After a night of excessive drinking the morning brings with it the unpleasant effects of a hangover. The intensity of the hangover will be directly related to the amount of alcohol consumed, so symptoms can range dramatically from mild to those that mimic alcohol withdrawals. The hangover may last for one day or up to three days, again, depending on various factors such as the amount of liquor consumed, the age, sex, and size of the individual, and whether that person drinks regularly or only over-indulges occasionally.
As you sit there shivering next to the toilet you might wonder Do I have alcohol poisoning or a bad hangover? As horrible as one might feel after a night of heavy intoxication, the hangover pales in comparison to alcohol poisoning. People don’t die from a hangover, but alcohol poisoning takes six lives every single day, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Alcohol poisoning is a serious health emergency that requires immediate medical intervention. A hangover is basically the body punishing the individual for over burdening it with toxins related to excessive alcohol consumption the night before. So, the answer to the question, “Do I have alcohol poisoning or a bad hangover?” is simply, it’s a hangover.
What Is a Hangover?
A hangover is not a life-threatening event, even if it may feel like one while experiencing one. As the body attempts to expel the toxins associated with ethanol the individual will experience several highly unpleasant physical and psychological effects. As the alcohol consumption incrementally increased over a period of several hours the night before, the alcohol level will eventual plummet by the next morning, sending the body into mild withdrawal symptoms that are exacerbated by dehydration.
Hangover symptoms may include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Excessive thirst and dry mouth
- Sensitivity to light and sounds
- Dizziness or a sensation that the room is spinning
- Muscles aches
- Mental confusion
- Decreased concentration
- Sleep disturbance
- Feelings of anxiety
Alcohol overuse can trigger a variety of physiological responses, such as the inflammatory response, dehydration, irritation of the stomach lining, expanding of blood vessels, and a decrease in blood sugar. These responses then cause the physical symptoms experienced in a hangover.
Treatment for a Hangover
Although there is no silver bullet for surviving a hangover, there are some simple steps to take that can aid in mitigating the symptoms somewhat. Drinking lots of water, as well as Gatorade or Pedialyte to help replace electrolytes is said to help. Some people swear by high carbohydrate foods if one can bring themselves to eat, Pepto-Bismol for aiding stomach distress, and ibuprofen for headache and muscle aches. Time is the most effective cure for a hangover.
What is Alcohol Poisoning?
Alcohol poisoning occurs while the individual is still in the process of excessive drinking. Alcohol poisoning is caused by binge drinking, or consuming a large quantity of alcohol in a short period of time. This equates to more toxins than the body can adequately metabolize, overwhelming the liver.
Symptoms of alcohol poisoning may include:
- Mental confusion or stupor
- Profuse vomiting
- Slowed or irregular breathing
- Low body temperature and chills
- Decreased blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Pale skin or blue-tinged fingertips
One of the most common causes of death due to alcohol poisoning involves the loss of the gag reflex allowing the person to suffocate on their vomit.
Treatment for Alcohol Poisoning
When someone exhibits some of the symptoms of alcohol poisoning after engaging in binge drinking, it is imperative that they receive immediate medical help. Once they are admitted into the emergency department, the individual will be carefully monitored to assist with breathing and prevent choking. Oxygen therapy is given and I.V. fluids are administered to prevent dehydration, along with glucose and vitamins. In some cases, the individual will have their stomach pumped to evacuate excess alcohol from the system.
Do I Need Rehab?
When disordered alcohol consumption leads to alcohol poisoning or terrible hangovers it is time to consider rehab for an alcohol use disorder. Someone who only occasionally over indulges is probably not in need of a formal rehab program, although that changes if the binge drinking continues on. For many who abuse alcohol, rehab may be an appropriate offensive measure to rein in the behaviors before they lead to a more severe problem.
If you have to ask the question—Do I have alcohol poisoning or a bad hangover?—you may have an alcohol use disorder. If that is the case, you may benefit from an inpatient or outpatient alcohol treatment program. These programs can help you examine your drinking behaviors and motivations, and help you make significant changes in those thoughts that trigger addictive behaviors. If there is an underlying emotional issue involved that is driving the alcohol abuse, that can also be identified and processed, helping you to overcome that pain and find healthy methods of managing emotions.
Signs that someone will benefit from a rehab program include:
- Drinking alone often
- Experiencing blackouts, loss of memory
- Isolating behaviors, withdrawing socially
- Alcohol cravings
- Obsessed with obtaining alcohol, planning to drink
- Relationship problems
- Neglect responsibilities
- Increased tolerance to alcohol, must drink more to get the desired effect
- Legal problems, such as getting arrested for DUI
- Lying about how much one drinks, hiding alcohol in the house or at work
- Experience withdrawal symptoms when not drinking
What to Expect in Alcohol Detox
If the alcohol abuse has been longstanding, medical detox will be the first step of the treatment program. During a medical detox, a team of trained detox professionals will supervise your withdrawal symptoms and offer medical interventions to ease the withdrawal symptoms, helping to successfully guide you to the other side of detox.
When someone with an alcohol use disorder withholds alcohol, the body will begin to experience the destabilizing effects of the brain attempting to adjust. The brain had, over time, developed new neural pathways in response to ongoing heavy alcohol consumption. When alcohol is suddenly withheld, the withdrawal symptoms emerge.
Common alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:
- Hand tremors
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid heart rate
More severe withdrawal symptoms include:
- Mood swings
- Body shakes
- Mental confusion
The medical detox process will be closely monitored and medications, such as benzodiazepines and over-the-counter medications, will be provided to help reduce the severity of the withdrawal symptoms.
Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)
Once detox is completed, the active treatment phase of recovery begins. During this phase, there will be a multi-pronged treatment approach that offers a comprehensive menu of therapeutic activities to help make constructive behavioral changes. These therapies can be accessed in either an outpatient program, allowing you to reside at home while going through the program, or an inpatient program, which involves a period of living at the treatment center.
An inpatient, or residential, alcohol recovery program will last anywhere from 1-9 months in duration, depending on the severity of the AUD. Generally, the longer the stay, the better the recovery outcome, as it takes months to make lasting changes in habits while the body adjusts to a sober lifestyle. An inpatient rehab provides 24-hour support and monitoring in a structured environment. The individual will be provided with multiple scheduled therapeutic activities throughout each day.
Treatment consists of the following interventions:
- Individual psychotherapy
- Group therapy
- Family-focused therapy
- Couple counseling
- Medication management, if naltrexone is introduced
- 12-step or similar recovery meetings
- Alcohol addiction education
- Relapse prevention planning
- Holistic therapies
- Nutritional counseling
- Recreational activities
Each of these treatment elements amplifies the effort to make fundamental changes in behaviors in response to triggers. In addition, the holistic activities can introduce coping skills to help regulate stress, which is a common relapse trigger. Individuals also acquire other life skills that will assist them in recovery, including learning how to manage emotions, anger, and conflicts.
Continuing Care for a Stable Recovery
Going through a medical detox and rehab program will launch recovery, but not sustain sobriety on its own. Following treatment, ongoing weekly therapy sessions and involvement in a local recovery support group can help sustain recovery long-term. By accessing continuing care services, the individual in early recovery will be provided with important sources of support. These include:
- Sober living. Involves a short stay in drug and alcohol-free housing. Drug and alcohol testing and house management help deter relapse. Sober living is an excellent option for those who do not have a supportive home environment.
- Recovery community. Attending and participating in a recovery community offers social support and opportunities to make new sober friendships.
- Outpatient therapy. Having a supportive outpatient therapist can offer needed input in early recovery when encountering challenges to sobriety.
Lifestyle modifications are also beneficial to the individual in alcohol recovery. Integrating regular exercise and a healthy diet help improve overall mental and physical wellness, which further support life in recovery.
Capo By the Sea Provides Effective Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder
Capo By the Sea is an elite addiction treatment program serving Southern California, nestled in a quiet coastal community. Capo By the Sea offers the highest grade of treatment interventions for individuals struggling with alcohol abuse or alcoholism. The tranquil seaside setting provides the perfect setting for healing and therapy, and the luxury amenities cater to every creature comfort. Call our friendly admissions staff to ask “Do I have alcohol poisoning or a bad hangover?” and they will be happy to assist you. For more information about the program, please contact Capo By the Sea today at 888-529-2114