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The true hazards of a hangover

Last Modified: December 30, 2019

Safety & Prevention


For many, the pandemic has led to increased alcohol consumption. Joanna Ralstin, paramedic, Parkview Samaritan MICU, and Rose Hathaway, EMT, Parkview Samaritan MICU, caution those who plan to partake this weekend – think before you drink.

Alcohol can have many negative effects on the human body, from short-term memory loss to long-term kidney failure and even death. When ingested, alcohol is broken down by the body and the ethanol is absorbed directly into the bloodstream from the stomach. Ethanol molecules are so small that they fill in the gaps between brain cells, inhibiting neurotransmitters that prevent messages from traveling to and from the brain normally.

The dangerous side effects of alcohol

Drunkenness. Drinking too much alcohol and ingesting excessive ethanol causes drunkenness, which  interferes with information being transmitted from brain cell to brain cell. The more alcohol in the bloodstream, the more areas of the brain that are affected. The ethanol within the brain inhibits our ability to make rational decisions, inhibits our fine motor reflexes and coordination, and eventually, will affect the medulla, causing a complete loss of consciousness resulting in a coma and, if not treated, death.

Trauma. Too much alcohol can cause more pain than just a headache the next day. The same neurotransmitters that are blocked from performing fine motor commands, coordination and breathing also affect the pain sensors. When drunk, the body can be seriously injured without the associated pain to alert us to stop the cause of injury.  This lack of pain does not prevent damage to tissues, the injury still occurs, you just may not know you have been injured until the effects of the alcohol have worn off.

Dehydration. Alcohol has a diuretic effect. The ethanol in alcohol affects the pituitary and hypothalamus, which normally release antidiuretic hormone (ADH) to indicate to the body when to retain or release water by urination. The ethanol inhibits the brain’s ability to sense when water needs to be retained, ADH is not released, and urination frequency and amount is increased.

Hypoglycemia and Acidosis. Due to the slowed metabolism of the body, it's unable to produce enough glucose to fuel itself, which results in a bad mood, overall feeling of weakness and irritability. This also causes the body to become acidotic from the inability to generate energy from glucose and is forced to obtain energy from the breakdown of fats.

Productivity. Several studies show that even when a person actually shows up to work, they are less productive when suffering from a hangover. The brain has not regained its full capacity. This increases the risk of accidental death and injuries in the workplace.


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