I think I broke something in my body
July 15, 2010 11:40 AM   Subscribe

Lately alcohol is doing weird things to my body that I simply do not understand. Please help.

I’m 32, male, and a moderate social drinker. During the week I usually have a couple of beers on one or two days. On Thursdays and Fridays after work I drink several beers (3-4, sometimes 5-6 pints) over several hours. If not that, then several mixed drinks at a bar. After that we get dinner and I go home and enjoy a pleasant nights sleep. I (almost) never drink on weekends.

Since late April my body has been reacting very differently to alcohol. After a night of drinking I get a mild belly ache and crazy insomnia. No matter how much or what I drink, I wake up around 2-3 am and simply cannot go back to sleep until 6 or 7 am. At first I was afraid that I had developed a gluten intolerance but it’s not just beer. I tried wine for a week, vodka for another and it’s all the same. Even a single drink wakes me up in the middle of the night.

Last Friday I worked for 10 hours, ran for an hour and had one drink later that evening. Boom, I was awake at 2am. My body was super tired but my brain was wide awake. All I could really do was watch some tv until I wore out my brain and passed out around 6 am.

As you can imagine, I am a total wreck the next day. So much so that I have given up drinking. It’s freaking me out. What did I break in my body?

Other factors: I am healthy, exercise frequently and rarely get sick or take any other medication. I am under a reasonable amount of stress from work/life issues but nothing got worse recently.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (35 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Alcohol is poisonous. If your body can't handle it any more, stopping isn't a bad idea.
posted by Electrius at 11:43 AM on July 15, 2010 [5 favorites]

According to the Mayo Clinic, alcohol can both put you to sleep as well as prevent you from getting really deep sleep.

It's possible that, for whatever reason, your body is reacting differently. It does sound like drinking less is a good idea.
posted by zippy at 11:46 AM on July 15, 2010

I've found this to just be a part of getting older.
posted by runningwithscissors at 11:49 AM on July 15, 2010 [17 favorites]

Our bodies change as we age. I'm 33 and in the last couple of years have noticed if I eat a big dinner or eat too close to bedtime, I'm up all night. One glass of wine won't keep me up, but more than a couple will, for sure. I think you're just getting older.
posted by something something at 11:50 AM on July 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Most mixed drinks and wine makes me wake up in the middle of the night. I usually have a tall glass of OJ after any night when I've had some drinks.
posted by anniecat at 11:55 AM on July 15, 2010

I didn't drink as much as you do, but I remember this change in my early thirties and chalked it up to getting older. I cut back, but still enjoy it. Every once in a while, I'll have a little more than prudent and suffer the effect all over again.
posted by advicepig at 11:57 AM on July 15, 2010

From the OP:
Responses that go beyond “just quit drinking forever” would be helpful. For now I am happy to take a break from drinking. But in the long run I want to understand why this is happening. I have always enjoyed alcohol and live in an area with plenty of microbrews and wineries and it would make me sad that give all that up forever.

I am also fully aware that alcohol causes insomnia. That isn’t a surprise to me. Drinking too much does disrupt sleep for everyone. I get that. But the way I react now seems very unusual.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:58 AM on July 15, 2010

nthing age. This has happened weirdly progressively with me. I drank like the proverbial college student in college, rarely did I spend a Saturday night walking around campus with something alcoholic in my hand, and probably too much binge drinking happened. Despite doing lots of stupid things, I was never sick and rarely hungover as long as I got a couple hours of sleep.

Then one time at a party after I turned 25, bam, vomit city. It felt like a switch had been flipped and this happened all the time.

I learned to regulate.

And in my mid 30s, it's even worse. I should be super careful (I'm not always, but I should be.)

This sucks, but I don't know that's abnormal.

If I've had enough to feel "drunk", don't go to bed without Vitamin C and ibuprofen. This won't always help, but it's helped me.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:01 PM on July 15, 2010

(I forgot to say - in my mid 30s, the insomnia thing happened to me -- that's what I use the Vitamin C and ibuprofen for -- also lots and lots of water and/or cranberry juice.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:02 PM on July 15, 2010

Try lots of water and taking melatonin at bedtime.
posted by emjaybee at 12:04 PM on July 15, 2010

I don't doubt that your body might be reacting a little differently to alcohol as you get older. I think you might need to adjust more than give up.

I find it helps me to have some low-cal Gatorade and a fairly substantial snack before bed, even if I have only had a drink or two, but you might be the opposite, so you might have to try and see what works best for your body. I'd mention it to your doctor, just in case there's an issue.

I do know that my body has a surprisingly good mental alarm clock - if I am anxious about getting up on time for something, without fail my body wakes me up at around the time that is in the back of my head as when I should get up - and it does this without me consciously trying. So to me it's possible that thinking you will wake up is partially responsible for waking you up at this point.
posted by mrs. taters at 12:06 PM on July 15, 2010

You'll need to see your doctor for more detailed, longer-term information. But yeah, age is a big factor. When I turned 40, I suddenly became allergic to bananas. In the last year, alcohol has become a migraine trigger for me, and I've had to give it up. If a manufacturer made humans, the recalls for performance issues would be endless.
posted by bryon at 12:06 PM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

What zippy/VikingSword/the Mayo Clinic/everyone said. Drinking knocks me out right away, but after a couple hours I wake up, and the overall quality of my sleep is terrible.

It also sounds like you're doing a lot - most people get tired enough after a ten-hour work day or a one-hour run; managing both in one day is pretty hardcore. Even if nothing's gotten significantly worse for you, it could be that the constant stress is catching up with you, and the alcohol is doing your body no favors. And if you're working out hard and drinking in the same day, be sure you drink plenty of water throughout the day - you may be dehydrating yourself.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:08 PM on July 15, 2010

I agree that it's probably due to getting older. You may just be getting more sensitive to the restless sleep/insomnia side effect of alcohol as you age. Also, is there a chance that you wake up because of the alcohol but then are unable to fall back asleep for so long because you're anxious about being awake and what might be wrong with you? As someone who has a lot of experience with insomnia, the most important thing when you wake up in the middle of the night is to calm your mind. A snack helps too. You might also try eating something between the time you stop drinking and the time you go to sleep (drink lots of water too). I never worried about those kinds of preventative measures when I was in college, but now at 28, I have to be more careful or pay the consequences.

Also, a sensitivity to one drink may seem strange, but I bet it's not uncommon. My mom will almost always refuse a drink because, "I'll be up all night!"
posted by spinto at 12:10 PM on July 15, 2010

I've found that taking a B-12 before I start drinking helps to mitigate hangovers, worth a shot for your problems too.
posted by adamdrici at 12:13 PM on July 15, 2010

You tell us that it would make you sad to give up alcohol because of all the microbreweries and wineries in your neighborhood. I understand that every different kind of beer or wine has its own interesting flavor. But there are lots of other interesting flavors for you to taste, that do not involve alcohol. There are many fascinating foods and beverages available. If alcohol is causing health problems, don't drink it. As for your claim that you think you broke something in your body, no, you didn't. Alcohol is digested by the liver. If you had broken your liver you would discover that very rapidly, since that leads to jaundice and then death. It is not abnormal to have a bad reaction to alcohol.
posted by grizzled at 12:30 PM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Consider a sleep study. You may be growing into a case of Obstructive Sleep Apnea, which even a small amount of alcohol will exasperate considerably.

There may be other neurological factors, which can also be detected during a sleep study.
posted by Citrus at 12:37 PM on July 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

But the way I react now seems very unusual.

But it's not, as evidenced by the answers here. There could be some underlying medical reason (I am not a doctor) but the simplest answer is just that you're getting older and your body doesn't process alcohol the same way. If it makes you feel better, go get a physical, but otherwise you'll just have to accept this change.

(From a 35 year old who can no longer drink like she's 25.)
posted by desjardins at 12:39 PM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm 30, and it's happened to me, as well, recently, although I drink a lot less than that. I've backed off of alcohol almost completely.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:44 PM on July 15, 2010

This is just me. I go in and out of drinking more and less. I sometimes drink more when I'm anxious or stressed out. There was a period a few years ago after a bad breakup where I was drinking nightly. And sleeping badly. And thinking "WTF drinking, you're like all I have left!" Long story short, I was anxious, drinking to deal with anxiety keeping me from sleeping at all, and when the alcohol wore off [and combined with the bad sleeping that drinking brings even in the best of times] I would stress myself right out of bed and be unable to get back to sleep. Someone pointed out to me that even though insomnia is terrible, that if it's not a lifetime thing [it wasn't, for me] that it was probably my body trying to tell me something, something that I was drowning out by drinking. And that this wasn't helping me manage my anxiety.

So, no idea if this has anything to do with you or not. Just saying that interspersing drinking days with non-drinking days and/or dialing down the drinking helped. And I used to not have either the anxiety or the insomnia, so age plays a part. And that stuff has mostly eased off in my life nowadays, but some nights drinking still leaves me sleeping fitfully and restlessly.
posted by jessamyn at 12:45 PM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's possible you've developed gastric reflux, which could be exacerbated on a given evening by the alcohol and certain kinds of food. Reflux can and will wake you up in the middle of the night, at which point you could find yourself wide awake due to the aforementioned alcohol-related insomnia effect.

Try taking an antacid before you go to bed and see if that helps.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 12:47 PM on July 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Are you making a point to drink a tall glass of water before you go to bed? It may be the secondary effects of aging, such as dehydration, that are creeping up.

I shoot a big glass of tap water, an Advil, and a multivitamin to ward off the unwanted effects of alcohol.
posted by General Tonic at 12:47 PM on July 15, 2010

Ditto the age thing. Now that I'm in my late 30s, I've found that I tend to get hangovers that are WAY out of proportion to what I've had to drink the night before. I also get horrendous all-day heartburn from drinking things the night before that wouldn't have bothered me in the slightest a few years ago. One Bloody Mary or Michelada is enough to have me chugging Alka Seltzer all the next day. I love those drinks, but the agita just isn't worth it.
posted by deadmessenger at 12:50 PM on July 15, 2010

I think drinking could abruptly have become a migraine trigger for you, and that the bellyache you feel could be the fabled abdominal migraine:

...Conversely, having migraine almost always leads to insomnia. It is definitely one vicious cycle for migraine sufferers. ...

The Journal for the American Headache Society published a study back in 2005 that discussed the links between poor sleep and migraines. ...

Both insomnia and migraine are linked to serotonin deficiency. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is believed to play an important role in regulating sleep, mood, vomiting, appetite and body temperature.

People with insufficient levels of serotonin suffer from one of many forms of gastric disorders. This is probably why many migraine sufferers also experience stomach problems before or during a migraine attack. Lack of serotonin is also most likely the cause of the condition known as abdominal migraines. ...

You don't mention headaches as part of your problem, but migraines don't necessarily produce headaches. I have been having florid migraines for years with nary a hint of a headache.
posted by jamjam at 12:55 PM on July 15, 2010

Yeah, this also happened to me as I got into my 30s. More than one drink and I'm awake at 3 a.m. Frequently getting up and having a big glass of water will help; sometimes I get a glass of juice (especially if I had one too many the night before). Sometimes this helps me fall back asleep, sometimes I just lay there and suffer.

I think I read somewhere that it's when your body has basically processed the alcohol out, you wake up? But I don't know if that's true or not. Anyway, rehydrating some more, and sometimes puttering around the house for half an hour so I'm not lying there hating humanity usually does the trick.

As an alternative, since you don't like the "body changes" answer, when I had mono (and didn't know it), my body became less and less able to tolerate alcohol until even one drink would make me feel horrible. If you truly feel it's out of the ordinary and not just part of getting older, it's certainly worth talking to your doctor about.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:57 PM on July 15, 2010

You could try drinking some milk before the alcohol, and lots of water and a mild painkiller and some tums before going to sleep. I think you should ask a doctor to check that you have normal liver (and other systems that could be affected) function - maybe your body is trying to tell you something. I think your symptoms are not typical even for someone your age etc.
posted by meepmeow at 1:09 PM on July 15, 2010

I'm in a similar age and drinking behaviour to the OP. I'll have a few 2-3 drinks on one day during the week, 2-6 drinks on Fridays and rarely drink on weekends. I'm healthy and exercise regularly, When I've had 2-3 drinks, I will often wake up at 5-6 am (which is 1-2 hours earlier than I would normally). This is definitely something I've noticed occurs with age, although I didn't really drink much in moderation when I was younger, so it's hard to compare.

For me, the effect is inconsistent, and seems to be more likely to happen when I drink less, not more. 5 beers will always put me out for the entire night, but 2-3 can get me up. But this isn't the whole story, and there must be other environmental factors affecting the phenomenon (otherwise it would be happening all the time). I haven't given it enough thought to try and figure out, but suspect eating habits play a part. If you have a full stomach it will change the way the alcohol enters your blood stream compared to an empty one.

In the OP's case, it may be that drinking is unmasking a different (and new since April) issue, as Citrus suggests. And if you're really freaking out about it I suggest you see a doctor. But my money is on something simpler, like food. You say that you are eating after the drinking, not before. Try eating first.
posted by kisch mokusch at 1:15 PM on July 15, 2010

I'm only 25 and i've noticed a change in my alcohol tolerance. I used to be able to drink a lot of anything (i mean like 7-10 drinks in a night 2 -3 nights a week) and be all bright eyed and bushytailed the next day. Then I went through a period where my stomach would be totally out of commission the next day (but i would never get sick while drinking). So I started drinking less. that was about 2.5 years ago. Just recently i've noticed that if I have one beer, especially a hoppy one from a microbrewery, I feel sick as a dog the next day. However i can have 2 or 3 cocktails and be fine. I think your changes really are just your body aging. If you want a scientific explanation, you should slip it into your next physical with your doctor.
posted by WeekendJen at 1:17 PM on July 15, 2010

Seconding melatonin. Miracle drug, really. Take it about an hour before you want to sleep like a baby.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 1:44 PM on July 15, 2010

Be sure to eat heartily before drinking, and if you've been out for the evening, have a snack when you get home. Take a B vitamin when you get home and don't go straight to bed. Let the alcohol wear off first. If you wake up in the middle of the night, get up and do something quiet (like reading) and go back to bed when you relax. You'll find an hour of being up is far better than 4 hours of tossing and turning.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 2:36 PM on July 15, 2010

I don't have an answer for you, but for the last couple of years, some days I'll been waking up very early, around 4:30 or 5. I'm glad you asked this question, because I never thought to link this with drinking alcohol. I'll let you know my results.
posted by zardoz at 6:56 PM on July 15, 2010

One of my friends who is in his early 30s now used to be a heavy drinker in college, but for the last five years or so has gotten migraine-like headaches consistently when he drinks anything. Until, that is, about three months ago, when he stopped getting the headaches, and has started drinking more. Now he gets drunk about once a week (me and my friends go out a lot) and is fine. The human body is weird as shit, let me tell you.
posted by cthuljew at 10:05 PM on July 15, 2010

I'm the same age and I drink a little more than you. I wake up an hour or so early when I do the happy hour thing but I've just adjusted my schedule to get things done then. But, personally, I have SERIOUS problems about waking up insanely early and staying up when I am extremely depressed or stressed, so I guess be sure drinking is the only variable. Have you tried staying up later? waking up earlier on normal days? Maybe these 'going out' nights have other factors in common that can be affecting things? I know the older I get, the more disciplined I have to be about being hydrated.
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 7:35 AM on July 16, 2010

Anonymous, meet your liver.
Your liver is telling you to give it a rest.
Here's some interesting info on alcohol and sleep. And a previous MeFi question on the subject.
posted by Paris Elk at 11:30 AM on July 16, 2010

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