The answer to the question “What causes a hangover?” is a complex one. There is more than one reason for all that pain. Most hangovers are caused by a combination of dehydration (lack of fluids in the body), the loss of sugars and salts, and poisoning of the system with alcohol – or, more precisely, the impurities in alcohol.
You can never really know when one is going to creep up on you and, once it’s there, how to deal with it. However, help is at hand. Here are some ways to avoid a hangover just by being a bit clever (and, let’s face it, none of us are particularly good at this while under the influence), so read carefully.
Before you even leave the house – that’s right, while you’re still sober – have something to eat. This slows absorption of alcohol. Carbs and fatty foods are best. If you can’t find the time to eat, drink a glass of milk at least. If you get the chance to eat something during the evening, do.
Have a glass of water after each alcoholic drink. Water keeps your body hydrated. When you drink alcohol, its diuretic qualities mean that our body expels more liquid than you drink. The body requires water to function and, if various organs within it are deprived, they will steal it from wherever they can, including the brain (see where I’m going here?). The brain doesn’t actually feel pain, but, when it starts shrinking due to loss of fluid, filaments connecting the outside membranes to the inner skull start to stretch and this is what gives you the gnawing pain in your head in the morning. Dehydration caused from increased alcohol intake makes your brain shrink. Now will you listen to me?
Stick to one drink an hour to give your body a chance to absorb the alcohol cumulatively. The body only has the facility to process roughly one ounce (a half-jigger) of alcohol an hour (this varies depending on gender, body size, tolerance levels, etc.). On a serious note, this rule of thumb is well worth remembering for those of us who may have to drive to work early in the morning after a late night.
Don’t mix different types of alcohol. It takes the body longer to recognize and metabolize each individual type of alcohol.
If you “mix it up,” remember the rules. Beer before liquor, never sicker. Liquor before beer, no fear. Beer then wine, feel fine. Wine then beer, feel queer. Confused? Me, too.
Stick to light-colored liquors. Dark liquors contain more congeners (the impurities that give alcohol taste), which will have a rousing effect on the drum solo that is about to kick off in your head.
Remember, carbonated drinks affect you faster. The bubbles help the body absorb the alcohol at an increased rate.
Drink premium liquors. The more expensive the alcohol, invariably, the better its method of distillation (the production method that helps to remove the congeners).
Avoid too many sweet drinks (like piña coladas). Not only do they make you look like a bit of a jerk, but the sweet flavors often hide the taste of alcohol, giving you an unrealistic view on how much you are drinking.
Drink a pint of lightly-salted water before going to bed. Frequent visits to the toilet will result in the loss of salt as well as water. Salts contain potassium and sodium, which are essential for maintaining a healthy body. If you are determined to stave off the pain, and you have a strong stomach, drinking a large glass of lightly salted water before going to bed will help (and another would help even more). I recommend trying this the night before, as it’s not going to get any easier the next day.
Eat something sweet before bed. Alcohol attacks the glycogen that is stored in the body. It breaks it down to glucose, which is washed out of the body when you visit the restroom. When this energy source is depleted, you will feel heavily fatigued in the morning.
Try a banana, honey, and peanut butter sandwich. The banana and honey contain potassium and glucose. Bananas are also high in magnesium, which can relax the pounding blood vessels in your head, and contain natural antacids to help soothe your gnarled stomach. And why peanut butter…? Not too sure, but it sure tastes great!
Have a long, hot powerful shower. I’m digging into the pockets of personal experience here, but a shower, especially one with massaging jets, often helps. Aim the jets on your neck or anywhere else you feel tense, and your muscles will relax, relieving tension. This is especially useful for those of us who have a penchant for subjecting our body (and pride) to a turn on the dance floor! If that’s too hectic, try a hot bath!
Take milk thistle extract. On a love-your-liver tip, this herb is quite butch when it comes to limiting the damage done by free radicals.
Go for a brisk walk. Increased oxygen intake can improve the metabolic rate, thus increasing the speed at which toxins are broken down within the body.
Drink isotonic sports drinks. These are typically used by sports persons to replace salts and sugars sweated out during exercise, which is exactly why they are good for hangovers! Try to avoid the carbonated isotonic drinks, though, as they will only bloat your stomach.
Drawing by Charles Bukowski