The term hangover is most commonly used to describe the symptoms you may experience after drinking a large amount of alcohol. Most people get hangover symptoms after drinking large quantities of alcohol, even those who are not generally considered to be heavy drinkers.
The hidden harms of alcohol usually only emerge after a number of years. And by then, serious health problems could have developed.
Liver problems, reduced fertility, high blood pressure, increased risk of various cancers, heart attack, insomnia and sexual problems are some of the numerous harmful effects of regularly drinking above the recommended levels.
In many parts of the world, drinking alcoholic beverages is a common feature of social gatherings. Nevertheless, the consumption of alcohol carries a risk of adverse health and social consequences related to its intoxicating, toxic and dependence-producing properties.
In addition to the chronic diseases that may develop in those who drink large amounts of alcohol over a number of years, alcohol use is also associated with an increased risk of acute health conditions, such as injuries, including from traffic accidents.
The harmful use of alcohol is a global problem which compromises both individual and social development. It results in 2.5 million deaths each year. It also causes harm far beyond the physical and psychological health of the drinker. It harms the well-being and health of people around the drinker. An intoxicated person can harm others or put them at risk of traffic accidents or violent behaviour, or negatively affect co-workers, relatives, friends or strangers. Thus, the impact of the harmful use of alcohol reaches deep into society.
Harmful drinking is a major determinant for neuropsychiatric disorders, such as alcohol use disorders, epilepsy and other noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cirrhosis of the liver and various cancers. The harmful use of alcohol is also associated with several infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). This is because alcohol consumption weakens the immune system and has a negative effect on patients’ adherence to antiretroviral treatment.
A significant proportion of the disease burden attributable to harmful drinking arises from unintentional and intentional injuries, including those due to road traffic accidents, violence, and suicides. Fatal injuries attributable to alcohol consumption tend to occur in relatively younger age groups.
Alcohol consumption by an expectant mother may cause Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and pre-term birth complications, which are detrimental to the health and development of neonates.
Alcohol is the world’s third largest risk factor for disease burden; it is the leading risk factor in the Western Pacific and the Americas and the second largest in Europe.
320 000 young people between the age of 15 and 29 die from alcohol-related causes, resulting in 9 percent of all deaths in that age group.
Alcohol is associated with many serious social and developmental issues, including violence, child neglect and abuse, and absenteeism in the workplace.
In 2004, harmful use of alcohol was estimated to cause about 2.25 million premature deaths worldwide and be responsible for 4.5 percent of the global disease burden.
The symptoms of a hangover include:
- Sensitivity to light and noise
- General muscle aches
- Nausea and vomiting
- Mild diarrhoea
- Shakiness and tremors
- Red eyes
Western Medical View
Treatment of hangovers involves rehydrating the body and dealing with the painful symptoms. Over-the-counter analgesics will help to cope with the pain of headaches and muscle cramps. Paracetamol-based remedies are preferable as aspirin may further irritate the stomach and increase nausea and sickness. There is evidence to suggest that fructose, a natural sugar found in fruit juice and honey, helps the body to process alcohol faster. Bouillon soup, a thin vegetable-based broth that is easy for an exhausted stomach to digest is also a good source of vitamins and minerals (including salt and potassium), to top up the body’s depleted resources.
Alcohol causes dehydration, as the body loses salt and minerals. You can replace these by drinking plenty of bland liquids such as water and soda water. Some isotonic drinks are now available in most shops, which replace lost salt in the body.
Chinese Medical View
According to Chinese Medicine theory acupuncture and Chinese herbs can be prescribed to treat each of the various symptoms of hangover. For example, acupuncture can be used to detox and to reinvigorate an exhausted body. Chinese massage, used with certain essential oils, can also be very effective treatment for relieving muscle aches. A Chinese Medical doctor can develop a comprehensive and personalised treatment plan for overcoming alcohol addiction.
Lifestyle Advice for the prevention and treatment of Hangover
Avoid excessive consumption of alcohol. To minimise the risk of future serious health problems, men shouldn’t regularly drink more than 3-4 units a day. Women shouldn’t regularly drink more than 2-3 units a day.
When drinking, make sure you supplement the alcohol with water to avoid dehydration and drink water before you go to sleep (this is the best time for dehydration); also keep a glass of water by the bed to sip if you wake up during the night. During drinking, eat plenty of nutritious food that can help by reducing the amount of alcohol that your body will have to absorb.
To ease the symptoms of hangover in the morning, do not drink alcohol and wait at least 48 hours before drinking any more.
For personalised advice on diet and lifestyle, please ask the doctor during your consultation.
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