Anyone who has ever gone overboard during a night out knows the nightmarish feeling of laying down and watching the room spin violently.
I used to spend many a night burying my head under a pillow, willing myself the ability to see straight.
It didn’t work.
Mostly I just ran back and forth to the bathroom until the spinning stopped enough that I could reasonably pass out.
But why does it happen? And is there anything you can do about it?
Why does the room spin after a night of heavy drinking?
The technical term for what you are experiencing is vertigo.
You may also experience light-headedness, loss of balance, difficulty walking, nausea, and vomiting.
It has to do with alcohol’s effect on your ears.
The inner ear system plays an integral role in our sense of balance. Alcohol specifically affects three fluid-filled semicircular canals.
The fluid is called endolymph. Inside these canals, we also have a gelatinous structure called the cupula and tiny, hair-like cells called stereocilia.
Incredibly, these tiny little parts play a big role in our ability to get around.
Normally, when we move around, the endolymph moves, which alters the shape of the cupula, and bends the stereocilia.
When the stereocilia bend, they send an electric signal to our brains to help make sense of the movement, helping us to feel balanced.
Alcohol disrupts inner ear balance.
Alcohol also thins your blood.
Thinned blood creates a difference in density between the cupula and endolymph, which changes the structure of the cupula.
This, in turn, bends the stereocilia, which send signals to your brain that says, “Hey, we’re rotating!”
Except you’re not.
This creates the spinning effect you get when you look up at the ceiling and start questioning your life choices.
Oh, and closing your eyes only makes it worse.
Without those visual clues to help your brain realize that the world is not spinning a mile a minute, the alcohol spins get worse.
Does throwing up help the spins?
Somehow we all got it into our heads that making ourselves throw up when we get the spins is a good thing.
First, it doesn’t work. You might feel temporarily relieved by vomiting, but, at best, you’ve only eliminated the alcohol from your stomach that hasn’t been absorbed into the bloodstream.
The other six rounds are still in your system and have to work their way out naturally.
Risks of throwing up to cure the spins:
Want to enrage a gastroenterologist? Tell them you make yourself throw up after a night of drinking.
To say it is ill-advised would be an understatement.
Self-induced vomiting puts additional strain on your esophagus than throwing up naturally. If done frequently, this can lead to esophageal tears, which cause you to throw up blood.
Vomiting also exposes your esophagus to stomach acid, which can exacerbate and cause inflammation of the esophageal lining, called esophagitis. Chronic esophagitis can lead to cancer of the esophagus.
Third, vomiting increases the risk of having partially digested food stuck in the respiratory tract (pulmonary respiration).
Even more likely, you give yourself a nasty case of heartburn and still have to suffer through the spins.
What can you do to stop the alcohol spins after a night of heavy drinking?
Let me say that again.
Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada.
You may read on the internet that you can ground yourself by placing a foot on the floor and focusing on an immobile object, but it doesn’t work.
At least, not in any significant way.
Vomiting (we just talked about this) may help lessen the duration of your spins by eliminating the toxins from alcohol sitting in your stomach which has yet to be absorbed into your bloodstream.
However, most of the damage has been done by the time the spins have started. Throwing up is fruitless.
Another suggestion is watching TV to give your eyes (and brain) enough visual stimulation to combat vertigo.
Again, there is no evidence this makes a huge difference.
Ultimately, once you’ve reached spin levels of heavy drinking, the only way out is through.
You have to let your body do its thing until it passes.
So what CAN you do to prevent the spins?
Don’t drink heavily.
The only way to avoid getting the spins is to monitor your alcohol intake and not overdo it.
Remember that binge drinking is considered 4+ drinks on a single occasion for women and 5+ drinks on a single occasion for men.
If you want to avoid the spins, you need to avoid meeting and surpassing those thresholds.
Limit your alcohol intake to moderate levels, or quit drinking altogether.
For more information and related posts on alcohol’s effect on the body:
- Are You an Alcoholic? How to Spot the Warning Signs.
- Does Alcohol Kill Brain Cells? Not Exactly.
- How Alcohol Impacts Your Brain + What To Do About It