Hangovers More of a Headache Than You Think
WebMD News Archive
But more common than potential medical problems is the muddleheaded feeling
the day after. Robert Cloninger, MD, a well-known researcher in alcohol
studies, defines a hangover quite simply as "feeling bad after
drinking." But it does go beyond just that, Cloninger tells WebMD.
"You don't think as well; you're achy; you're slower; you're really not
functioning a 100%," he says. Cloninger is a professor of psychiatry,
genetics, and psychology at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo.
Wiese writes about the common symptoms of hangovers, predominantly a
headache, then a poor sense of overall well-being, diarrhea, loss of appetite,
shakiness, fatigue, and nausea. The alcohol causes the bad feelings because it
leaves a person dehydrated and malnourished. One debatable theory, Wiese
writes, is that a hangover is the first stage of alcohol withdrawal.
Wiese affirms Cloninger's definition, saying multiple studies show decreased
reaction times, less ability to concentrate, lower managerial skills, and
increased risk for injury, even after some of the more obvious hangover
symptoms are gone and alcohol can no longer be detected in the blood.
Wiese describes one study looking at airline pilots, where pilots drank
enough one night to meet the criteria for having a hangover the next day. The
pilots followed an eight-hour "bottle to throttle" standard before
entering a flight simulator. Wiese says even though half of the pilots didn't
feel like they had a hangover, their thought, or cognitive, functions were
"The point being is that many people see being hungover as having a
headache or just not feeling great, but don't recognize that their cognitive
function is actually impaired," says Wiese, "and that may have
implications for whether people decide to work with heavy machinery, decide to
drive, or operate aircraft, for example. People should be aware that their
cognitive function may not be optimal, even though they may not be feeling the
most severe symptoms."
Wiese says 75% of all drinkers will have a hangover in a year, and 15% will
have a hangover at least monthly, which has a large economic impact.
"You're talking about a big part of the American workforce, and if each of
those [people] misses work one or two times a year, and then if you toss on the
decreased productivity from the cognitive decline ... it starts to become a
fairly large opportunity cost, a large loss in productivity," Wiese