In the midst of a brutal hangover, as you rock in the fetal position with your bottle of Pedialyte, often the only thing that gets you through the day is knowing that eventually your hangover will pass.
For most people, hangovers will resolve within 24 hours, says Alexis Halpern, MD, emergency medicine physician at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. Sometimes, though, it seems like it takes you more than a day to fully recover. You may feel out of it, drowsy, or even nauseous the day after the brunt of the hangover happened. Could it be that hangovers can remain for more than one day? It sounds unfair, but it is possible, Dr. Halpern says.
One reason why hangovers linger is because sleep is so helpful in getting over a hangover, Dr. Halpern says. When you're drunk, you may fall asleep fast, but your sleep quality will certainly suffer, so you'll have a sleep deficit to make up in the following days. Or, if you were really tired when you were drinking, then you may not have the energy in you to bounce back, she says. "It might be that it takes going to bed the next night to really sleep well," she says.
Then, you have to factor in how much alcohol you drank. "If you drank a tremendous amount, you might not feel better after one day, and [the hangover] can last up to 72 hours," Dr. Halpern says. What many of us tend to forget when we're out getting drunk is that the rate at which you drink affects how drunk and hungover you get, she says. "The body breaks down alcohol at the same rate no matter what," she says. "So, it's not like if you drink more, your body breaks it down faster." The faster your drink, the drunker you get because your body can't keep up with metabolizing it as quickly.
Also, what you drink can impact the length and severity of your hangover, Dr. Halpern says. When you drink dark liquor like bourbon or red wine, the alcohol produces a toxic substance called congeners. "More of that can create more of a toxic effect," which of course makes you feel worse, she says. And, if you weren't drinking water while you were drinking, then afterwards you're going to feel much more miserable.
As we've said before, the only way to truly prevent a hangover is to go back in time and drink less. Eating food before drinking may also make you feel better next time (it's not that the food in your stomach absorbs the alcohol, but it makes your body absorb the alcohol slower), Dr. Halpern says. Staying hydrated while you drink and afterwards will also speed up the recovery process.
So, how can you tell if your marathon hangover needs medical attention? Dr. Halpern says if you're still having severe diarrhea, or you continue to vomit and can't hydrate yourself, then you should see a doctor. They can give you medication that stops the vomiting, and helps you hydrate. But other than that, you really should just take care of yourself, she says. "You gotta sleep, eat food, get energy in your body, and hydrate." And maybe also pray for better days and nights ahead.