Hangovers and Blackouts

Symptoms of Overindulgence

Hangovers and blackouts are most associated with alcohol, but they can occur with other types of drug use. Hangovers can make it difficult for the individual to function the next day. Blackouts can be a particularly distressing symptom of alcohol or drug abuse because it means not remembering parts of the night before.

It is common for people to occasionally feel a bit ill after a night out drinking and this does not mean they are an alcoholic. It is only when these symptoms appear regularly that there is cause for concern. Amnesia caused by substance use is a far more worrying symptom, but it may be common even for social drinkers.

Blackout Defined

A blackout is a loss of memory caused by excessive alcohol intake or drug use. These substances cause disruption to the ability of the brain to form long-term memories. This interference occurs at the hippocampus region of the brain. The loss of memory can be fragmentary or complete. It does not damage previous long-term memories. The occurrence of this type of memory loss is usually associated with a rapid rise in blood alcohol content.

This amnesia caused by alcohol and other substances can lead to all sorts of problems. The individual may feel troubled because they are unable to remember their actions the night before. They may even wake up with a complete stranger in the bed beside them. There are also many instances of people committing criminal acts during these lost hours. It is hard for the individual to defend their actions if they can’t remember them.

Substances that Can Cause Blackout

Although blackout is most associated with alcohol it can also be caused by other drugs such as:

* Marijuana
* LSD
* Rohypnol (date rape drug)
* Valium (diazepam)
* Clonazepam
* Phenobarbital
* Xanax (Alprazolam)

Hangover Defined

The medical term for an alcohol hangover is veisalgia and this Norwegian word means uneasiness following debauchery. It refers to a group of symptoms that people will experience the morning after excessive drinking. The individual with veisalgia can experience any of the following:

* Nausea and Vomiting
* Diarrhea
* Body aches
* Impaired thinking and inability to concentrate
* Irritability and moodiness
* Lack of energy
* Loss of appetite
* Headaches
* Dizzy spells
* Sensitivity to light or sound
* Excessive thirst
* Body tremors
* Anxiety
* Depression

Causes of Hangover (Veisalgia)

The hangover associated with excessive consumption of alcohol occurs because of:

* This drug causes blood vessels to expand and this is what causes headaches.
* Alcohol is a diuretic and this means that it increases urine production. Even though the individual may have been drinking a lot they can still end up dehydrated the next day.
* The lining of the stomach becomes irritated by excessive drinking
* If the individual is alcohol dependent some of their hangover symptoms will be due to withdrawals.
* People lack energy the next day because of low blood sugar. This occurs because alcohol interferes with gluconeogenesis.
* There are toxic substances in alcoholic drinks known as congers and these can cause symptoms.
* Alcohol triggers an inflammatory response in the body
* Excessive alcohol interferes with normal sleep

The hangover effects caused by other drugs will vary depending on the substance abused. People who use stimulants such as crack or amphetamine are likely to feel depressed and paranoid the next day. If the individual has been using a combination of substances it can mean a particularly unpleasant hangover where symptoms last for days.

Reliability of Blackout as Evidence of Alcoholism

Alcoholics Anonymous has traditionally viewed blackouts as evidence for alcoholism. Things are not as simple in reality. There are many social drinkers who claim to have experienced blackouts. There are also people who abuse alcohol during a period of their life, and experience these amnesic episodes, but don’t progress into alcoholism. It is reported that as many as 51% of students may experience a blackout during their college days. There are also many alcoholics who claim to have never experienced blackouts.

It appears that blackouts are more closely associated with blood alcohol content (BAC) than the amount people drink. BAC is usually determined by the speed at which the individual drinks and whether they are drinking on an empty stomach. This explains why even social drinkers may be at risk of this type of amnesia. There is some evidence to suggest that certain people may be genetically more predisposed towards blackouts. Those individuals who have had this type of amnesia in the past are more likely to have it happen again in the future.

Hangovers and Addiction

Many social drinkers will experience the occasional hangover after a special occasion. Overindulgence in alcohol is never recommended, but so long as it does not occur too frequently there are usually no long-term health consequences. Regular hangovers are a sign that the individual is abusing alcohol or drugs. If they persist in this behavior they are likely to develop an addiction.

Hangover and Blackout Prevention

Hangovers and blackouts can make life miserable so it is best to avoid them. A blackout can be avoided by:

* Drinking within safe limits. This is two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women and those over 65 years of age. A drink refers to the equivalent of a standard beer or a glass of wine.
* Drink slowly. If people consume alcohol quickly it leads to a rapid rise in BAC thus increasing the chances of memory loss
* Never drink on an empty stomach

The above recommendations should also reduce the possibility of hangovers. Such morning after symptoms can be further avoided by:

* Keep away from dark alcoholic drinks such as whiskey, liquors, or red wine. These contain more congeners.
* Avoid mixing drinks
* Do not take any other recreational drugs with alcohol
* Alcohol should not be mixed with certain prescription medications. It is always important to follow the instructions with any prescribed drug.
* Drink water in-between alcoholic beverages.

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