Key Differences Between Alcohol Poisoning vs Hangover

Key Differences Between Alcohol Poisoning vs Hangover

If you’ve ever consumed excessive amounts of alcohol, you might have felt a little worse for wear the next day. Most commonly, you’d be suffering from a hangover, but in some cases, it could be alcohol poisoning, which is not only more severe but requires medical attention.

In this blog post, we explore the varying symptoms and explain what you should do if you suspect you are experiencing either one.

What Is A Hangover?

A hangover is when you experience a collection of symptoms, often unpleasant, after consuming alcohol. It typically occurs the morning after a heavy night of drinking. The symptoms can vary depending on what was consumed, how much and a few other personal factors, including metabolism.

Common Hangover Symptoms

These can vary from person to person, and just because you haven’t experienced symptoms after drinking doesn’t mean you won’t in the future. The most common hangover symptoms include:

  • Headache – often caused by dehydration and blood vessel expansion.
  • Nausea and vomiting – because alcohol has irritated the stomach lining.
  • Dehydration – alcohol is a diuretic which leads to increased urination and fluid loss.
  • Weakness and fatigue – as a result of the body trying to process the alcohol and because sleep is often disrupted.
  • Aches and pains – caused by electrolyte imbalances and dehydration.
  • Light and sound sensitivity – because the nervous system has been impacted by excessive amounts of alcohol.

Why Do Hangovers Happen?

In short, alcohol disrupts the body’s natural balance, which is why hangovers occur. Alcohol is a diuretic, which means urine production increases and excess fluid is lost, resulting in dehydration. This loss of fluids also leads to electrolyte imbalance. In addition, the acidic nature of alcohol irritates the stomach lining, increasing acid production and gastrointestinal issues.

Alcohol can also cause a drop in blood sugar levels, which again can cause common hangover symptoms. What’s more, as the body tries to process and metabolise alcohol, it produces a toxic substance called acetaldehyde, which triggers hangover systems. Dark liquors contain a byproduct of alcohol fermentation, known as congeners, which can worsen these symptoms. Finally, while some people believe they sleep more soundly after alcohol, research shows that it actually affects sleep quality, which again can worsen symptoms.


What Is Alcohol Poisoning?

In contrast to a hangover, alcohol poisoning is a severe and potentially dangerous condition that is caused by the consumption of a large amount of alcohol in a short period. When alcohol poisoning is happening, the body cannot process the alcohol present, which leads to dangerous levels of intoxication and serious health concerns.

Common Symptoms Of Alcohol Poisoning

  • Confusion – inability to maintain focus or think clearly.
  • Vomiting – which can lead to dangerous levels of dehydration.
  • Seizures – uncontrollable shaking as a result of abnormal brain activity.
  • Breathing problems – slow breathing (fewer than 8 breaths per minute or gaps of more than 10 seconds between breaths).
  • Hypothermia – body temperature drops, and skin can appear pale or even blue.
  • Unconsciousness – difficulty waking up or drowsiness, and can cause the risk of choking on vomit.

Alcohol poisoning is a medical emergency. If you believe you or someone you know is suffering from it, it’s important to get help straight away.


Alcohol Poisoning Vs Hangover: Comparing The Symptoms

When looking at alcohol poisoning vs a hangover, both are caused by excessive alcohol consumption, and they both share similar symptoms, they do differ. Namely in the severity of the condition and how quickly they require medical attention.

Whereas common symptoms of a hangover can be treated at home with rest, water and nutritious food, alcohol poisoning usually requires medical treatment. Hangovers, while uncomfortable, are usually not life-threatening, but alcohol poisoning can be if not treated effectively.


The Causes And Risk Factors

Hangovers are most commonly caused by the quantity of alcohol consumed, the type of alcohol consumed and how hydrated your body was before drinking. Studies show that the more alcohol you drink, the worse the hangover is likely to be. What’s more, darker liquor contains congeners, which are known to worsen hangovers.

In contrast, alcohol poisoning commonly occurs when someone has consumed a high level of alcohol in a short period of time, such as binge drinking episodes. Those who are smaller in body size and have a lower alcohol tolerance are typically more at risk of suffering from alcohol poisoning. What’s more, mixing alcohol with drugs – especially depressants – can increase the effect of alcohol and lead to more severe reactions.

Anyone can experience a hangover or alcohol poisoning if they have consumed alcohol, but some people may be more at risk. This includes women and younger individuals who typically have a lower tolerance to alcohol. What’s more, those with pre-existing health conditions may also be at risk because their medical status can worsen effects. Genetics also influences how the body processes alcohol, which means some individuals can be more prone to hangovers and alcohol poisoning.


Treatment And Recovery

Most hangovers can be treated at home with rest, hydration, and medication available over the counter. Be sure to drink plenty of water or electrolyte solutions to rehydrate your body and take pain relief for headaches and muscle aches if needed. Sleep helps your body recover, so prioritise rest and try to eat healthy and bland food like toast and crackers if you’re struggling to keep things down.

In contrast, alcohol poisoning needs medical attention, so it’s important to call emergency services straight away if you think you or someone you know is suffering from it. Ensure the individual is on their side to prevent them from choking on vomit, monitor their breathing, keep them warm and try to keep them awake. If someone is suffering from alcohol poisoning, they must not be left alone. Instead, ensure they get the appropriate medical care and attention quickly.


Tips for Avoiding Hangovers and Alcohol Poisoning

To avoid hangovers or alcohol poisoning, follow these tips:

  • Practise responsible drinking – limit the amount you drink and pace yourself.
  • Eat before drinking – food helps to absorb alcohol and reduce its effects.
  • Stay hydrated – drinking water between alcoholic beverages can reduce its overall effects.
  • Avoid mixing – Stick to one alcoholic drink type, and don’t combine it with drugs.

When consuming alcohol, it’s also important to understand your own tolerance and stick to personal limits. This can not only help to maintain your overall health but also promote a safer drinking culture.

If you have any questions about the differences between alcohol poisoning vs hangover signs and feel worried about your own or a loved one’s alcohol intake, get in touch with our friendly team. We can help you to recognise the symptoms, take preventative measures and ensure that you are protecting your overall health and wellbeing when it comes to alcohol consumption.