Hangover Helper: Surviving the Morning After
Have you ever had one of those nights when you've had lots of fun, and maybe five or six more drinks than you really needed? Unfortunately, when you've had several too many drinks, you usually want another one. This is the time when you need good judgment, and it's the time when you won't have it. So, the morning rolls around, or perhaps it's afternoon, and the sound of the sheets billowing on the bed just about cracks your head wide open. You hope that you at least know the name of anyone who happens to be sleeping next to you—and that you aren't sleeping in someone's front yard. That requires thought, and thought hurts your head like a hammer striking an anvil. That's when you know you have a hangover.
Hungover and Really Hungover
In his 1997 book, The Hangover Handbook, Nic Van Oudtshoorn explained the two primary types of hangovers: “If you feel so sick you're afraid you're going to die, you're suffering a pretty standard hangover. It's only a real stinker when you become terrified that you'll stay alive—to continue suffering.”
How to Get a Hangover
No one seems to know the true causes of a hangover. Of course, the main cause is acting like a fool, and there's no cure for that. Dehydration has to be near the top of the list. Alcohol is a diuretic. After drinking far too much, your brain must resemble the raisin left in the bottom of the box.
Another cause is congeners. These are higher alcohols that are toxic in high doses. Congeners tend to be found in brown spirits such as Scotch and bourbon, and are also present in some strong beers such as barley wines and imperial stouts. But don't count on feeling grand the next day if you knock down a half-gallon of vodka, which contains few if any congeners.
The Night Before
You can take measures to avoid a hangover, or at least mitigate its effects. You can choose not to drink, of course. But let's be serious.
Eat a solid meal beforehand and have some snacks during the evening. This slows the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream. It doesn't reduce the total amount of alcohol you've ingested, so eating doesn't give you carte blanche to abuse your liver.
Know what you're drinking and pace yourself. I try to drink one beer per hour, for example. Think about alternating glasses of fruit juice or water with your drink of choice. That both rehydrates you and helps limit consumption.
Realize that the percentage of alcohol in drinks varies considerably. A typical pilsener contains about 5 percent alcohol by volume, while a barley wine might have twice that. Some Rieslings contain only 8 percent alcohol; red Zinfandel can have 14 or 15 percent. Beer containers don't always list the alcohol content, but it's required on wine and spirits bottles. Spirits are typically 80 proof (40 percent), but single-barrel bourbons and single-malt Scotches might be over 100 proof. Mixed drinks can vary considerably, depending on the recipe and the light or heavy hand of the person making a drink.
If you've managed to get hammered despite your best intentions, take a couple of aspirins and B-vitamins and wash them down with a quart of water before retiring. Don't take acetaminophen (as in Tylenol), as it can damage your liver when combined with alcohol. Aspirin will ease the pain, vitamins will replenish the ones you washed out with alcohol and water will rehydrate your body.
The Morning After
Van Oudtshoorn offers up no less than 101 cures for this self-induced misery, many of them standard potions comprised of various vile ingredients, often mixed with more alcohol. Then there is the vigorous sex recommended by Kingsley Amis. Honey, I've got a headache.
Pliny the Elder instructed the victim to swallow six raw owl's eggs. I'll bet he wasn't the one tasked with procuring the eggs. Dealing with an angry owl might divert one's attention from his suffering, and after the owl pecked the hell out of him, he'd be visiting the Roman equivalent of the emergency room.
The ancient Greeks flagellated the poor sot until blood was drawn, as if he even realized he was bleeding. Hell, drawing blood from someone in that condition was likely the next most dangerous thing to spilling rocket fuel.
Cowboys used to cure hangovers with the jumping jackrabbit. The ailing cowpoke was directed to drink this strong tea, made from jackrabbit droppings, every 30 minutes. I don't know if it cured anything, but I expect it taught a person not to drink too much again, or not to tell his friends if he did.
In The Wrath of Grapes (1996), Andy Toper recounts a 16th-century English cure consisting of raw eel and bitter almonds ground into a paste and eaten with bread. I think I'll just stick with the bread.
On a more serious note, a hot shower or sauna can soothe the pain and help you sweat out the nasties. if you can keep it down, yogurt or cereal with milk may restore the acid balance that you threw off with massive amounts of alcohol. Alka-Seltzer contains aspirin, sodium bicarbonate and citric acid, which can relieve headaches and upset stomachs.
Energy Drinks and Alcohol
You may think that consuming energy drinks along with alcohol can help you to party harder and longer. This may not be a good idea. High caffeine levels in these drinks can cause heart palpitations, says Keith Cambrel in the Virginia Tech Collegiate Times, and adding alcohol to the mix can exacerbate the problem.
Avoiding a Hangover
The best way to avoid a hangover is to not get drunk. But you already know that. If it happens anyway, summon up your common sense as soon as possible, and don't do something stupid like accepting a ride home from another drunk. You want to live to get hungover again. Unless it's a stinker, of course.