Urinary excretion of methanol and 5-hydroxytryptophol as biochemical markers of recent drinking in the hangover state

Alcohol Alcohol. 1998 Jul-Aug;33(4):431-8. doi: 10.1093/oxfordjournals.alcalc.a008415.


Twenty healthy social drinkers (9 women and 11 men) drank either 50 g of ethanol (mean intake 0.75 g/kg) or 80 g (mean 1.07 g/kg) according to choice as white wine or export beer in the evening over 2 h with a meal. After the end of drinking, at bedtime, in the following morning after waking-up, and on two further occasions during the morning and early afternoon, breath-alcohol tests were performed and samples of urine were collected for analysis of ethanol and methanol and the 5-hydroxytryptophol (5-HTOL) to 5-hydroxyindol-3-ylacetic acid (5-HIAA) ratio. The participants were also asked to quantify the intensity of hangover symptoms (headache, nausea, anxiety, drowsiness, fatigue, muscle aches, vertigo) on a scale from 0 (no symptoms) to 5 (severe symptoms). The first morning urine void collected 6-11 h after bedtime as a rule contained measurable amounts of ethanol, being 0.09 +/- 0.03 g/l (mean +/- SD) after 50 g and 0.38 +/- 0.1 g/l after 80 g ethanol. The corresponding breath-alcohol concentrations were zero, except for three individuals who registered 0.01-0.09g/l. Ethanol was not measurable in urine samples collected later in the morning and early afternoon. The peak urinary methanol occurred in the first morning void, when the mean concentration after 80 g ethanol was approximately 6-fold higher than pre-drinking values. This compares with a approximately 50-fold increase for the 5-HTOL/5-HIAA ratio in the first morning void. Both methanol and the 5-HTOL/5-HIAA ratio remained elevated above pre-drinking baseline values in the second and sometimes even the third morning voids. Most subjects experienced only mild hangover symptoms after drinking 50 g ethanol (mean score 2.4 +/- 2.6), but the scores were significantly higher after drinking 80 g (7.8 +/- 7.1). The most common symptoms were headache, drowsiness, and fatigue. A highly significant correlation (r = 0.62-0.75, P <0.01) was found between the presence of headache, nausea, and vertigo and the urinary methanol concentration in the first and second morning voids, whereas 5-HTOL/5-HIAA correlated with headache and nausea. These results show that analysing urinary methanol and 5-HTOL furnishes a way to disclose recent drinking after alcohol has no longer been measurable by conventional breath-alcohol tests for at least 5-10h. The results also support the notion that methanol may be an important factor in the aetiology of hangover.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / urine*
  • Breath Tests
  • Chromatography, Gas
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Ethanol / administration & dosage
  • Ethanol / urine
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydroxyindoleacetic Acid / urine
  • Hydroxytryptophol / urine*
  • Male
  • Methanol / urine*


  • Hydroxytryptophol
  • Ethanol
  • Hydroxyindoleacetic Acid
  • Methanol