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Alcohol and Health

Can a Hangover Cause a Fever?

Published:
April 3, 2024
·
19 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
April 3, 2024
·
19 min read
Reframe App LogoReframe App Logo
Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
April 3, 2024
·
19 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
April 3, 2024
·
19 min read
Reframe App LogoReframe App Logo
Reframe Content Team
April 3, 2024
·
19 min read

Turning Up the Heat on Alcohol Fevers

  • Drinking alcohol may cause fever-like symptoms, and temporary immune system disruption during hangovers can allow mild infections to break through.

  • A low-grade fever (under 100.4ºF or 38ºC) is not unusual during a hangover, but a high fever may be a sign of a more serious issue. Drinking when you already have a fever is never a good idea.

  • Reframe can help you evaluate your relationship with alcohol and develop a plan to quit or cut back on drinking so you can say goodbye to hangover fevers!

Imagine this: After an evening of having a few drinks with friends, you wake up feeling crummy, but this isn’t a usual hangover. It’s not just the typical headache and nausea, but also an unusual warmth flooding your body. You reach for the thermometer, and there it is — a fever. How did a night of drinking lead to feeling feverish the next day?

Is there a direct link between alcohol consumption and developing a fever? Or are these feelings just another dimension of the dreaded hangover? In this article, we'll dive into the effects of alcohol on the body, dissect the relationship between drinking and experiencing fever or chills, and explore whether "alcohol fever" is a myth or a medical reality. We'll also touch upon the risks of drinking when you’re already sick and provide guidance on when it might be time to seek medical attention.

So, if you've ever found yourself feeling unusually warm after a night out, read on to discover what's really happening inside your body.

Understanding Alcohol's Impact on the Body

As soon as we take a sip of alcohol, it starts making its way through our body. Alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, meaning it slows down nerve signals in our body. From the moment it touches our tongue, alcohol gets to work by dulling our sense of taste!

A hungover guy on a bed reaching out for a wine bottle

Alcohol is mostly absorbed into our bloodstream from our stomach and intestines. From there, it travels throughout the body and brain and changes how our neurotransmitters function. Here are some of the main neurotransmitters affected.

  • Dopamine. Alcohol stimulates the release of dopamine (the “pleasure-seeking” neurotransmitter), causing us to feel euphoric.


  • GABA and glutamate. Alcohol increases the functionality of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a calming neurotransmitter, and decreases the effectiveness of glutamate, a stimulating neurotransmitter. Together, these shifts account for alcohol’s sedative effect.

Meanwhile, our liver is hard at work metabolizing alcohol and getting it out of our system. The liver converts alcohol into a toxic compound called acetaldehyde, which is responsible for most of the nasty hangover symptoms we see the day after drinking.

Our Brain on Hangovers

Our brain doesn’t like being out of balance. To restore the proper ratio of neurotransmitters, the brain changes how much dopamine, glutamate, and GABA it produces. Once alcohol is out of our system, we have a rebound and feel the opposite way we did while drunk. Instead of calm and euphoric, we feel overstimulated and maybe a little down in the dumps.

But there’s more chemical chaos going on inside us than just changes to our neurotransmitters. Our liver is still working to eliminate the by-products of alcohol consumption, including that pesky compound we mentioned earlier: acetaldehyde.

Acetaldehyde: The Morning-After Villain

The morning after drinking, acetaldehyde is still present in our system, making us feel crummy, achy, and nauseous. Throughout the day, our liver continues its cleanup efforts and gets rid of the acetaldehyde, converting it into acetate and expelling it through our urine.

All of this sounds pretty un-fun, and those of us who have experienced a hangover can confirm how unpleasant it is. But can a hangover cause a fever? 

Acetaldehyde can trigger an inflammatory response as the immune system attempts to fight off the toxin. This can produce fever-like symptoms and chills that trick us into thinking maybe we’re coming down with something.

Acetaldehyde isn’t the only culprit in an alcohol fever — there’s a whole bunch of usual suspects to investigate.

Reasons for Fever and Chills After Drinking Alcohol

Experiencing a fever after drinking alcohol might feel just like being sick, but it's a bit more complex than that. Alcohol interacts with several systems in our body that could produce fever-like symptoms and chills.

  • Vasodilation. Alcohol causes blood vessels to dilate, leading to a loss of body heat. This causes an initial feeling of warmth (ever had hot skin after drinking or experienced flushing?).

  • Hypothalamus disruption. Alcohol also disrupts the function of the hypothalamus, the part of the brain responsible for temperature control. This disruption can make us feel hot one moment and cold the next, mimicking fever and chills.

  • Dehydration. Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it increases urine production and causes dehydration if we don’t replenish with plenty of water. Dehydration can contribute to fever and chills as the body's fluid balance is disrupted, affecting its ability to regulate temperature effectively.

  • Immune system disruption. Alcohol suppresses our immune system by interfering with how immune cells coordinate with one another and rendering them less effective. If we are already fighting off some sort of infection (without being aware of it), that pathogen has a temporary opportunity to mount an offensive. We may develop a low-grade fever after drinking alcohol as our immune system gets back to business.

If we’ve ever felt feverish after drinking, we’re not imagining things! The term "alcohol fever" is a bit of a misnomer, however. In most cases, our “fever” is some combination of the conditions above. 

Rest assured that those fever-like symptoms won’t last too long. Even if we do experience an immune system disruption, it’s likely to be mild, and it should resolve by the next day.

But what happens if we drink when we already have a fever? Can alcohol make things worse? Unfortunately, the answer is yes.

Drinking With a Fever: Risks and Considerations

Drinking alcohol when we're already battling a fever introduces unnecessary challenges to a body that’s already fighting off foreign invaders. This combo could not only prolong our illness but could also introduce new health complications. Let’s take a closer look at why alcohol and fevers don't mix well.

  • Dehydration. Fever elevates body temperature, leading to increased sweating as our body attempts to cool down. This natural response can quickly lead to dehydration. Alcohol compounds this problem by acting as a diuretic, increasing the risk of serious dehydration and making it even harder for our body to recover.

  • Interference with medication. Many of us turn to over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medications to manage fever. Mixing alcohol with common fever and cold medications is risky. Alcohol alters the metabolism of the drugs, either rendering them less effective or interacting with them and increasing the risk of adverse side effects.



    For example, alcohol can increase the drowsiness caused by antipyretics (fever reducers) and some antibiotics, potentially leading to dangerous levels of sedation. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is a common pain and fever reliever found in many cold medicines. Tylenol and alcohol compete for attention in the liver, increasing toxicity and risk of liver damage.

  • Impaired immune response. Our body's immune system is already working overtime when we have a fever. Alcohol impairs its ability to fight off infections effectively, prolonging our illness and making us susceptible to secondary infections.
Reasons for Fever and Chills After Drinking Alcohol

Advice for Drinking With a Fever

Drinking alcohol with a fever is not a good idea. It can prolong illness and cause dangerous side effects. If you're feeling unwell or experiencing fever symptoms, the best course of action is to avoid alcohol entirely. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Hydration heals. Focus on hydrating with water, herbal teas, or electrolyte-replenishing drinks. Proper hydration supports your immune system's efforts to fight off illness and helps reduce fever symptoms.
  • Rest is crucial. Your body needs energy to fight off illness, and alcohol interferes with sleep quality. Opt for restful sleep without alcohol to give your body the best chance at a swift recovery.
  • Alternatives help more. If you're trying to relax or looking for relief from discomfort, consider non-alcoholic options that won't compromise your health. Warm broths and herbal teas provide immune-boosting nutrients and soothe the body from the inside out. A warm bath can bring a whole lot of comfort without the risks associated with alcohol.

While it might be tempting to reach for a drink to ease the discomfort of a fever, drinking while feverish is risky. Making sure you’re hydrated, getting enough rest, and seeking proper medical care if needed are safer and more effective ways to recover.

When To Seek Medical Attention

It's crucial to be able to distinguish between the typical symptoms of a hangover and signs that something more serious might be going on. Most hangover symptoms are uncomfortable but not life-threatening. However, there are certain instances when seeking medical attention becomes necessary.

Hangovers can bring on headaches, nausea, sensitivity to light and sound, dizziness, thirst, and fatigue. These symptoms usually resolve within 24 hours as our body processes the alcohol.

If you experience symptoms that are severe, unusual, or persist beyond the expected timeframe of a hangover, it might be indicative of a more serious issue. Watch out for these key signs:

  • High fever. Hangovers may have us feeling a bit feverish or running a low-grade fever (up to 100.4ºF or 38ºC). However, a high fever (over 101°F or 38.3°C) is not typical and could suggest that something more serious is happening.
  • Severe dehydration. Symptoms like extreme thirst, dizziness, and confusion may point to severe dehydration, especially if you're unable to keep fluids down.
  • Uncontrollable vomiting. Persistent vomiting can lead to dehydration and a significant loss of nutrients, and could require medical intervention.

  • Chest pain or difficulty breathing. These symptoms are never typical of a hangover and always warrant immediate medical attention.
  • Seizures. Alcohol withdrawal in those with alcohol dependency can lead to seizures, a medical emergency that requires immediate attention.

If you’re experiencing the above symptoms, seek immediate medical care. Call 911 (or your local emergency services number) or enlist a trusted friend or loved one to get you to a hospital. These symptoms can’t wait until your doctor’s office opens — they indicate an emergency. If you're unsure whether your symptoms are hangover-related or indicative of a more serious condition, err on the side of caution and seek medical advice.

Importance of Monitoring Symptoms

If you've consumed a significant amount of alcohol and begin to feel unusually unwell, it's important to monitor your symptoms closely. Keep notes or reach out to a trusted caretaker and ask them to check on you regularly. This is particularly true if you have underlying health conditions that could be exacerbated by alcohol consumption.

Conclusion

Remember, while a hangover can make us feel bad, it shouldn't make us feel like we're in danger. Paying attention to our body and recognizing abnormal symptoms can ensure that we receive appropriate care when needed.

Prioritizing our health after drinking is key to preventing complications. Of course, the best way to prevent alcohol-related complications is to drink mindfully and practice moderation.

If you feel like you aren’t in control of your drinking, consider seeking professional help and using an app like Reframe to evaluate your relationship with alcohol and make a plan to cut back or quit. You have the power!

Imagine this: After an evening of having a few drinks with friends, you wake up feeling crummy, but this isn’t a usual hangover. It’s not just the typical headache and nausea, but also an unusual warmth flooding your body. You reach for the thermometer, and there it is — a fever. How did a night of drinking lead to feeling feverish the next day?

Is there a direct link between alcohol consumption and developing a fever? Or are these feelings just another dimension of the dreaded hangover? In this article, we'll dive into the effects of alcohol on the body, dissect the relationship between drinking and experiencing fever or chills, and explore whether "alcohol fever" is a myth or a medical reality. We'll also touch upon the risks of drinking when you’re already sick and provide guidance on when it might be time to seek medical attention.

So, if you've ever found yourself feeling unusually warm after a night out, read on to discover what's really happening inside your body.

Understanding Alcohol's Impact on the Body

As soon as we take a sip of alcohol, it starts making its way through our body. Alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, meaning it slows down nerve signals in our body. From the moment it touches our tongue, alcohol gets to work by dulling our sense of taste!

A hungover guy on a bed reaching out for a wine bottle

Alcohol is mostly absorbed into our bloodstream from our stomach and intestines. From there, it travels throughout the body and brain and changes how our neurotransmitters function. Here are some of the main neurotransmitters affected.

  • Dopamine. Alcohol stimulates the release of dopamine (the “pleasure-seeking” neurotransmitter), causing us to feel euphoric.


  • GABA and glutamate. Alcohol increases the functionality of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a calming neurotransmitter, and decreases the effectiveness of glutamate, a stimulating neurotransmitter. Together, these shifts account for alcohol’s sedative effect.

Meanwhile, our liver is hard at work metabolizing alcohol and getting it out of our system. The liver converts alcohol into a toxic compound called acetaldehyde, which is responsible for most of the nasty hangover symptoms we see the day after drinking.

Our Brain on Hangovers

Our brain doesn’t like being out of balance. To restore the proper ratio of neurotransmitters, the brain changes how much dopamine, glutamate, and GABA it produces. Once alcohol is out of our system, we have a rebound and feel the opposite way we did while drunk. Instead of calm and euphoric, we feel overstimulated and maybe a little down in the dumps.

But there’s more chemical chaos going on inside us than just changes to our neurotransmitters. Our liver is still working to eliminate the by-products of alcohol consumption, including that pesky compound we mentioned earlier: acetaldehyde.

Acetaldehyde: The Morning-After Villain

The morning after drinking, acetaldehyde is still present in our system, making us feel crummy, achy, and nauseous. Throughout the day, our liver continues its cleanup efforts and gets rid of the acetaldehyde, converting it into acetate and expelling it through our urine.

All of this sounds pretty un-fun, and those of us who have experienced a hangover can confirm how unpleasant it is. But can a hangover cause a fever? 

Acetaldehyde can trigger an inflammatory response as the immune system attempts to fight off the toxin. This can produce fever-like symptoms and chills that trick us into thinking maybe we’re coming down with something.

Acetaldehyde isn’t the only culprit in an alcohol fever — there’s a whole bunch of usual suspects to investigate.

Reasons for Fever and Chills After Drinking Alcohol

Experiencing a fever after drinking alcohol might feel just like being sick, but it's a bit more complex than that. Alcohol interacts with several systems in our body that could produce fever-like symptoms and chills.

  • Vasodilation. Alcohol causes blood vessels to dilate, leading to a loss of body heat. This causes an initial feeling of warmth (ever had hot skin after drinking or experienced flushing?).

  • Hypothalamus disruption. Alcohol also disrupts the function of the hypothalamus, the part of the brain responsible for temperature control. This disruption can make us feel hot one moment and cold the next, mimicking fever and chills.

  • Dehydration. Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it increases urine production and causes dehydration if we don’t replenish with plenty of water. Dehydration can contribute to fever and chills as the body's fluid balance is disrupted, affecting its ability to regulate temperature effectively.

  • Immune system disruption. Alcohol suppresses our immune system by interfering with how immune cells coordinate with one another and rendering them less effective. If we are already fighting off some sort of infection (without being aware of it), that pathogen has a temporary opportunity to mount an offensive. We may develop a low-grade fever after drinking alcohol as our immune system gets back to business.

If we’ve ever felt feverish after drinking, we’re not imagining things! The term "alcohol fever" is a bit of a misnomer, however. In most cases, our “fever” is some combination of the conditions above. 

Rest assured that those fever-like symptoms won’t last too long. Even if we do experience an immune system disruption, it’s likely to be mild, and it should resolve by the next day.

But what happens if we drink when we already have a fever? Can alcohol make things worse? Unfortunately, the answer is yes.

Drinking With a Fever: Risks and Considerations

Drinking alcohol when we're already battling a fever introduces unnecessary challenges to a body that’s already fighting off foreign invaders. This combo could not only prolong our illness but could also introduce new health complications. Let’s take a closer look at why alcohol and fevers don't mix well.

  • Dehydration. Fever elevates body temperature, leading to increased sweating as our body attempts to cool down. This natural response can quickly lead to dehydration. Alcohol compounds this problem by acting as a diuretic, increasing the risk of serious dehydration and making it even harder for our body to recover.

  • Interference with medication. Many of us turn to over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medications to manage fever. Mixing alcohol with common fever and cold medications is risky. Alcohol alters the metabolism of the drugs, either rendering them less effective or interacting with them and increasing the risk of adverse side effects.



    For example, alcohol can increase the drowsiness caused by antipyretics (fever reducers) and some antibiotics, potentially leading to dangerous levels of sedation. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is a common pain and fever reliever found in many cold medicines. Tylenol and alcohol compete for attention in the liver, increasing toxicity and risk of liver damage.

  • Impaired immune response. Our body's immune system is already working overtime when we have a fever. Alcohol impairs its ability to fight off infections effectively, prolonging our illness and making us susceptible to secondary infections.
Reasons for Fever and Chills After Drinking Alcohol

Advice for Drinking With a Fever

Drinking alcohol with a fever is not a good idea. It can prolong illness and cause dangerous side effects. If you're feeling unwell or experiencing fever symptoms, the best course of action is to avoid alcohol entirely. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Hydration heals. Focus on hydrating with water, herbal teas, or electrolyte-replenishing drinks. Proper hydration supports your immune system's efforts to fight off illness and helps reduce fever symptoms.
  • Rest is crucial. Your body needs energy to fight off illness, and alcohol interferes with sleep quality. Opt for restful sleep without alcohol to give your body the best chance at a swift recovery.
  • Alternatives help more. If you're trying to relax or looking for relief from discomfort, consider non-alcoholic options that won't compromise your health. Warm broths and herbal teas provide immune-boosting nutrients and soothe the body from the inside out. A warm bath can bring a whole lot of comfort without the risks associated with alcohol.

While it might be tempting to reach for a drink to ease the discomfort of a fever, drinking while feverish is risky. Making sure you’re hydrated, getting enough rest, and seeking proper medical care if needed are safer and more effective ways to recover.

When To Seek Medical Attention

It's crucial to be able to distinguish between the typical symptoms of a hangover and signs that something more serious might be going on. Most hangover symptoms are uncomfortable but not life-threatening. However, there are certain instances when seeking medical attention becomes necessary.

Hangovers can bring on headaches, nausea, sensitivity to light and sound, dizziness, thirst, and fatigue. These symptoms usually resolve within 24 hours as our body processes the alcohol.

If you experience symptoms that are severe, unusual, or persist beyond the expected timeframe of a hangover, it might be indicative of a more serious issue. Watch out for these key signs:

  • High fever. Hangovers may have us feeling a bit feverish or running a low-grade fever (up to 100.4ºF or 38ºC). However, a high fever (over 101°F or 38.3°C) is not typical and could suggest that something more serious is happening.
  • Severe dehydration. Symptoms like extreme thirst, dizziness, and confusion may point to severe dehydration, especially if you're unable to keep fluids down.
  • Uncontrollable vomiting. Persistent vomiting can lead to dehydration and a significant loss of nutrients, and could require medical intervention.

  • Chest pain or difficulty breathing. These symptoms are never typical of a hangover and always warrant immediate medical attention.
  • Seizures. Alcohol withdrawal in those with alcohol dependency can lead to seizures, a medical emergency that requires immediate attention.

If you’re experiencing the above symptoms, seek immediate medical care. Call 911 (or your local emergency services number) or enlist a trusted friend or loved one to get you to a hospital. These symptoms can’t wait until your doctor’s office opens — they indicate an emergency. If you're unsure whether your symptoms are hangover-related or indicative of a more serious condition, err on the side of caution and seek medical advice.

Importance of Monitoring Symptoms

If you've consumed a significant amount of alcohol and begin to feel unusually unwell, it's important to monitor your symptoms closely. Keep notes or reach out to a trusted caretaker and ask them to check on you regularly. This is particularly true if you have underlying health conditions that could be exacerbated by alcohol consumption.

Conclusion

Remember, while a hangover can make us feel bad, it shouldn't make us feel like we're in danger. Paying attention to our body and recognizing abnormal symptoms can ensure that we receive appropriate care when needed.

Prioritizing our health after drinking is key to preventing complications. Of course, the best way to prevent alcohol-related complications is to drink mindfully and practice moderation.

If you feel like you aren’t in control of your drinking, consider seeking professional help and using an app like Reframe to evaluate your relationship with alcohol and make a plan to cut back or quit. You have the power!

Summary FAQs

1. Can you get a fever from a hangover?

It’s possible, but unlikely. Most of the time, a hangover fever is a combination of fever-like symptoms stemming from alcohol’s effects on our inflammatory response and ability to regulate body temperature. It’s possible for opportunistic infections to cause a low-grade fever (below 100.4ºF or 38ºC) but this should resolve within 24 hours.

2. How do I know if my fever is dangerous?

A low-grade fever is generally not dangerous for a few days, especially if you stay hydrated and rest. It can be difficult to distinguish a fever from hangover symptoms, but there are some warning signs of serious issues. Talk to a doctor if your symptoms last longer than 24 hours. Seek emergency medical care if your fever is high (over 101°F or 38.3°C) or experience uncontrollable vomiting, confusion, seizures, chest pain, difficulty breathing, or severe dehydration.

3. Can I drink if I have a fever?

You should not drink if you’re already feeling sick. Alcohol weakens your immune system, prolonging your recovery and increasing the risk of serious illness. Drinking while sick can also lead to dangerous dehydration.

4. Is it normal to experience fever and chills after drinking alcohol?

Some people are more prone to fever-like symptoms after drinking. You may experience these symptoms every time or only sometimes, but it’s not abnormal. These symptoms may be indicative of unhealthy alcohol use habits, however, so if you consistently experience fever after drinking you may want to consider developing a moderation plan. You’re not alone!

Take Control of Your Drinking With Reframe

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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