Caesarian Sunday, a day of much drinkingTobia Nava with permission for Varsity

You’re probably all too familiar with the consequences of drinking. From lowered inhibition and loss of coordination to slurred speech and drowsiness, alcohol has various short-term impacts on our bodies. And of course, these extend well beyond your night out (regrets and embarrassment included). But you may know less about exactly what’s driving them.

Ever wondered why a kebab and chips are so desirable on the way home? Why you are so exhausted the day after? And why you are so worried about what you said and did that night?

Well, rest assured that following highly scientific hangover-inspired research, I have found the explanations …

Getting the ‘drunchies’?

We all know that the night is rarely over until you’ve eaten something ridiculously greasy on the way home. Although, let’s be real – drunk people will eat pretty much anything.

But it seems counterintuitive that alcohol causes hunger, given it is so calorie-dense. There are several proposed factors contributing to alcohol boosting the appetite. These include suppression of fatty acid oxidation (the process by which fatty acids are broken down and used for energy), which leads to feelings of hunger, and affected neurochemical systems responsible for appetite regulation. Exacerbating this is an alcohol-induced reduction in willpower, meaning that you are more likely to eat more (and more unhealthy) food than you would have intended to.

Recent research has led to another theory that the reason lies in the brain, specifically, that there is stimulation of nerve cells in the brain that increase appetite. In simple terms, your brain thinks it’s starving. Researchers demonstrated this in mice, finding that after being injected with alcohol, the mice ate significantly more than sober mice. Each injection was the mouse-equivalent of about two bottles of wine – scientifically termed to be “a proper binge session”. The researchers found spikes in electrical activity in agouti-related peptide cells (AgRP neurons), which are important in controlling hunger, usually activated by starvation. These AgRP neurons are also present in humans, and could be activated in a similar way to make us hungry after alcohol consumption.

Unfortunately, it has also been proven that eating greasy foods after drinking doesn’t magically soak up the alcohol. In reality, these foods can actually make you feel worse as your body has to work twice as hard to break down the alcohol and high levels of sodium and fat. Sorry, Gardies.

Not sleeping well?

Excessive alcohol consumption is also linked to poor sleep quality and duration so you might not sleep in that late after you’ve been drinking. So your 9am is not a valid excuse to not go out.

“Your 9am is not a valid excuse to not go out”

Having more than 1–2 drinks decreases your sleep quality by 39%. A normal sleep cycle has four different stages, the final being the important REM (rapid eye movement) stage, during which dreaming primarily takes place. REM sleep is also involved in memory consolidation and emotional processing. Alcohol can increase suppression of REM sleep in the first two cycles and because it is a sedative, often shortens sleep onset so you fall into deep sleep quite quickly. There is a resulting imbalance between REM sleep and slow-wave sleep (the restorative stage in which deep sleep happens). The reduced time spent in the REM stage lowers sleep quality.

So, be ready for a bad mood, bad concentration and bad decision-making the next day.

Feeling anxious?

Lastly, “hangxiety”. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s hangover plus anxiety. Sleep deprivation resulting from heavy drinking can exacerbate this heightened anxiety many of us experience the day after.

What causes it? Alcohol mimics GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), a calming brain chemical, which stimulates the inhibition of nerve cell activity, making us feel relaxed. Happy times. As you drink more, the alcohol starts blocking glutamate, the primary excitatory chemical in the brain, which means less anxiety. Still seems good? Wrong. Your body tries to sort the imbalance in brain chemicals by bringing GABA levels down and turning glutamate up, but it overcompensates. So when you finish drinking, you have unnaturally low GABA and a spike in glutamate. The blocking of the glutamate system also affects your memory – being unable to remember the events of the night before is naturally another key contributor to hangxiety. In addition, alcoholic drinks can contain lots of sugar; after metabolising this sugar, the body releases stress hormones to promote the release of glycogen by the liver and restore normal blood sugar levels. It can take one or two days for the levels to return to normal.

“The friends you went out with probably feel the exact same”

While the feelings are barely noticeable for some, for others they are very real, and can be reason enough to cut out alcohol completely. But rest assured that it’s totally normal to feel this way and the friends you went out with probably feel the exact same.

But what does all of this mean?


Mountain View

The joys of alcohol: the sloppy science of getting sloppy

Well, this article does absolutely nothing for your hangover – I’m a writer, not a miracle worker. But at least now you have explanations for the often confusing and unpleasant side-effects of drinking. Though, there are a few things that you can do to minimise these:

  • Eat before (and during) pres to get food in your system – preferably a balanced meal of carbs, protein and fats
  • Avoid greasy foods after drinking – water and carb-heavy foods are the ultimate cures for a hangover
  • Alternate alcoholic drinks with water or low-sugar soft drinks and have fewer caffeinated and carbonated alcoholic drinks to get better sleep
  • Eat a nutritious breakfast in the morning to help restore blood sugar levels
  • Don’t drink the morning after – it’s never the way, I promise

Hopefully this helps make the next Rumboogie, or rather, Thursday morning, slightly more enjoyable.