9 Common Things That Can Make You Feel Hungover (That Aren’t Alcohol)

Caffeine withdrawal, dehydration, and other issues that don’t come from a night out.

A woman kneads her forehead wearing a striped pajama shirt. Alcohol isn't the only common thing that can make you feel hungover, doctors explain.
staticnak1983/E+/Getty Images
Originally Published: 

There's nothing worse than waking up after a fun night out to realize your body has betrayed you with a hangover. But if you've ever woken up to a splitting headache and a desire to never see sunlight or even think about food — without having taken a single drink the night before — then you may be dealing with a different medical issue. It's possible to feel hungover without drinking, largely because hangover symptoms are common in a lot of other conditions.

What happens to your body when you're hungover is a bit complicated. You could experience anything from nausea, because of how alcohol triggers your empty stomach lining, to headaches caused by dehydration, to anxiety from a chemical compound your body produces called acetaldehyde. But without alcohol in the mix, sometimes these symptoms still happen. Think about the headache and brain fog you get the day after you haven't really slept, or that upset-tummy feeling from eating a questionable piece of cheese.

If you wake up feeling sluggish and queasy but haven't touched a drink since that office party last year, consider these nine common things that can cause symptoms that feel like hangovers. Some of them are things you should definitely talk to your doctor about, while others require the curative powers of time — just like a hangover.


Auto-Brewery Syndrome

It is actually possible to get drunk without drinking. A medical condition called Auto-Brewery Symptom can actually cause your body to create alcohol in your gut.

Auto-Brewery Syndrome is a condition where your gut produces ethanol through the fermentation of food," says nutritionist and author Lisa Richards, C.N.C. "It can lead some people to feel drunk or inebriated, and can also cause them to feel hungover when the effects wear off." If you often feel drunk without the booze, it's worth checking in with your doctor to see if your gut might be making its own alcohol.



Having too much salt, too much caffeine, or too little water can make you feel hungover the morning after. Whether you exercised without refilling your water bottle, or made up for a lack of sleep with twice the usual shots of espresso, you may end up feeling like you partied on top of the bar last night.

"Anything that dehydrates the body can potentially cause similar feelings to a hangover," Dr. Greg Burrell, M.D., vice president of clinical product at health care service Carbon Health. Drinking your recommended eight glasses of water to make sure you're staying hydrated every day can keep the hangover away.


Liver Or Kidney Problems

If you wake up feeling hungover relatively often, it could be that your body is trying to tell you that one of your organs isn't functioning properly.

"Any derangement in liver or kidney function can also manifest with altered physical and mental conditions," internal medicine specialist Dr. Ehsan Ali, M.D., tells Bustle. So if your hungover feeling is coming alongside any other new health problems, then it's important to bring these symptoms up with your doctor.


Electrolyte Imbalance

You don't just need electrolytes when you're sick to your stomach or hungover from actual alcohol. Electrolyte imbalances can happen at any time — think, after exercising a ton — and can mimic symptoms you might recognize from the morning after drinking.

"Any alteration in important electrolytes can also affect ones mental and physical status, especially with sodium and potassium levels altered," Dr. Ali says. To keep your body's saltiness in check, make sure you stay hydrated especially when working out. Keep track of this symptom, and ask your doctor about checking your vitamin and mineral levels if it persists.


An Underlying Infection

Some untreated infections can cause your body to be knocked off kilter enough to mimic the feelings of a hangover, Dr. Ali says. This may especially be a red flag that an infection is getting worse, Dr. Ali adds, so call your doctor's office if a non-alcohol-induced "hangover" feels particularly severe.


Sleeping Medications

Partying it up late can obviously leave you crashing the next day. But trying to turn off the party and go to bed early can also be to blame. Sleeping medications can also make you feel extra lethargic in the morning.

"Certain medications, taken for sleep, can also cause next-day sedation or headaches," says Dr. Alex Dimitriu, M.D., the founder of therapy and psychiatry service Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine. If your doctor prescribes sleep medicine to you, make sure you talk about the side effects. And if you're picking them up over the counter, consulting a pharmacist can also help prep you for what to expect.


Caffeine Withdrawal

If you're a big caffeine drinker, especially if you're not properly hydrating, you may begin to wake up feeling "hungover" more often than not. The headaches, sluggishness, and inability to open your eyes without groaning and cursing at the world can definitely happen when you cut back on the coffee. Make sure you're preventing the problem as much as possible by drinking water alongside your coffee — just like you have a glass of water between each glass of wine.



Pregnancy causes a host of physical changes, including what you probably know as morning sickness. That all-day nausea and fatigue can feel mighty similar to the morning after a night out.

"A [pregnant] body will preference the baby, meaning that the first nutrients will go there, and the [parent] may end up feeling tired, dehydrated, or ‘hungover’ if [they are] not getting enough of those things," Dr. Burrell says.


Post-Migraine Hangovers

People who get frequent migraines are well aware that they are way more than just a headache. But people who are recently diagnosed, or perhaps getting a migraine for the first time, may not be aware how serious a migraine postdrome can be.

"Migraines, a special class of headaches, have been known to cause lingering hangover-like symptoms even after the migraine is over, known as a postdrome," Dr. Burrell says. "Light exercise, maintaining hydration, and avoiding overstimulation may help with this." If you can trace your symptoms back to a severe headache, then it's possible this is the connection.


Lisa Richards, C.N.C., nutritionist and author

Dr. Greg Burrell, M.D., vice president of clinical product, Carbon Health

Dr. Ehsan Ali, M.D., internal medicine specialist

Dr. Alex Dimitriu, M.D., founder, Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine