The 5 Stages of a Hangover

bottlesDuring the string of drunken nights I went through over Memorial Day Weekend one of my good friends remarked on how the coming week would follow a set pattern due to the inevitable hangover.  Spending most of Monday (it was a three day weekend; usually this cycle would begin on Sunday) in a state near grim death I began to think about my good friend’s wise words and the conversation that followed and decided to take a scientific approach to things and attempt to lock down the 5 distinct stages of my hangovers at the age of 30.

Stage 1:

You are a sack of meat. You exist solely as a physical being.  No mental processes of any coherence take place inside your skull.  Instead there are only the immediate animal responses to your internal organs and the nausea, heartburn, dread and exhaustion that they emit.  Attempts to meet any responsibilities you might have during this stage, be they social or professional, are jokes.  If your responsibility is social in nature you have the option of doubling down on your hangover by starting to drink again, though this only delays the inevitable.
Assuming you’re cashing your chips in and taking your hangover immediately it is important to grasp that Stage 1 is nothing more than an attempt to pass time as painlessly as possible.  You would be asleep if possible. Outside of immediate physical needs there are no other goals during Stage 1 then getting out of Stage 1.  You are a strip of Velcro and the entire world is a cotton ball.  Wherever you happen to stop moving you tend to stay for long periods of time.  You wave away concerned friends who ask if you’re comfortable with a, “Nah, I’m all right,” while lying sprawled out on the kitchen floor or curled up on a footrest.

appletiniThe only thing to break your clinging to the earth is usually the need to eat or drink, which can be problematic as your digestive system has become bi-polar so that at the top of the hour you’ll declare Lemon-Lime Gatorade to be the single greatest invention mankind  has ever produced and at the bottom of the hour you’ll shiver in the fetal position cursing Lemon-Lime Gatorade for being sugary piss-water. Also, while attempting to meet dietary needs, your own brain will work against you.  I must repeat, during this stage you are not a thinking creature, you are a bundle of frayed axons firing at random trying to make it through the day.  You are a very large steak attempting to get rid of its Jack Daniel’s marinade. This causes problems when your first meal is needed.  You’ll think during the whole process of deciding what to eat about how you need something bland and inoffensive: oatmeal or maybe a plain bagel.  You’ll repeat this to yourself over and over while looking at the delivery menu. However, in the instant before ordering, an electrical storm will strike your brain and you’ll make a last minute decision to order some bat-shit crazy thing in a “Oooh, I haven’t had that in a while,” sort of way and you’ll wonder at your own stupidity twenty minutes later while you’re trying to choke down Peking Duck or a big bowl of paella.

Vh-1 is extremely watchable.

Stage 2 :

There are a lot of people who claim that the, “I’m never drinking again,” mantra gets repeated during Stage 1 of a hangover. This is incorrect; such coherent thoughts are not within your grasp during Stage 1. I repeat, Stage 1 is nothing but the passing of time.  You are a stop-watch with a caloric intake.  It is only at Stage 2 where complex mental processes such as cause and effect are attainable again.  Thus, when you finally are able to declare that you’ll “definitely be taking next week easy,” that you’re “not going to go out,” and, “will most likely catch up on movies or TV you’ve been missing,” you will know that you have reached Stage 2.

As a sidebar I should also mention that this is the point where the people who “only smoke socially” yet spent the last three nights calling for a cigarette break every fifteen minutes, panicking every time it appeared that the people they’re bumming from might run out, will say with disgust how they’re never smoking again and marvel at how “only having one or two a night” is totally not worth the after effects.


I have heard it argued, to remarkable effect, that Stage 2 is not so much a hangover as it is a hangover from being hungover.  This is where the real problems you have to deal with come not entirely from the alcohol, but from reactions to Stage 1 itself.  You wake up to face the day in a state of abject confusion, unable to grasp what the hell you spent yesterday doing.  Having plodded through Stage 1 taking 47 consecutive cat-naps while a “Girls Next Door” marathon was playing on your TV, your attempts to sleep that night don’t result in you sleeping so much as you lying in bed watching your dreams happen.  And, oh, what dreams you have.  The electrical storms of the previous day have purchased air-time in your subconscious and you might as well stay up till dawn watching nothing but Terry Gilliam films for the amount of actual rest you’re going to get. This results in you waking up to face Stage 2 in a mental state that can’t remember days of the week.

Your stomach is a mess, again though, not entirely from the alcohol but because you spent most of the previous afternoon throwing up, or debating throwing up, Peking Duck. You also re-inhabit your body.  It’s common to finally feel how sore your feet are from standing at a bar for three nights in a row during this stage.  You’ll also say things like, “Why am I bruised there?” and, “Huh, I don’t remember cutting my foot.” However, you will also react just as much to Stage 1, and as you try to rub the kinks out of your neck you’ll wonder why you didn’t move the extra three feet to take a nap in your bed instead of in your desk chair yesterday.

liquorglassesStage 3:

Frank Sinatra has a famous saying: “I feel sorry for people who don’t drink. When they wake up in the morning that’s as good as they’re going to feel all day.” This is often taken to mean that drinkers have the option of stopping off for a beer to unwind. I’ve often felt that this quote can be used in the exact opposite regard and be applied to Stage 3 of your hangover as well.  For it is Stage 3 where you actually feel like a corner has been turned and hour by hour, minute by minute, you can feel yourself recovering to the point where you actually look forward to being human by the end of the day, which is why I think that quote fits in here so well.  Only heavy drinkers know the feeling of joy that comes upon realizing that your hangover is departing, like an exorcised demon, from your body.  Foods that contain flavors and textures begin to seem appetizing. Bubbly soft-drinks start to seem like logical choices to accompany meals.

On the mental side of things I have heard this referred to as the “Doctor Sam Beckett” stage or the “Quantum Leap” stage.  Your brain is Swiss Cheese.  Yet you no longer feel like grim death so you think you’re capable of doing real work or participating in actual social interactions.  So you’ll be half an hour into some process or another and you’ll suddenly stop, just stop dead-cold, and you’ll be filled with intense self-doubt as you wonder if the math you spent the last half-hour doing, or the words you spent the last half-hour writing, or the conversations you spent the last half-hour having are in the slightest bit coherent. It takes you three times as long to do anything and everything as you constantly stop to either recheck your work thirty times, or because you suddenly can’t remember what the word “peanut” means.

beer1The “Doctor Sam Beckett” stage also refers to the fact that you are now, while still hungover, most definitely sober.  A state of mind that you have not shaken hands with in quite awhile.  Taking into account that even if Stage 1 and 2 are not technically drunk (and the jury is still out on that) they are stages of such mental incoherence that they can not be referred to as sober.  This means that for three day weekends, by the time you reach Stage 3 it might have been five or six days since you were last sober. If you’ve never watched Quantum Leap then this reference will be lost on you, but if you have then at stage three you will feel very much like Doctor Sam Beckett as, due to your extensive sabbatical from sobriety, you are constantly facing mirror images that are not your own. You pop into the bathroom and while washing your hands you catch sight of some stranger in the mirror.  They look vaguely familiar but their hair isn’t tousled, or they’re not wearing a Hawaiian shirt, or they’re not yelling to the people in the living room under the impression that the conversation taking place before their bathroom trip is still going on.  Instead it’s just your sober face, calmly sitting there, not opening it’s mouth so you can look at your tongue, not bedraggled and red-eyed from nausea, not clammy and sweaty from exhaustion.  It’s just you.  Sober.  You haven’t seen that guy in ages. And you feel like a spy, you feel like a ninja, you feel like you’re conducting a covert-opp the difference in your personalities is so striking. This person staring back from the mirror with sober eyes was screaming and laughing at a bar, buying drinks and the life of the party mere days ago.  “What happened to that person?” you will wonder. “Why aren’t I charming anymore? And which one of us is real?”

Stage 4:

You’re completely out of the woods.  Sobriety is the norm now and your bar hopping from last weekend seems like a distant dream, something you did years ago, possibly in Europe.  Your body is fully recovered and you feel wonderful.  You might be in the worst shape of your life and hacking up blood and cilia due to allergies, but you are no longer hungover and by comparison this makes you feel like Rocky after Adrian finally shows up.  You make firm commitments to go to the gym more often, taking the time to write out a quick little schedule that you’ll start on next week.  You have your weekend all planned out, you have some good Netflix waiting for you and that blockbuster movie you planned on seeing in the theater will be a perfect Saturday night activity.  Some family members or old friends have wanted you to have dinner with them for weeks now and you can definitely make it out to see  them on Friday.  Not to mention there’s a ton of work you can get done if you go into the office for even a few hours on Sunday, and that’ll make sticking to your gym schedule that much easier.

You are the king of the world.

You are at the high-point of your life.

You are still young and the world is yours.

Stage 5:

You could really go for a beer.


  1. Hilarious. I know all those stages very intimately unfortunately.

  2. I often notice a Stage 0: one of denial. Sometimes you wake up after a night of drinking and if you lie still enough in bed or perhaps if you are still drunk, you may actually convince yourself that you have miraculously avoided a hangover, that somehow your body managed to deal with the ridiculous amount of booze consumed the night before. It’s usually the first trip to the can that breaks the spell for me, and then I’m fully into Stage 1.

    • Interesting. Though, as you suggested, I think that strays more towards “Still Drunk” than “Hungover” in my mind. But the phrase “Stage Zero” is really quite catchy and I’m sure I’ll start using it now… 🙂

    • Oh dammit, that is too true.

      It’s awful to wake up, feel ‘fine’ (thinking “Oh holy hell, I thought I’d feel waaaay worse.”, get into the shower, and suddenly realize –holy hell, I’m going to drop dead.

  3. I went on a bender Friday night/Sat morning, and it’s now Monday morning as I type this, and I think I’m still somewhere in Stage 3. I knew I was in trouble when I came to about 3 PM Saturday and I was still drunk.

    I slept all day Saturday and Sunday and I called into work this morning because I just couldn’t deal with that today. I’m hoping I’ll be more or less full recovered by tonight.

    And oh yeah, I did a lot of the “I am never drinking again” during my Stage 2…