Staying hydrated, resting, and taking over-the-counter medication can help with nausea, vomiting, and other hangover symptoms. Severe illness could be a sign of alcohol poisoning, which can be fatal. Alcohol poisoning requires immediate medical attention.
Throwing up is your body’s way of ridding itself of a toxin — in this case, alcohol. While vomiting may make you feel awful for a day or two, prolonged exposure to excess toxins have long-term effects.
That’s why it’s best to let your body do its thing, while taking steps to prevent complications like dehydration. Dehydration can affect your body’s ability to function, and can even damage your kidneys.
Drinking small sips of clear liquids periodically can help prevent dehydration from occurring. You might have better luck keeping fluids down if you wait until about 30 minutes have passed since you last threw up.
To minimize nausea and other side effects:
- Eat small amounts of bland food. Crackers and toast, for example, are unlikely to cause further irritation. Just remember to go slow. Small bites every so often can make a big difference.
- Get plenty of rest. Do what you can to take it easy after drinking — particularly in excess — or developing a hangover. Sleeping it off can help you feel better.
- Avoid drinking. “Hair of the dog” may reduce your symptoms temporarily, but they’ll return when your blood alcohol levels return to zero. Wait a few days before drinking again so that your body has time to recover.
- Take an over-the-counter pain reliever. Stick to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like aspirin (Bayer) and ibuprofen (Advil). Taking the medication with small bites of food can help prevent stomach upset.
Signs of alcohol poisoning
Alcohol poisoning is more intense than a hangover, and it usually happens much faster. Throwing up while still drinking or shortly after could be the result of alcohol poisoning.
Alcohol poisoning can also cause:
- clammy skin that’s cool to the touch
- dozing off, even when trying to stay awake
- irregular breathing, or gaps of more than 10 seconds between breaths
- skin that looks pale or ashen, blue, or gray
- slowed breathing, or fewer than 8 breaths per minute
If you see a person you think may be experiencing alcohol poisoning, try to keep them sitting up or put them in the recovery position. Alcohol poisoning affects the gag reflex, so vomiting can lead to choking.
Call your local emergency services and stay with them until help arrives. Try to keep them awake.
You’ll probably notice one suggestion that didn’t make the list: intentionally making yourself throw up after drinking.
While you may have a friend that swears by this approach, it’s a dangerous one. Making yourself throw up can put greater strain on your esophagus. You’re more likely to experience small tears that can damage the esophagus and potentially lead to bleeding.
Intentional vomiting also increases your risk for acid reflux, damage to your teeth, and aspiration. This is when your stomach contents accidentally go into your lungs.
If you feel like you’re going to vomit, it’s best to let it happen naturally. You’ll retch less and reduce your risk for additional health problems that can happen when you make yourself throw up.
While it doesn’t always feel like it, vomiting is one of your body’s protective reflexes against toxins.
Your body can’t keep up
When you drink alcohol, your body breaks it down into acetaldehyde. Your liver neutralizes acetaldehyde with a substance it makes called glutathione.
If you drink too much too quickly, your liver doesn’t have time to make enough glutathione to process the alcohol.
Eventually, your body realizes the liver isn’t going to be able to keep up with how much acetaldehyde is present and gets rid of it through vomiting.
Alcohol irritates the stomach lining
In addition to the buildup of acetaldehyde, excess alcohol can irritate the stomach lining.
This causes a buildup of acid that makes you feel more nauseated.
Chronic alcohol exposure may cause gastritis
People who drink alcohol to excess on a regular basis are at increased risk for gastritis. Chronic alcohol exposure can weaken and erode the lining of your stomach.
There are times when throwing up after drinking turns from something you’ll get over to something you need to see a doctor for.
Seek medical treatment if you:
- are throwing up blood
- are unable to keep any fluids or food down
- have a fever higher than 102°F (39°C)
- have been continuously vomiting for more than 24 hours
- have signs of dehydration, such as dizziness, dark urine, or inability to pee for some time