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Can You Die From a Hangover?

Answering the question you ask yourself every Saturday morning.

by Wendy Syfret
Aug 1 2015, 1:18am

This weekend, many of us will go out, drink a million beers, decide to order table fries, eat all those fries ourselves, decide we want to feel classy and switch to red wine, spill the wine, feel embarrassed, and buy everyone another round of beers. A few hours later we'll wake up and think, please dear god, let that be sweat not pee.

Once we've ascertained whether or not we've pissed ourselves, we'll reach for our phones and type the same eternal question into Google: Can you die from a hangover?

Dr James Siox, the director of Clinical Toxicology at the National Institute of Integrative Medicine, can answer this question. Toxicology is the study of the effects environmental and endogenous toxicants have on the body. In short, he's an expert in what all the poisonous stuff we come in contact with, by mistake or mixed with pineapple juice, does to us.

When we called him and asked straight up if you could die from a hangover he immediately assured us, "No. Not from a hangover". He explained that most of the dangers of drinking are in the night before, not the morning after. But he did warn, "It's possible to have such a large amount of alcohol it becomes toxic to the system". However, if you manage to wake up the next day without alcohol poisoning, you're probably okay.

In other words, once you regain consciousness, you're mostly out of danger. But you're not 100 percent out of the woods, the symptoms brought on by hangovers can trigger other issues. Alcohol makes you pee a lot because it fucks with vasopressin, the hormone that makes you not want to pee. When you pee a lot, you lose salt, potassium, throw your electrolytes out of whack and put strain on your heart and kidneys. It you happen to be vomiting too, you're getting these effects double time. All this leads to dehydration, which can kill you.

But along with all this physical pain, let's not overlook the crippling anxiety, depression, and sense of doom that accompanies the worst hangovers. Dr Siox explains chirpily that booze has a way of interfering with communications pathways in the brain: "It depends on the person and the different neural pathways, but if you're predisposed to anxiety or depression, hangovers can trigger that."

This is largely because alcohol is a depressant, and as the booze's sedating effects wear off, your body metabolises the alcohol into acetaldehyde.

Acetaldehyde is a stone cold asshole. First up, it destroys thiamine in the body, the lack of which is one of the reasons you feel so sick. But it also interferes with your body's dopamine levels, that's the chemical in your brain that makes you love all those disabled dogs you follow on Instagram. The combination of the two being depleted leaves you feeling stressed out and depressed.

Again, this is shitty but not deadly. But while a single hangover can't do much beyond leaving you dehydrated and bummed out—piling a bunch of them on top of each other is a bad idea. Ingesting a lot of alcohol over a long period of time damages your heart, causing irregularity, high blood pressure, and possibly a total failure or stroke. In short, take a break between bowel liquefying nights out.

So if you happen to be reading this in the grips of booze-fuelled waking nightmare— the good news is you're not going to die. But the bad news is, you're not going to die.

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