If you’ve done happy hour at Applebee’s, you’ve had a hangover that qualifies as a near-death experience. While you were sweating balls on your bathroom floor, you may have even genuinely wondered, can you die from a hangover? We’re about to find out (and no, we’re not going back to Applebee’s… yet).
In short, it’s unlikely that you’ll die from a hangover — that is, the physical and psychological effects of too many margaritas — but it’s possible. “The physiological and mental symptoms of a hangover begin to manifest hours after alcohol consumption has concluded, generally when blood alcohol concentration is near or at zero,” explains Lawrence Weinstein, chief medical officer of the American Addiction Centers. “If sudden death were to occur, it’s more likely that it would take place either during the active consumption period, when a significant amount of alcohol is in the bloodstream, or during a state of inebriation.”
That means, if you’ve woken up the morning after a night of heavy drinking, you’re already most likely in the clear.
That said, symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, which can manifest as a hangover, certainly have the potential to contribute to your untimely demise. “For example, alcohol increases blood pressure and can cause arrhythmia,” Weinstein says. Arrhythmia is medical jargon for an irregular heartbeat, which means you could be at increased risk of having a heart attack during a hangover, too. In fact, novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald is believed to have died from a hangover-induced heart attack.
People with diabetes also need to be especially careful during a hangover, because alcohol lowers your blood sugar levels, which can result in insulin shock, an ailment that, “if not immediately attended to, can lead to death,” Weinstein warns.
Yet another potential danger during a hangover is running out of oxygen. “The depressant nature of alcohol relaxes the throat muscles and can possibly cause you to periodically stop breathing,” says Weinstein. And if you puke too much while lying on your back, you could end up going out like Jimi Hendrix.
For all these reasons, if you suspect you have a problem with alcohol and have been drinking yourself into oblivion, rather than riding out all those hangovers that feel like death, Weinstein suggests going to rehab. There, he says you can detox “under the supervision of medical professionals who can help mitigate the withdrawal symptoms and provide medical intervention if necessary.”
The good news is that most hangovers are nothing more than a bad time, and so long as you don’t drink yourself into a coma, you should be okay. “Usually you just wish the hangover would kill you,” an r/Alcohol lurker says in response to one of my posts. “Worst I had lasted three days. From that episode, I learned a number of things: (1) Don’t drink your feelings. (2) Cheap booze is never your friend. (3) God is not merciful when you’re praying at the porcelain altar.”
Good points all around. Now who’s up for Applebee’s?