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What Happens to Your Body When You're Hungover

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Well, here we are. Again. Staring into the mirror on a bleary-eyed Sunday morning and asking ourselves why we just had to have that last round. This time, though, we're not going to let it go. That's not our style. Instead, we're going to figure out what kind of horrible curse the hangover actually is—and whether there's any way to make it stop.

The medically accepted symptoms of a hangover include feeling fatigued, thirsty, extra sensitive to light, nauseous, unable to concentrate, dizzy, achy, sleepy, depressed, anxious, and/or irritable. Translation: Pretty much every system in your body feels like crap.

Part of this is due to the fact that ethanol, the psychoactive substance in alcohol, affects almost every neurotransmitter system in the brain. These include the heavy-hitters you’ve probably heard about, such as dopamine. Ethanol also affects the excitatory glutamate and the major inhibitory neurotransmitter, GABA. Feeling drunk is partly a product of glutamate’s activities being suppressed and GABA’s activity increasing—double the depressant effect. (In case you're wondering: Why We Drink Alcohol Even Though We Know It's Bad For Us.)

All those hangover symptoms don't just come from your brain, though. Alcohol messes with your body all over the place—especially your liver. As a detoxifying organ, the liver has a pretty big job, one that’s even bigger when it has to deal with acetalaldehyde, a toxin that’s created when we digest alcohol. Using two enzymes and the antioxidant glutathione, the liver is able to break down acetylaldehyde pretty efficiently. The problem is that we’ve got a limited amount of glutathione to work with, and it takes time for the liver to get more. This means that if we’re drinking a lot, the acetylaldehyde can be stuck hanging out for a while, causing damage. [Read the full story on Refinery29!]

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