Is it a hangover, an adverse event or a side effect?

We’ve all been there and inevitably regretted it, that one too many drinks, or a mix of drinks and the next day, bam, pumping headache, stomach in knots and the daylight seems so bright. All in you feel like death and hide under the duvet for the majority of the day.

The risks are known and to a degree, the outcome is also known. Has the benefit of the drink outweighed those risks and that dreaded hangover?

Adverse events

In the world of pharmacovigilance, an adverse event is broadly any untoward medical occurrence after taking a medicinal product which does not have a causal relationship to treatment. An Adverse event can be any unfavourable and unintended sign associated with the use of a medicinal product, whether considered related to the medicine or not. It will not explain the traffic sign you stole on the way home whilst thinking it was a good idea when drunk but could cover the loss of the kebab which smelt so good but was soon rejected by your stomach.

An Adverse Drug Reaction (ADR) is any noxious or unintended responses which are attributed to a drug. As such these are the “side effects” that are directly caused by the use or discontinuation of a drug. Alcohol is a drug, the headache, stomach issues, are all side effects which you’ve set yourself up to. You are suffering not from a hangover but an adverse drug reaction.

We all take medicines at some stages of our lives. They bring benefit but at some risk. That risk may vary depending on the dose, illness etc. The benefit of use should always be favourable to the risk. Some of those risks are known and quantified but on occasion new risks can emerge that have the potential for significant harm.

Monitoring data for safety signals, reporting adverse events and continually mapping safety keeps the users of medicines (ourselves) in as safe hands as possible when they are used as instructed.

So, next time when you reach for that ibuprofen to cure that pounding head after a night on the town remember to think that you are using one drug to combat the side effects of another.

If this sounds like an interesting area and you want to know more about adverse events, pharmacovigilance in general or are interested in working for us to help keep medicines as safe as possible, please contact us at and we’ll be more than happy to hear from you.
James Hall