How Hangover Episodes May Be a Sign of Developing Alcohol Dependence
After a long night of drinking or an especially wild party, it’s not uncommon to wake up the next morning with a hangover. A hangover episode can easily set the tone for the day in terms of the overall feeling of malaise it brings it about, making it difficult to fulfill work and family obligations.
For someone who experiences hangover episodes on a regular basis, the ongoing effects of alcohol on the brain’s delicate chemical system can easily set the stage for alcohol dependence to take shape.
What Causes Hangover Episodes?
The brain uses neurotransmitter chemicals to maintain a chemical and electrical equilibrium capable of regulating the body’s major systems. According to Scripps Research Institute, this equilibrium works to maintain a balance of inhibitory and excitatory chemicals in the brain at all times.
Alcohol’s relaxing effects come about through its ability to alter neurotransmitter chemical outputs, which in turn offsets the brain’s natural chemical balance. Ingesting large amounts of alcohol forces the brain to adapt to alcohol’s effects by desensitizing affected chemical processes, which causes an increase in brain tolerance levels. Once tolerance levels increase, alcohol must be present at a certain amount in order for the brain to function normally.
After a bout of excess drinking, once the effects of alcohol wear off, the brain enters into a hyper-excitatory mode in attempt to compensate for the lack of alcohol. This response triggers the uncomfortable symptoms commonly experienced during a hangover episode.
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Alcohol Withdrawal Effects
During a hangover episode, alcohol withdrawal effects account for the uncomfortable physical symptoms experienced. In effect, alcohol withdrawal effects reflect the state of dysfunction taking place within the brain’s chemical system.
According to the U. S. National Library of Medicine, withdrawal effects typically take the form of:
- Frequent mood swings
- Confused thinking
- Profuse sweating
- Problems sleeping
For someone who drinks regularly, it’s not uncommon to consume more alcohol in an effort to gain relief from uncomfortable withdrawal effects. This practice plays a pivotal role in the development of alcohol dependence.
With regular alcohol use, experiencing repeated hangover episodes starts to take a toll on the brain’s ability to recover from alcohol’s effects. Consequently, drinkers start to experience considerable anxiety when the brain’s in “need” of more alcohol. This condition makes a person especially sensitive to daily life stressors.
According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism, this anxiety response greatly contributes to continued alcohol abuse and paves the way for alcohol dependence to develop. In effect, alcohol interferes with the brain’s ability to manage stress to the point where a person becomes dependent on alcohol’s effects to handle daily life stressors. This not only perpetuates the alcohol dependence cycle, but also sets a sure course for addiction to develop.
While the occasional hangover episode may pose little risk of engaging in regular alcohol use, any time a pattern of drinking develops, the withdrawal effects brought on by hangovers predispose a person to developing alcohol dependence. Without needed treatment help, this cycle of alcohol abuse and dependence will continue on indefinitely making it increasingly difficult for a person to break free of alcohol’s hold.
If you suspect you or someone you know struggles with alcohol dependence and need help finding treatment that meets your needs, please feel free to call our toll-free helpline at 800-481-6320 to speak with one of our addictions specialists.
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