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The Morning After: A Hangover or Withdrawal from Alcohol?

The Morning After: A Hangover or Withdrawal from Alcohol?

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You had a late night out at the bar, and the next morning your head is pounding and you are feeling awful. Is a hangover alcohol withdrawal? Knowing the difference between a hangover and alcohol withdrawal can give you important insights into the way alcohol is affecting your body.

If you drink, you most likely have experienced the nasty after-effects of too much alcohol. You may have even wondered, “is a hangover alcohol withdrawal?” You know the feeling: you wake up after a night of drinking and wish you could just go right back to sleep. Your head is pounding, your stomach is churning, and you feel anxious, irritable and depressed. You feel miserable with what seems like a serious hangover, and there’s not much you can do except wait it out while the alcohol clears your system.

But what if what you think is a hangover is actually alcohol withdrawal? Alcohol withdrawal can present with similar symptoms as a hangover, but has very different causes. Understanding if your symptoms are a hangover or withdrawal can help you learn whether your body has formed a physical dependence on alcohol. 

Hangover vs. Withdrawal

Because hangovers and alcohol withdrawal have some overlapping symptoms, people may be confused as to whether these are actually the same condition. However, there are distinctive causes and characteristics of each state that clearly separate them. 

What is a hangover?

A hangover is a specific and direct reaction the body has to the toxic effects of too much alcohol. These uncomfortable impacts of a hangover include:

  • Increased urination, sweating, and stomach upset, which causes dehydration and imbalanced levels of electrolytes 
  • Irritation of the stomach and intestines that can cause pain and stomach troubles
  • Widening of the blood vessels, which can cause headaches
  • Disturbed sleep and body temperature levels
  • Low blood sugar, which contributes to moodiness, fatigue and weakness

There are other factors that can contribute to a bad hangover, such as the type of alcohol consumed, or if you have been smoking or using other drugs in combination with drinking. Some people are prone to “hangxiety,” a feeling of anxiousness and distress during their hangover, which is often preceded by stressful life events or underlying guilt, and more common for those with shy or anxious personalities. 

What is alcohol withdrawal?

Unlike a hangover where the negative effects are caused by too much alcohol, alcohol withdrawal is caused when a physical dependency on alcohol has formed and the body is not receiving enough alcohol to satisfy its need. While people often think this only applies to drinkers who consume alcohol on a daily basis, you can suffer withdrawal even if you don’t drink every day. For example, binge drinkers may also show signs of withdrawal which they often confuse with having a hangover

Alcohol acts as a central nervous system depressant, meaning that the effects of alcohol slow down the body. This is obvious in some of the more common effects of alcohol intoxication, such as stumbling, slurred speech, memory loss and blackouts. If alcohol is regularly used, over time the central nervous system recalibrates to try and maintain alertness despite the presence of alcohol.

When someone abruptly stops drinking, the central nervous system has not had time to adjust, and therefore remains in a heightened state. This is what causes symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms generally occur over a timeline, beginning about six hours after the last drink, and lasting up to three days.

Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

The initial symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are what people may confuse with a hangover. These symptoms begin within 6-12 hours of your last drink, and include things like:

  • Headache
  • Shaky hands
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Anxiety
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia

As time goes on, the potential for more serious symptoms of withdrawal arises. From 12-48 hours after your last drink, you may experience seizures or hallucinations. 48-72 hours after quitting alcohol, the condition known as delirium tremens, or DT, may begin, resulting in symptoms like:

  • Racing heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Profuse sweating
  • Confusion
  • Vivid hallucinations and delusions
  • Fever

The severity of these symptoms can be life-threatening, and so anyone who has developed a physical dependence on alcohol must undergo detox under the supervision and care of medical professionals. This ensures that you are as comfortable as possible during the detox process, and that your symptoms are safely and consistently monitored and treated.

Are hangovers a form of withdrawal?

Though hangovers and the early stage of alcohol withdrawal share some similar symptoms, these are two separate conditions. A hangover is always related to the body’s response to the toxicity of alcohol, while withdrawal is driven by the body’s physical dependence on alcohol and is caused by the altered state of the central nervous system in response to regular intake of alcohol. Hangovers tend to pass within 24 hours, while alcohol withdrawal can take much longer.

Do You Have an Alcohol Addiction?

You may be telling yourself that you don’t drink enough to have formed an alcohol addiction. However, not all people need to drink the same amount or at the same frequency to become dependent on alcohol. 

Generally, drinking within suggested limits will reduce the risk of addiction. For men, this is no more than four drinks per day, and no more than 14 drinks per week; for women, this is no more than three drinks per day, and no more than 7 drinks per week. The size of the drinks are determined by the type of alcohol being consumed.

However, if you are regularly drinking in excess of these amounts, or you have other risk factors such as a family history of alcohol addiction, this can raise the possibility of developing an alcohol dependence. Some common signs of addiction include:

  • Regular cravings for alcohol
  • Drinking at unusual or inappropriate times, like in the morning or before driving
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed hobbies or relationships
  • Heightened feelings of loneliness
  • Guilt or shame
  • Depression
  • Professional or legal challenges related to drinking
  • Symptoms of withdrawal when not consuming alcohol

People who have developed an addiction to alcohol need professional treatment, including medically-assisted detox, in order to safely and successfully overcome dependency.

What Does Treatment for Alcohol Addiction Include?

Making the decision to seek treatment for alcohol addiction is an incredibly important step towards a long-term recovery. People who have developed a physical dependency on alcohol will first go through a medically-supervised detox process in order to wean the body off of alcohol and safely recalibrate the central nervous system. The detox process may include the use of medications or other medical interventions based on the body’s level of dependency, and will aim to make you as comfortable as possible.

Following detox, psychotherapy like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is needed in order to help identify root causes of alcohol abuse and transform problematic patterns of thought and behaviour in order to “rewire” the brain away from addiction. This can be undertaken in an individual or group setting, or both. Therapists will likely also recommend wellness practices such as yoga, meditation, or exercise to help rehabilitate the body and foster a healthy mind-body connection. 

Living Life Free from Alcohol with The Dawn

At The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab – an international alcohol rehab in Thailand, we offer a Signature Addiction Programme for individuals suffering from substance use disorders; behavioural addictions and co-occurring disorders. The fundamental objective of our programme is for clients to achieve and maintain long-term recovery by equipping each individual with a personalised set of coping tools to use when dealing with life’s challenges, thereby extinguishing the desire to use again.

24 Hour Medical Support and Onsite Detox

If you are looking for safe alcohol detox Thailand, The Dawn is able to offer medically-assisted detox for moderate-case clients. Our 24 hour onsite professional nursing team will carefully monitor the client throughout this process under the supervision of our psychiatrist, who will prescribe medication as necessary to ease withdrawal symptoms. If an emergency need arises, clients will immediately be admitted to a nearby hospital.

Internationally Accredited Thailand Alcohol Rehab

Internationally accredited by the American Accreditation Commission International, The Dawn offers tailormade treatment plans that cater to each individual’s needs by using a comprehensive, holistic treatment method and modern techniques with proven results.

Our centre is conveniently located just outside the beautiful city of Chiang Mai, Thailand, a one-hour flight from the country’s capital of Bangkok. At our tranquil riverfront property, surrounded by picturesque rice fields and traditional Thai villages, you are completely removed from your triggers – the people, places and things that contribute to your drinking – and immersed in a safe and soothing environment. 

If you are concerned about your drinking and want to make a change, call The Dawn today to learn more about how we can help.

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