Alcohol Hangover: Underlying Biochemical, Inflammatory and Neurochemical Mechanisms

Alcohol Alcohol. 2019 May 1;54(3):196-203. doi: 10.1093/alcalc/agz016.


Aim: To review current alcohol hangover research in animals and humans and evaluate key evidence for contributing biological factors.

Method: Narrative review with alcohol hangover defined as the state the day after a single episode of heavy drinking, when the alcohol concentration in the blood approaches zero.

Results: Many of the human studies of hangover are not well controlled, with subjects consuming different concentrations of alcohol over variable time periods and evaluation not blinded. Also, studies have measured different symptoms and use varying methods of measurement. Animal studies show variations with respect to the route of administration (intragastric or intraperitoneal), the behavioural tests utilised and discrepancy in the timepoint used for hangover onset. Human studies have the advantage over animal models of being able to assess subjective hangover severity and its correlation with specific behaviours and/or biochemical markers. However, animal models provide valuable insight into the neural mechanisms of hangover. Despite such limitations, several hangover models have identified pathological changes which correlate with the hangover state. We review studies examining the contribution of alcohol's metabolites, neurotransmitter changes with particular reference to glutamate, neuroinflammation and ingested congeners to hangover severity.

Conclusion: Alcohol metabolites, neurotransmitter alterations, inflammatory factors and mitochondrial dysfunction are the most likely factors in hangover pathology. Future research should aim to investigate the relationship between these factors and their causal role.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholic Intoxication / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Ethanol / adverse effects
  • Ethanol / pharmacokinetics*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / chemically induced
  • Inflammation / metabolism*
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism*


  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Ethanol