Hung up on the hangover

Research finds hangovers carry significant emotional symptoms, how to reverse them

By on April 3, 2018

Meghan Donahue
First comes the headache. Then the upset stomach, the intense thirst and the relentless bewilderment as to what conspired before your head hit the pillow (or wherever you woke up).

You down a Gatorade, pop an Advil or two, scour Snapchat for any clues of the previous evening’s events and go about your day – probably feeling awful the whole time.

There’s no doubt about it, hangovers are no picnic.

But now there’s scientific research supporting a much more serious aspect of hangovers.

Hangovers, in addition to the physical toll they take, alter the neurotransmitters in the brain and mimic the comedown from much harder drugs.

This is the reason why so many bar-goers experience a flood of negative emotions the morning after, ranging from frenzied anxiety to a brief bout of depression.

At a cellular level, drinking alcohol affects the neurotransmitters gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), glutamate and dopamine. Decreased levels of GABA and glutamate are the reason behind the physical effects of drinking (loss of balance, slurred speech) and are why alcohol is categorized as a depressant. On the other hand, it increases the amount of dopamine in the brain, which is what makes people feel happy and uninhibited.

That’s what’s going on when you’re carousing with your friends at two in the morning. Fast forward eight hours, and it’s a different story.

Research published in 2016 in the Proceeding National Academy of Sciences recounts a study that used rats to measure the levels of different neurotransmitters post-drinking binge.

What the researchers found reaffirms just why you’re feeling so down in the dumps after a night of drinking; there is a definite and dramatic dip in dopamine levels in the brain during a hangover.

Mazel Genfi, a senior media studies major, agrees that hangovers carry a certain emotional weight.

“I do think [a hangover] affects you emotionally,” Genfi said. “And it comes with a sense of feeling bad because there’s a bad connotation to feeling hungover.”

Another Quinnipiac student, Alex Pierne, was a bit skeptical of the study.

“I don’t know if one night of drinking would make me feel that bad,” the accounting major said. “But definitely after a few nights I would start to feel that emotional part.”

This phenomenon can be more dramatic in intensity and duration depending on how dependent the user is on alcohol.

This trend is even more important to consider in the context of mental health issues and self-medication.

Mental health issues can cause people to drink too much, just as much as drinking too much can cause mental health issues. Alcohol abuse can also lead to serious conditions like depression, according to mentalhealth.org.

Although research is limited, it is certainly related to that drop in dopamine.

For most people, this study only reaffirms what they already know – the chances of being in a cheery mood after an evening of bar hopping are pretty slim.

This is, of course, in addition to much more tangible causes of stress and sadness.

Not remembering what happened the night before can cause stress, regardless of dopamine levels. This, along with any ill-advised decision making, lost cell phones or wallets and injuries can come together to conjure up a pretty rough morning.

And not only will your mood be altered, a decrease in dopamine will also affect your focus, productivity and memory.

There are a few healthy ways to combat these unpleasant after effects of drinking.

Attending a mid-morning debrief/brunch session? Skip the greasy hash browns in favor of fruit and vegetables, nuts, coffee, oatmeal and even chocolate. All of these foods are proven to give an added boost of dopamine to the brain, according to bebrainfit.com.

If you’re up for it, going out for a run can create lots of long lasting dopamine in the brain.

It also wouldn’t be a bad idea to invest in some multivitamins, particularly some that support the brain, for the morning after blues. There are many over-the-counter multivitamins that can be a major mood adjuster and head clearer.

And as for getting rid of that headache, along with the other physical symptoms of a hangover, there are a few easy ways to ease the pain, some of which you’ve probably never tried.

This is an easy one. Water is crucial, both while drinking and the morning after. Since alcohol is a diuretic, it is very easy to become dehydrated. Water, along with electrolyte boosting sports drinks, can help to counteract this.

Before calling the Uber next Saturday, consider downing a tablespoon of olive oil. Oily and fatty substances can help to ‘grease’ up the digestive system, which can help to prevent nausea the next day.

Similarly, eating a little bit of ginger can help to prevent an upset stomach. This trick has been used for centuries to cure vomiting and nausea.

Above all, if you have a few extra hours to sleep, use them for just that. It’s your body’s way of naturally healing itself, and can have a massive effect on how you feel (both physically and emotionally).

So, the next time you wake up after an evening of drunken merriment, and you’re not quite feeling like your usual self, know that it’s normal and temporary. A few hours and a few water bottles later and it’ll all fade away.

Until next Sunday morning, anyways.

 

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About Matthew Fortin

Associate Arts and Life Editor