Over the past two years, there’s one thing that I’ve learned about college students— they like to drink. Weekend parties are a normal part of college social life, and they often involve alcohol. At the end of a stressful week, a night out with friends can be a great way to relax and have fun. However, drinking is often taken too far, leaving students with a horrible hangover to wake up to the next morning. This alcohol related topic got me thinking— what causes a hangover in the first place? After doing some research, it became evident that there are many factors involved. Many chemical reactions are taking place within a person’s body while breaking down alcoholic beverages.
After asking a few college students around campus, it became evident that a large percentage of people view hangovers as a direct result of dehydration. However, this is not completely the case. On the website Compound Interest, I found an interesting article titled The Chemistry of a Hangover. The article pointed out some factors that are believed to contribute to hangovers. Up first is in fact dehydration, which is caused by alcohol being a diuretic, decreasing the release of the anti-diuretic hormone. To my own surprise, dehydration was not singled out as the main culprit, as research shows drinking lots of water does not always alleviate the severity of a hangover. The same article went on to show evidence that suggests acetaldehyde, produced by the breakdown of alcohol, could also be linked to hangovers. Moreover, congeners, such as methanol and tannins, have also been found to increase the severity of a hangover. When broken down in the body, these chemical compounds form toxic byproducts such as formaldehyde and formic acid.
With this thought in mind, wouldn’t it be logical to assume that alcoholic beverages that contain more congeners could be linked to causing more severe hangovers? After doing some more research, I came across another article on the website Compound Interest titled The Chemistry of Red Wine. The article focused on the different factors that contribute to a wine’s color, flavor, and potential health benefits. Anthocyanins, found in the skin of grapes, determine the acidity of a particular wine. This attribute can both be seen in the color and as well as tasted. A stronger acid leads to a lower pH, and a strong variation in color. Furthermore, flavan-3-ols have been found to determine the bitterness of a wine, which is associated both with the alcohol and antioxidant levels. Tannins in the wine react with saliva to form a precipitate, which is linked to the sensation of dryness that a wine exhibits. Thus, a higher tannin level can both be linked to the dryness of a wine as well as its ability to cause a hangover.
When considering everything that might possibly lead to a hangover, there are so many factors to account for! Not only are there countless chemical reactions going on inside your body during the consumption of an alcoholic beverage, but there are a myriad of others during its production. During the aging process of red wine alone, exact specifications of color and flavor are determined by minute differences in the ratios of chemical compounds contained. Not only does this increase my appreciation for chemical reactions, but it also helps me realize the scale of the number of reactions that are constantly going on all around us in nature. So next time when you’re drinking a glass of your favorite beverage, remember the countless chemical reactions that had to go correctly for it to taste and look the way it does. When you see a drunken college student stumble across campus, you can ask yourself what they were drinking and wonder how that will determine how they feel the next morning.