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What Causes a Hangover?

Learn what happens to our bodies when we drink, why hangovers happen, and how we can treat them.


Most of us have experienced the unfortunate aftermath of drinking too much alcohol - the hangover. As divided as this world may be on many things, the one thing nearly all humans can agree on is that hangovers suck. They make you feel sick, lazy, and totally unproductive. Yet, we still continue to drink and suffer through the next day...

What is the Science of a Hangover?

There has been a ton of research around the effects of alcohol on the body, but put simply it comes down to two main categories of physiological problems:

Stuff we DO Understand:

  • Dehydration & Electrolyte imbalance; alcohol acts as a diuretic and dehydrates you quickly and easily.

Stuff we DON’T really Understand:

  • All other disruptions in many of our bodily systems like immunity, digestion, processing toxins, blood sugar, and disruption of hormones like sleep hormones as your body attempts to process what is basically a literal poison (alcohol).

The Science & Cure of Dehydration & Electrolyte Imbalance

Both of these categories of problems caused by alcohol lead to the symptoms you feel when you’re hungover - headache, nausea, fatigue, sensitivity to light, irregular bowel movements, thirst, and general crapiness. However, the main difference between just dehydration and the other “scienc-y” stuff that happens is that we understand one really well, but not so much the other.

A long time ago, science found a cure for dehydration because people used to die from dehydration like crazy due to diseases like cholera, dysteria, and other diarrheal diseases. These diseases lead to thousands of deaths every year before the 20th century, especially in third and second world countries because IVs weren’t cost effective in these places. IVs however, were the only known cure for dehydration.

It wasn’t until 1964 that US Army Captain Captain Phillips tested a simple electrolyte drink (just some water, sugar, and salt in a ratio known to absorb into the body quickly), and gave it to some cholera patients. It worked, and the formula became the official treatment for dehydration by the World Health Organization, and still is.

The formula is known as an ORS - Oral Rehydration Solution.

Is ORS the Cure for Hangovers?

You may be wondering - if much of what a hangover is, is dehydration, why don’t we just take some of this delicious sweet and salty drink and have it every time I drink to help avoid a hangover?

The answer is : you really should. But, as always, there’s a catch.

Remember that a hangover isn’t just caused by dehydration - it’s also caused by a bunch of other disruptions in your body’s systems. So, ORS formulas, although super effective at rehydrating quickly are inconclusive when it comes to helping the other things like digestion issues. Every person’s body is different in how it reacts to alcohol, and which part of their body’s are most affected. Despite that, it’s always a good and healthy thing to be hydrated.

The Conclusion:

  • Alcohol is fun, hangovers are not
  • Hangovers are caused by dehydration and other bodily system disruptions
  • We know how to cure dehydration, we don’t really know how to cure the other disruptions
  • The cheapest, easiest cure for dehydration is an ORS
  • Dehydration is bad for your health, so be healthy and drink your ORS, especially after drinking alcohol


So, drink your ORS after you’ve had alcohol, folks, there is no reason not to.