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How does alcohol cause hangovers? - Judy Grisel

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The molecule responsible for hangovers is ethanol, which we colloquially refer to as alcohol. Ethanol is present in all alcoholic beverages, and generally speaking, the more ethanol, the greater the potential for a hangover. So, how exactly does alcohol cause a hangover— and is there any way to prevent one? Judy Grisel explores the surprising ways that alcohol affects the body.

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Judy Grisel
  • Director Anton Bogaty
  • Narrator Alexandra Panzer
  • Sound Designer Weston Fonger
  • Composer Jarrett Farkas
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Anna Bechtol
  • Associate Producer Abdallah Ewis
  • Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Fact-Checker Charles Wallace
Additional Resources for you to Explore
Binge drinking leads to a host of negative effects beside hangovers, including blackouts, accidents, and increased risk for developing an alcohol use disorder, or alcoholism. You can visit the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to learn how binge drinking is defined. 

Alcohol has played a role in our history and culture for at least as long as humans have walked the earth. How do you think the drug’s simple synthesis contributed to its widespread use? How have patterns of use changed in recent times, and what do you think might contribute to those changes? 

Despite the drug’s longstanding popularity, recent scientific research suggests that even moderate consumption of alcohol has negative effects on our health and well-being. For example, according to a study of alcohol drinking all across the world, there is no safe level of alcohol drinking. Another analysis, combining nearly a hundred research studies of almost 600,000 people, showed that even one drink a day impairs health. These data have led scientists to understand that that the ethanol molecule is much more toxic than we’d previously realized. This toxicity is especially true in the brain where drinking has been found to reduce the number of cells and their connections.

Although these effects appear to be true at any age, they seem to be particularly so for children. Because human development is associated with rapid changes in the brain’s structure and function, alcohol exposure is likely to have especially profound consequences. For example, even one drink a week in someone who is pregnant, has measurable consequences for her offspring and during adolescence, again when the brain undergoes massive remodeling, it is particularly vulnerable to alcohol toxicity. In these ways especially, the impact of alcohol is likely to be much more long lasting that the relatively short inconvenience associated with a hangover.
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Share with us your experience with hangover symptoms and the importance of a conscientious use of alcohol
07/05/2022 • 
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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Judy Grisel
  • Director Anton Bogaty
  • Narrator Alexandra Panzer
  • Sound Designer Weston Fonger
  • Composer Jarrett Farkas
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Anna Bechtol
  • Associate Producer Abdallah Ewis
  • Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Fact-Checker Charles Wallace