How Long Can a Hangover Last? We Asked the Experts

For those in the middle of a horrific hangover, sweet relief cannot arrive soon enough.

But while drinking to excess is all-too-common in many cultures, the science behind hangovers is surprisingly poor, leading to many myths and misunderstandings about both their causes and effects.

How long can a hangover last? Newsweek asked medical experts about what to expect from imbibing excess alcohol and how best to deal with "babalaas."

The Science Behind Hangovers

Dr. Kathryn Basford, Asda Online Doctor by ZAVA believes the key to understanding a hangover from a medical perspective is how alcohol inhibits the body's production of vasopressin, a pituitary gland hormone telling the body to retain water in the kidneys.

She tells Newsweek: "Without this, water goes directly to the bladder (which is why drinkers make lots of visits to the loo) and leaves the body dehydrated.

"The headache that often signals the hangover is the brain's reaction to this loss of fluid, while nausea and lack of energy that accompanies the headache is the body's response to low blood sugar levels and the loss of the minerals and electrolytes which help the body to function properly.

"The more you drink, the more likely you are going to feel these effects, and the longer you might take to recover."

hangovers
The science behind hangovers is surprisingly poor. Prostock-Studio/Getty Images

How Long Can a Hangover Last?

Hussain Abdeh, Superintendent Pharmacist at Medicine Direct, suspects it is unlikely even the worst hangovers can last longer than a day.

He tells Newsweek: "How long they last depends on how much alcohol you have consumed; the more you have drunk, the longer and more severe your hangover symptoms are likely to be.

"This can be made even worse if you have not kept yourself hydrated with soft drinks. Becoming dehydrated through drinking too much alcohol can serve to make your hangover worse, and make the effects last longer."

A particularly long hangover can be due to a number of factors, resulting in your body requiring time to repair itself.

hangover science
For those in the middle of a horrific hangover, sweet relief cannot arrive soon enough. Rawpixel/Getty Images

Dehydration

Alcohol is a diuretic, leaving you feeling dehydrated, so if you have not managed to rehydrate yourself sufficiently, you may feel this effect for some time.

Becoming dehydrated through drinking too much alcohol can serve to make your hangover worse, and make the effects last longer.

Medication

Certain medications can make hangovers more severe. Therefore, you should always read the information that comes with any medicine you take to see if there are any specific alcohol warnings.

Lack Of Sleep

If you have not had a restful sleep, a hangover can be exacerbated, meaning you can feel a lot worse and it will last a lot longer.

Hussain Abdeh says: "Getting into bed at 3am when your alarm is set to go off at 7.30am is never a smart idea. Alcohol affects the quality of your sleep, so you will wake up feeling tired, weak, and aching.

"Unless you can roll over and go back to sleep, it is advisable to not drink a lot if you need to be up the next day. Chances are, you will feel groggy and exhausted for the rest of the next day."

Lack Of Food

A missed meal can also make hangovers last a lot longer, with Abdeh advising "you should always line your stomach with a meal before you start to drink.

He adds: "This helps the body to absorb the alcohol, which diminishes the effects it has on you. Not eating means you will get drunk faster and the effects will last for longer."

Do Hangovers Get Worse With Age?

Dr. Basford believes the body's ability to process alcohol "can worsen with age", while lifestyle factors can also play a role.

She says: "It has been suggested that a worsening hangover can also be linked to declining supplies of alcohol dehydrogenase, the enzyme which metabolises alcohol and breaks down its toxins, which is thought to lower with age.

"It's also worth mentioning that it's more likely to be lifestyle factors which play the biggest part in making us feel worse during a hangover.

"The commute, work pressures and juggling family commitments for example, all increase post-drinking discomfort and are arguably more of a struggle than lounging in your student house ordering another round of pizza.

"In addition, many people drink less, and less regularly, as they get older, and so when they do have a big night on the booze, they tolerate it much less well."

hangover
The body’s ability to process alcohol can worsen with age. gpointstudio/Getty Images

What's the Best Cure?

While it is not the answer people will want to hear, Dr. Basford believes "prevention really is the best cure", although, she added there are some other measures to consider if the hangover has already hit.

She says: "If it's too late for prevention, catching up on rest will help alleviate the tiredness felt after a poor night's sleep.

"Top up with plenty of water to prevent dehydration and foods which replenish lost minerals and amino acids, like bananas, eggs or porridge. If the hangover triggers a headache or muscle ache too, painkillers can ease these symptoms."

Dr. Jess Braid, a medical doctor and functional medicine practitioner, has provided her top five drinks and supplements to make the morning after the night before just that little bit easier to deal with.

Milk thistle

Ideal for helping the liver to process the after-effects of too much alcohol, Take before you get the party started to line your stomach and protect your liver from the worst effects.

Dr. Braid says: "Buy a good quality supplement and use it as directed. If you have an allergy to artichokes, ragweed, marigolds, chrysanthemums or kiwi fruit, you should avoid taking it, as you may be allergic."

Activated charcoal

If you know you have a big night ahead, activated charcoal is reportedly great to take before you get the party started.

Dr. Braid says: "Used for centuries to remove toxins, counteract poisoning and absorb excess gas, it is also great for treating trapped wind or indigestion if you are going to be eating indulgently too.

"It can help to calm upset stomachs and soak up some of the worst effects of overindulging. Choose an organic activated charcoal powder that comes from coconut or bamboo. Take some (follow the instructions on the tub) diluted with water when you get home, before bed."

N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC)

A powerful antioxidant that is often used for treating inflammatory conditions, NAC helps to support the liver to eliminate toxins.

Dr. Braid says: "It has also been shown to regulate blood sugar and may help to reduce other hangover symptoms, such as headaches, nausea and anxiety. Take a supplement the morning after the night before."

Red Ginseng Tea

Dr. Braid describes this as "the perfect drink the day after a big night out."

She says: "An ancient Chinese hangover cure, red ginseng helps to boost the immune system and energy levels, making you feel ready to face the day. It is also a natural nerve relaxant, helping to calm the body (and maybe stop you worrying about what you did last night)!

"It also contains some B vitamins and is a source of vitamin C, making it the ideal drink after a big night out."

Vitamin C/Coconut Water

Another immune booster, vitamin C is ideal for helping to ease the symptoms of a hangover.

Dr. Braid says: "Coconut water not only contains naturally high levels of vitamin C, but is also full of electrolytes and potassium to help replenish the body. It is ideal for hydrating the body effectively, making it the perfect hangover treatment."

prevention really is the best cure
Prevention really is the best cure for a hangover. Antonio_Diaz/Getty Images