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The Biology of A Hangover

Acetaldehyde is a product of alcohol metabolism that is even more toxic than alcohol itself. It is created when the alcohol in the liver is broken down by an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase. The acetaldehyde is then attacked by another enzyme, acetaldehyde dehydrogenase, and another substance called glutathione, which contains high quantities of cysteine (a substance that is attracted to acetaldehyde).


Together, the acetaldehyde dehydrogenase and the glutathione form the nontoxic acetate (a substance similar to vinegar). This process works well, leaving the acetaldehyde only a short amount of time to do its damage if only a few drinks are consumed.


Unfortunately, the liver's stores of glutathione quickly run out when larger amounts of alcohol enter the system. This causes the acetaldehyde to build up in the body as the liver creates more glutathione, leaving the toxin in the body for long periods of time.


In studies that blocked the enzyme that breaks down acetaldehyde (acetaldehyde dehydrogenase) with a drug called Antabuse, designed to fight alcoholism, acetaldehyde toxicity resulted in headaches and vomiting so bad that even alcoholics were wary of their next drink.


Although body weight is a factor (see How Alcohol Works), part of the reason women should not keep up with men drink-for-drink is because women have less acetaldehyde dehydrogenase and glutathione, making their hangovers worse because it takes longer for the body to break down the alcohol.


How Alcohol Works Effects Of Alcohol in Women How The Anti Alcohol Drug Antabuse Works

Deaths From Alcohol Related Illnesses in the UK in 2014

In 2014, there were 8,697 alcohol-related deaths registered in the UK, an age-standardised rate of 14.3 deaths per 100,000 population. Of these, 5,687 deaths were among males (65% of the deaths) and 3,010 among females (35% of the deaths), with rates of 19.4 deaths per 100,000 males and 9.6 per 100,000 females.


The majority of alcohol-related deaths (65%) in the UK in 2014 were among males. Alcohol-related death rates were highest among 55 to 64-year-olds in 2014.


For both sexes, Scotland had the highest alcohol-related death rates in 2014. However, Scotland has also seen the fastest decrease in its rates since they peaked in the 2000's. Alcohol-related death rates for both sexes were significantly higher in the north of England than the south in 2014.


England and Wales are the only UK countries where alcohol-related death rates for females were significantly higher in 2014 than 1994.


In 2014, Scotland had the highest age-standardised alcohol-related death rate for males at 31.2 deaths per 100,000. This rate is significantly higher than those of any other constituent country of the UK. Rates in Northern Ireland (20.3 per 100,000 males), Wales (19.9 per 100,000 males), and England (18.1 deaths per 100,000) were not statistically significantly different from each other.


Scotland also had the highest alcohol-related death rate for females at 13.3 deaths per 100,000. This rate is significantly higher than that in England and Northern Ireland, but not significantly different from that in Wales. Rates in Wales (10.4 deaths per 100,000), England (9.1 per 100,000), and Northern Ireland (8.5 deaths per 100,000 females) were not statistically significantly different from each other.


Age-specific alcohol-related death rates among females were typically half those observed among males across all age groups. In 2014, the age-specific rate was highest among males aged 60 to 64 (47.6 deaths per 100,000) and among females aged 55 to 59 years (22.1 deaths per 100,000).


Figures are based on deaths registered in each calendar year, rather than occurring in each year. Since the majority of alcohol-related deaths registered in 2014 also occurred in that year (90%), registration delays are likely to have no impact on the findings.

Alcohol Linked with 88,000 Premature Deaths Yearly


By Martta Kelly, Contributing Writer | June 26, 2014


Excessive alcohol consumption remains a leading cause of premature death in the United States, responsible for 1 in 10 deaths among working-age adults, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


Researchers used the CDC's Alcohol-Related Disease Impact (ARDI) online application to estimate total number of deaths that were attributable to alcohol among U.S. adults ages 20 to 64, from 2006 through 2010.  They also examined years of potential life lost across the U.S. by gender and age.


Excessive alcohol use led to nearly 88,000 deaths per year over the study period, and shortened the lives of those who died by about 30 years on average, said study researcher Dafna Kanny of the CDC. "In total, there were 2.5 million years of potential life lost each year due to excessive alcohol use," she said


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