Saturday, 10 March 2018

Day Eight: Sober hangovers


When will the headaches end?

So I googled something like this in the hope of finding the answer to the question friends and I have asked before - how come you can still feel like utter crap some mornings when you haven't drunk a drop?

I have had a headache for parts of most days since stopping drinking (Yay me, by the way, one week down!) and despite drinking upwards of three litres of water and green tea a day I am waking up dry mouthed and feeling dehydrated - just like after drinking a bottle or two of wine the night before.

I had drunk so much, so regularly, for so many years that I rarely had real hangovers any more. I might have this achey head, or, if I'd really hammered the grog - like adding red wine or spirits to the mix - feel a bit queasy. But almost never what most people would call a hangover.

The Prof asked me a few times over the past five years, perhaps as I opened another bottle at 10pm on a weeknight, 'Don't you ever feel sick the next day?' and I could honestly (gleefully, defiantly) say No.

So why do we suffer still when we stop drinking? 

Headaches, insomnia, and daytime sleeping are the main downsides for me at present.

The science-y bit

Withdrawal from alcohol is the obvious answer, but the Interwebs aren't tremendously helpful in this department.

Most searches for 'alcohol withdrawal symptoms' will land you on American rehab websites that are paying a lot for SEO to hog the first pages and create a terrifying scenario where every housewife can expect the DTs if she doesn't sign up for their six week in-house program.

This bit below from the Victorian Government was more helpful, describing how the neurotransmitters in the brain get disrupted by alcohol and compensate to restore a functioning balance.

Alcohol acts in the central nervous system by changing the balance of neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that send messages between nerves. Alcohol reduces the effect of excitatory neurotransmitters, and increases the effect of inhibitory neurotransmitters, altering the natural balance of the nervous system.
Over time, the brain tries to fix this imbalance by increasing the activity of the excitatory neurotransmitters and decreasing the activity of the inhibitory neurotransmitters. When alcohol is suddenly taken away, this compensatory effect keeps going, resulting in overactivity of the excitatory neurotransmitters and underactivity of the inhibitory neurotransmitters. This causes withdrawal syndrome.
But you still need a biochemical course to really make sense of it. Basically, with alcohol your brain is damped down too much so it internally revs up the neurotransmitters it needs to help it function. These revving messages keep going for a while when you have taken away the dampers, which might cause the headaches and insomnia (which in turn leads to daytime tiredness).

The good news

Hopping around to find semi-readable nuerological studies, I came across this piece of spectacularly good news.

https://academic.oup.com/brain/article/130/1/36/346458

The damage alcohol does to your brain is not just in rewiring the transmitters, it's physical harm. We've probably all seen the 'permanent brain damage' warnings about heavy drinking, but it turns out it can be healed.

The study from Brain Journal showed a 2% growth in brain size after heavy drinkers were sober for only seven or so weeks!

Something to aim for - a big fat brain and a shrinking butt.

MTC

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