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Most people have either had a hangover or know someone who has had a hangover at some point in their lives. Many people consider a hangover the price of having a “good time.” Of course, the point is not to demoralize or judge individuals who have hangovers. Many people who do not have a problem with alcohol will have a hangover at some point and move right along past it (though it certainly may be uncomfortable for a few hours). However, some people experience symptoms more severe than a hangover known as alcohol withdrawal, and this can be very dangerous.

What Is a Hangover?

A hangover refers to a set of symptoms that somebody experiences as a result of drinking too much alcohol. It usually sets in a few hours after the individual is done drinking. The most common occurrence is to experience a hangover after one wakes up from drinking the night before.

Hangovers also have very characteristic symptoms. As stated by Alcohol Health and Research World, “Physical symptoms of a hangover include fatigue, headache, increased sensitivity to light and sound, redness of the eyes, muscle aches, and thirst. Signs of increased sympathetic nervous system activity can accompany a hangover, including increased systolic blood pressure, rapid heartbeat (i.e., tachycardia), tremors, and sweating. Mental symptoms include dizziness; a sense of the room spinning (i.e., vertigo); and possible cognitive and mood disturbances, especially depression, anxiety, and irritability.”

These are also symptoms that can be seen in someone experiencing alcohol withdrawal. However, they are almost always much more severe.

What Are Alcohol Withdrawals?

Alcohol withdrawals are symptoms that occur once an individual engages in heavy drinking and stops suddenly. According to the publication titled Alcohol Withdrawal by authors Newman, Gallagher, and Gomez, “Alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur when patients stop drinking or significantly decrease their alcohol intake after long-term dependence. Withdrawal has a broad range of symptoms from mild tremors to a condition called delirium tremens, which results in seizures and could progress to death if not recognized and treated promptly. The reported mortality rate for patients who experience delirium tremens is anywhere from 1 to 5%.”

That last point on mortality is very crucial to understanding the difference between the symptoms of a hangover and alcohol withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawals can be fatal if not managed properly. However, this is not the only difference between alcohol withdrawals and a hangover.

Is a Hangover Alcohol Withdrawal?

When thinking about hangover vs. withdrawal, it is important to think about three specific factors. These factors are length, severity, and frequency. The length of alcohol withdrawals and a hangover are significantly different. Alcohol withdrawals usually set in around six hours after the last drink and can last over a week. Meanwhile, the symptoms of a hangover should only last a few hours or – at the most – a day.

Next, as previously mentioned, the severity of the symptoms of alcohol withdrawals and hangovers are extremely different. A hangover may cause a headache, muscle aches, excessive thirst, sore eyes, and lethargy (to name a few). Alcohol withdrawals may cause those symptoms but also cause increased heart rate and blood pressure, extreme dehydration, audible and visual hallucinations, and the potential for seizure, heart attack, and stroke. 

Lastly, alcohol withdrawals will frequently happen with someone with alcohol use disorder (AUD) who tries to quit drinking on their own but cannot. Thus, here is where there is some similarity; hangovers will frequently happen with someone who drinks heavily and yet chooses not to moderate their drinking. This can be a dangerous pattern.

Keeping an Eye on Persistent Hangovers

While, yes, many people may experience a hangover at some point, people who experience frequent hangovers should perhaps use them as a sign that they are consuming too much alcohol. Persistent hangovers can lead to alcohol withdrawal quickly if one is not careful.

Addiction can cause people to accept a lot of pain to keep their addiction going. In the beginning, this may include accepting frequent, and frequently getting worse, hangovers. If this is happening, it may be a good idea to try to cut down on alcohol consumption. If cutting back is difficult, then it may be time to contact an addiction specialist or a reputable recovery center.

The Importance of Comprehensive Addiction Care at The Phoenix Recovery Center

Here at The Phoenix Recovery Center, we understand that addiction is often “cunning, baffling, and powerful.” We also understand that it can start to slow and gain ground quickly, which is why even hangovers should not be taken lightly.

Our primary purpose at The Phoenix Recovery Center is to help our clients heal and get their lives back on track. The key is to take the first step on one’s own. From there, we’ll take them the rest of the way.

Many people may dismiss alcohol withdrawals as a simple “hangover”. However, they are very different, with alcohol withdrawal being significantly more severe. However, persistent hangovers can be a warning sign of more serious issues with alcohol use disorder (AUD) in the future if changes are not made. These issues could eventually lead to the need for a medically supervised detox. If you or someone you love is struggling with issues of addiction, mental health, or both, we can help. For more information and guidance on how to communicate with someone who is dismissing their alcohol withdrawals as a mere hangover, please reach out to The Phoenix Recovery Center today at (801) 438-3185.

The Phoenix Recovery Center
489 W. South Jordan Pkwy
Suite 400
South Jordan, UT