Splitting headaches, sickness, dizziness, dehydration: anyone who's ever drunk too much knows the consequences of it.
Alcohol is a diuretic (meaning it removes fluids from the body), so drinking excessively can lead to dehydration. Dehydration is what causes many of the symptoms of a hangover.
Alcohol can upset your stomach and give you a bad night’s sleep. You may still have some alcohol in your system the next morning.
Hangover cures are generally a myth. There are no cures for a hangover. There are tips for avoiding hangovers and for easing the symptoms if you have one. The best way to avoid a hangover is not to drink. If you decide to drink, do it sensibly and within the recommended limits. To minimise the risk of future serious health problems, men shouldn't regularly drink more than three to four units a day. Women shouldn't regularly drink more than two to three units a day. To avoid a hangover, don't drink more than you know your body can cope with. If you're not sure how much that is, be careful.
Symptoms of a Hangover
Feeling tired: Alcohol is a toxin. Our bodies are designed to metabolize toxins (alcohol) at a certain pace. When the pace of consumption exceeds the pace the liver can process it we become intoxicated and at a substantially higher risk for a hangover. As the liver breaks down alcohol, it produces the toxic chemical acetaldeyde. One of the substances the body produces to counter these toxins is glutathione. The body can only make so much at time and can be quickly depleted during a night of drinking. Glutathione is a stimulant and when it’s depleted, we feel tired.
Upset stomach: Alcohol promotes secretion of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. Excessive amounts of hydrochloric acid can lead to a queasy stomach, diarrhea or vomiting.
Headache or muscle aches: Alcohol is a diuretic. Dehydration can lead to aches and pains as well as the upset stomach listed above.
How to Prevent that Hangover
Eat – A fat and protein loaded meal before or during the first round of drinks will slow the absorption of alcohol into the blood stream. No, the food doesn’t act a sponge, soaking up the alcohol, but it does slow down the digestive process. Fats and especially proteins, take longer to digest and the alcohol will be released more slowly into the bloodstream.
Drink water – Keep hydrated between beers or shots by drinking a glass of water in between. This will dilute the alcohol, give the liver time to keep up and replace the fluids lost.
Avoid diet cocktails – According to WebMD studies show cocktails mixed with fruits, fruit juices or other sugar containing beverages lessen the intensity of a hangover.
Pace yourself – The saying, “Beer then liquor, never been sicker. Liquor then beer, have no fear” has more to do with the amount of alcohol consumed than the type. Beer tends to be consumed more quickly than hard liquor and as the night goes on, each successive drink tends to go down easier. Starting with liquor and then switching to beer half way through, one might drink more beer, but less total alcohol than if the process is reversed.
The only sure fire cure for a hangover is time and lots of fluids. There are some common remedies that may help ease the symptoms, and there are others that only delay recovery.
The most common ‘cure’ is called “a hair of the dog that bit you”. This suggests that having some of what caused the hangover will help cure it. This will only delay recovery as it will further tax the liver, increase the secretion of hydrochloric acid and will not replace any of the fluids already lost to last night’s revelry.
Eat a banana. Bananas are high in potassium. This is nutrient that is lost while consuming alcohol. Potassium loss contributes to muscle aches and cramps. Eating a banana will help ease these symptoms.
In the movies a strong cup of coffee is often shoved into the hands of the hangover victim in hopes of bringing some life back into them. Coffee is a diuretic and while it may stimulate the body temporarily, the effect doesn’t last and will only delay recovery.
Drinking plenty of water* during the party and replacing fluids after can help ease the symptoms of a hangover. Re-hydrate with water or also try fruit juices and sports drinks. These will replace electrolytes which have been lost and also help recover from low blood sugar. Studies have shown that alcohol consumption has a direct correlation to increase in insulin.
Pain relievers may be the logical choice for that pounding headache which is a common symptom of hangover, however they also tax the already overworked liver. If a pain reliever is necessary, aspirin will have the least affect on the liver, but can irritate the stomach. Either way, pain relievers may delay recovery more than ease the symptoms.
Over-the-counter miracle cures may seem too good to be true, and they probably are. Most of them require each pill to be taken with large quantities of water. See * above about re-hydration. These products may help ease the symptoms, but at an unnecessary expense.
Eating a meal with complex carbohydrates, protein and a little fat can help ease the symptoms of a hangover. Whole wheat toast can absorb some of the acid the stomach is producing. A fried egg can give the stomach something else to do instead of producing acid and also replaces some nutrients the body lost during the party binge.
Know your units
You can keep track of how many units you're consuming using the desktop alcohol tracker or download the Change4Life Drinks Tracker app in iTunes and Google Play.
A large glass of wine, for instance, contains around three units. In one evening, that can quickly add up to a lot more than you intended to drink. Here are some examples:
a can of standard lager, beer or bitter – 1.8 units
a pint of standard lager, beer or bitter – 2.3 units
a small glass of wine (125ml) – 1.5 units
a large glass of wine (250ml) – 3 units
a measure of spirits (25ml) – 1 unit
Follow these tips to keep hangovers away:
Don't drink on an empty stomach. Before you go out, have a meal that includes carbohydrates (such as pasta or rice) or fats. The food will help slow down the body’s absorption of alcohol.
Don't drink dark-coloured drinks if you've found that you're sensitive to them. They contain natural chemicals called congeners (impurities), which irritate blood vessels and tissue in the brain and can make a hangover worse.
Drink water or non-fizzy soft drinks in between each alcoholic drink. Carbonated (fizzy) drinks speed up the absorption of alcohol into your system.
Drink a pint or so of water before you go to sleep. Keep a glass of water by the bed to sip if you wake up during the night.
Men should not regularly drink more than 3-4 units of alcohol a day
Women should not regularly drink more than 2-3 units a day
If you've had a heavy drinking session, avoid alcohol for 48 hours
"Regularly" means drinking this amount every day or most days of the week.
The morning after:
If you wake up the next morning feeling terrible, you probably didn't follow this advice. Although there are no real cures for hangovers, there are ways to ease the symptoms.
Treatment involves rehydrating the body so it can deal with the painful symptoms (though the best time to rehydrate is before going to sleep).
Over-the-counter painkillers can help with headaches and muscle cramps. Paracetamol-based remedies are usually preferable, as aspirin may further irritate the stomach and increase nausea and sickness.
Sugary foods may help you feel less trembly. In some cases, an antacid may be needed to settle your stomach first.
Bouillon soup, a thin vegetable-based broth, is a good source of vitamins and minerals, which can top-up depleted resources. Its main advantage is that it's easy for a fragile stomach to digest.
You can replace lost fluids by drinking bland liquids that are easy on the digestive system, such as water, soda water and isotonic drinks (available in most shops).
"Hair of the dog" (drinking more alcohol) does not help. Drinking in the morning is a risky habit, and you may simply be delaying the appearance of symptoms until the alcohol wears off again.
If you've had a heavy drinking session, hangover or not, doctors advise that you wait 48 hours before drinking any more alcohol, in order to give your body tissues time to recover. Sometimes, of course, a hangover makes that advice easier to follow.