• By Laurel Kelly

Consumer Health: When is a hangover an emergency?

December 30, 2021
holiday champagne glasses with ribbons and sparkle

During the holiday season, it may seem like opportunities to celebrate are everywhere, and alcohol is often part of the festivities. When it comes to alcohol, though, the key is moderation. Besides the long-term risks of alcohol use, an immediate consequence is often a hangover.

A hangover is a group of unpleasant signs and symptoms that can develop after drinking too much alcohol. As a general rule, the more alcohol you drink, the more likely you are to have a hangover the next day. But no magic formula can tell you how much you can drink and still avoid a hangover.

Hangover signs and symptoms typically begin when your blood alcohol content drops significantly and is at or near zero. They're usually in full effect the morning after a night of heavy drinking, and can include fatigue, excessive thirst and dry mouth, headache, and nausea.

However unpleasant, most hangovers go away on their own. In the meantime, you can ease the discomfort by taking these measures.

Severe signs and symptoms that accompany heavy drinking may indicate alcohol poisoning, which is a life-threatening emergency.

Signs and symptoms that may indicate alcohol poisoning include:

  • Confusion.
  • Vomiting.
  • Seizures.
  • Slow breathing (less than eight breaths per minute).
  • Irregular breathing (a gap of more than 10 seconds between breaths).
  • Blue-tinged or pale skin.
  • Low body temperature.
  • Difficulty remaining conscious.
  • Passing out and can't be awakened.

A person who is unconscious or can't be awakened is at risk of dying. If you suspect that someone has alcohol poisoning — even if you don't see the classic signs and symptoms — seek immediate medical care. Here's what you need to know.

Connect with others talking about holidays, celebrations, and drinking in the Addiction & Recovery support group on Mayo Clinic Connect, an online patient community moderated by Mayo Clinic.