on GABA receptors in the brain to calm the nervous system stimulated by the sudden withdrawal from alcohol. They alleviate acute withdrawal symptoms and decrease the chances of complications like seizures. Antiepileptics like phenytoin (Dilantin) and carbamazepine (Tegretol) can also prove useful in some specific instances, especially for people with high chances of experiencing seizures during withdrawal.

The process of alcohol withdrawal is serious and complex, and it requires attention, support, and assistance. People who are struggling with AUD must understand the significance of this period and the possibility of complications involved. At Alcohol Awareness, we offer counseling and information sessions for those who want to free themselves from addiction. Our committed team provides support and resources to those in need, stressing the importance of asking for help. Recovering from this addiction takes hard work. Feel free to call our 24/7 hotline anytime. We are always ready to help you start on this path of transformation.

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