Montreal, July 26th, 2012 – Even after “sleeping it off,” even after all the alcohol you’ve drunk has been metabolized by your body, even if your blood alcohol content is back to zero, abusive drinking has long-lasting effects and you may not be in full possession of your faculties for a full 24 hours after the drinking stops. That is the main conclusion of an Éduc’alcool report on alcohol hangover, which was released today as the latest publication in the Alcohol and Health series.

“After a bout of heavy drinking, discomfort and distress occur when blood alcohol content begins to drop. Symptoms peak when blood alcohol content is back to zero,” said Hubert Sacy, Director General of Éduc’alcool.

A hangover can be dangerous

When you have a hangover, you can feel terrible. And a headache, the shakes, sweating, and difficulty concentrating and seeing clearly can be just as dangerous as being drunk. Under such circumstances, it is ill-advised and irresponsible to drive, operate machinery or tools, engage in dangerous physical activity, assume responsible for the safety of others or making important decisions.

This warning applies to all drinkers, but young people should be particularly careful. Young people tend to get drunk more often than older people and they report hangover symptoms more frequently. Many young people also have seasonal jobs that involve physical activity or supervising the safety of others: think camp counsellors, sports instructors and lifeguards, for example. In such situations, a hangover is not just unpleasant, it is serious and dangerous. It may also be criminal.

“Therefore, if you want to remain in full possession of your faculties, you really must stick to the low-risk drinking guidelines and understand clearly that there are serious problems associated with excessive drinking, even if it’s only occasional. It is far better to drink a little bit regularly than a great deal occasionally,” added Hubert Sacy, noting that it was the Lifesaving Society that brought to Éduc’alcool’s attention the need to make people more aware of the problems related to hangover.

Acetaminophen and ibuprofen: not always the best solution

While headache is a symptom reported by almost 90% of people suffering from hangover, Éduc’alcool notes that it may not always be wise to take acetaminophen (Tylenol) for the pain. Acetaminophen is fine for occasional drinkers who drink too much on a particular occasion, but it is strictly contraindicated for people with an alcohol dependency (alcoholics) who already have liver problems. In such individuals, the interaction between alcohol and acetaminophen significantly increases the risk of liver toxicity and may cause liver lesions, even when the medication is taken the next day.

Depending on individual sensitivity, combining alcohol with acetylsalicylic acid (ASA, Aspirin) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) may also be a bad idea. In people who are prone to gastro-intestinal problems, these medications can exacerbate the irritating effects of alcohol.

“The only safe way to treat the pain and discomfort of a hangover is to practice healthy living: exercise to increase oxygen supply, rehydrate by drinking plenty of water, and eat lightly. After that, only time will help,” concluded Hubert Sacy.

Statistics tell the story: one in ten drinkers is affected

Among Quebecers aged 12 and over, 26% of men and 11% of women have had five drinks or more on a single occasion at least once in the last year. The percentages are significantly higher among young people. A full 40% of 18 to 24-year-olds say they have drunk abusively in the last year.

With the latest research showing that approximately 75% of those who drink to excess will have a hangover, we can estimate that, here in Quebec, almost one in ten drinkers has a hangover relatively regularly. On the other hand, about 25% of drinkers do not display hangover symptoms, even after drinking heavily. The difference would appear to be primarily genetic, but the data is not conclusive.

Content and availability of the publication

The new Éduc’alcool report is intended to demystify the phenomenon of the hangover and separate myth from fact about this other unpleasant consequence of excessive drinking.

The report discusses symptoms, causes and risk factors, and briefly reviews the complications and often underestimated consequences of a hangover. It concludes with information on prevention.

Order the publication