It’s going to be one of those
You knew it the instant you woke
up, your head pounding out paradiddles and your mouth as dry
as a armadillo with heatstroke.
You’ve been here before — swore,
in fact, that you’d never be here again.
But, somehow, you’re back again
anyway, riding out the twists and turns and torments of a hangover.
And it’s all uphill from here.
No matter what else they may
be, hangovers are more than just an unpleasant interlude for
weekend party animals.
For one thing, morning-after
miseries are a leading cause of workplace absenteeism and low
And heading back to the bottle
for next-day relief (an anicient practice known as taking a “hair
of the dog that bit you”) only reinforces the tendency to
drink more, more often.
So hangovers are more than just
a headache, and a lot more than a cute cultural cliché.
Still, they’re often passed over
when research dollars are passed out — one reason that science
has been slow to investigate them fully.
Of course, hangovers are trivial
compared to other alcohol-related problems, like drunk driving,
fetal alcohol syndrome, and alcoholism.
People don’t die from hangovers
— though they might wish that they could. And morning-after
symptoms do disappear without treatment in a few hours or days.
Still, that doesn’t make them
any easier to take when they’re happening to you.
And that’s the whole point of
In it, we’ll talk about what
hangovers are and where they come from. We’ll discuss the basics
of barroom pharmacology with the goal of helping you head off
hangovers from here on out.
Because hangovers are more than
just unnecessarily long and unnecessarily unpleasant — they’re
..Signs & Symptoms
Where do we start in finding
out about hangovers? We could begin with personal tales of My
Most Miserable Morning After. Everybody’s got one of those.
Or we could ask the experts.
But if we did, we’d probably find a dozen different authorities
with a dozen different answers.
Because the fact is that there’s
no single way to describe all the mornings after all the nights
While the most common complaints
linked to hangovers center on thirst, body aches, and fatigue,
over 30 different morning-after symptoms have been identified.
Following an evening of close
consultation with the bottle, some awaken feeling dizzy or nauseous.
Others are hit by headaches, dehydration, or heartburn. Some
don’t suffer much at all, while others pay for Saturday with
a bleary fatigue that lingers from Sunday to Monday and beyond.
So much of what’s drifted down
through the years under the classification of “hangover”
is probably better described as the “Morning After Syndrome,”
varying in severity and duration from one sufferer — and one
Sunday — to the next.
What accounts for the variation?
Everything from attitude to atmosphere
figures into the equation, but particularly important is the
question of how fast your body metabolizes, or breaks down, alcohol.
Biologically, hangovers are linked
to high levels of alcohol in the bloodstream.
About 95 percent of the alcohol
content of a drink is broken down in the liver. What’s left is
excreted in the sweat, breath and urine.
But when intake outpaces output,
blood alcohol level remains higher longer, and the likelihood
of a hangover increases.
The maximum level at which the
liver can metabolize alcohol is just under an ounce of liquor
per hour-or the alcohol equivalent in a 12-ounce beer or a five-ounce
glass of wine.
But age, sex and weight alter
that rate, increasing the intensity of the alcohol high and the
chances for a hangover low.
The intoxication threshold drops
with increasing years and at lower body weights, while men, in
general, tend to fare better than women.
Though the fate of alcohol in
the body and bloodstream may differ slightly from drinker to
drinker, the onset of hangovers is relatively fixed.
Morning-after aches and pains
begin to make themselves felt as blood alcohol levels start to
fall, generally an hour or so following the last drink of the
The worst symptoms strike 8-10
hours later, with the full recovery cycle spreading out hours
This prolonged rebound is believed
to stem from the body’s slow adjustment to the absence of alcohol.
In fact, some researchers think
that hangovers represent a mild form of alcohol withdrawal.
Others argue that the hangover
is only a response to the toxic effects of ethanol, liquor’s
psychoactive ingredient. Others blame congeners, the chemical
by-products of alcohol’s fermentation, distillation, and aging.
But while experts still debate
the biochemical basis of the hangover, most sufferers instinctively
know what to blame: booze — too much too soon.
Too bad they don’t remember till
it’s too late.
..Quick-Fixes & Quackery
Over the centuries, the hangover
has inspired any number of home remedies — from showers and
saunas to coffee and cabbage-intended to ease the symptoms that
go along with going too far.
Early Romans choked down raw
owl’s eggs and sheep lungs as an answer to the morning after.
Assyrians favored ground swallow beaks and myrrh, while centuries
later and half a world away, voodoo priests plunged needles in
the corks of offending containers.
In America today, a range of
organic extracts — from primrose oil to herbal teas — have
been suggested, as have other disciplines and techniques, from
acupuncture to biofeedback.
Among the newer concoctions to
hit the hangover-helper market are preparations which claim to
sober up drinkers by reversing the intoxicating effects of alcohol.
But according to the U.S. Food
and Drug Administration, the mixtures — generally blends of
salts, sugars and vitamins — don’t work, at least not at turning
around the effects of alcohol.
Probably the most familiar item
in the unofficial pharmacy of folk remedies for hangovers is
a drink or two more of the tonic of the night before.
That’s often more than some people
can stomach, hangover or not, but the practice does produce results
by smoothing out — at least temporarily — a hangover’s sharper
twists and turns.
On the other hand, morning drinking
also produces results of an entirely different order and often
is considered an early sign of impending alcoholism.
According to most experts with
a serious interest in the topic, most morning-after medications
and emergency measures are no more than placebos, banking heavily
on the power of belief and a hefty dose of wishful thinking.
“There are no true hangover
remedies available,” a spokesman for the Distilled Spirits
Council of the United States says. “All so-called hangover
cures have one thing in common: They don’t work. The only real
cure for a hangover is sobriety.”
..Easy Does It
So what’s the answer — don’t
drink? That’s sensible enough advice, but it’s probably not for
Still, there are precautions
that will help check the odds of a hangover. One involves slowing
down the absorption of alcohol in the body by eating before you
drink (and even while you’re drinking) and by sipping your drinks
The safest bet of all is to practice
moderation when drinking.
“We’ve found that if you
want to avoid the whole hangover problem, use moderation,”
the DISCUS spokesman noted. “Moderation is healthy and painless.
Drink enjoyably, but as part of a social event, not the goal.”
Think about it. Because of all
the medications, preparations and potions touted as remedies
for hangovers through the ages, the only sure-fire way to spell
relief the morning after the night before is (and always has
..Health & Hangovers
best-known sign that all’s not well after a bout with a bottle
is the hangover — that miserable feeling that sets in the morning
after the night before.
the ingredients that go into them, differ from drinker to drinker.
Still, regardless of how (and in whom) hangovers happen, morning-after
miseries represent the body’s reaction to the short-term toxic
effects of alcohol. And those effects begin to occur at low levels
of drinking, even before a drinker feels what alcohol is famous
for — it’s intoxicating effects.
Get the idea?
Even at moderate levels, alcohol is a poison, and at higher levels
it’s something of a liquid time bomb.
Still (and to balance out the picture) that doesn’t automatically
mean that it’s “better” or healthier not to drink at
In fact, recent studies have shown that moderate drinkers have
lower levels of heart disease than do tea-totalers, and statistics
show that moderate drinkers tend to live longer and spend less
time in hospitals than both abstainers and heavy drinkers.
Still, heavy drinking can lead to all sorts of health problems,
and those problems have added up to what’s been estimated in
the U. S. as at least a $100 billion annual bill for otherwise-unnecessary
health care expenses.
That doesn’t even include all the aspirin and all the antacids
to ease all the millions of hangovers. That only includes the
“hidden” health problems linked to use of the drug.
And there are a lot of those. (See “Body Talk” box,
below, for examples.)
..An Ounce of Prevention
there’s not a lot you can do to keep your body in perfect biochemical
condition if you choose to drink.
That’s because alcohol is a complex drug, the only one we know
of that’s both fat- and water-soluble, and one which affects
all the organs and tissues of the body.
In fact, recent research has linked alcohol with a higher rate
of tumors of the breast, liver, and mouth, along with an added
susceptibility to high blood pressure.
And experts increasingly warn against drinking during pregnancy,
since even one or two drinks per week have been linked with a
higher risk of stillbirth and miscarriage.
The old adage has never seemed truer. Because an ounce of prevention
really is worth a pound (or is it a gallon?) of cure.
Still, if you do drink (and you plan to keep on drinking) and
you want to stay as healthy as possible, drink moderately.
Also, become aware of your diet and the way that foods (and drinking)
affect your mood. Follow up by making a commitment to reduce
your intake of junk food, fats, and excess sugar. And follow
through by setting up (and sticking to) an exercise program.
That’s the best way we know to have your cocktail and drink it,
too — hopefully, to a ripe old age.
best way to minimize the risk of problems is to simply be responsible
about drinking — by being aware that alcohol is a powerful drug
and then treating it like one.
That means taking care if you’re going to be taking a drink —
whether taking care takes the form of taking a cab when you’re
out on the town or simply taking it easy when a friend tries
to insist on another round when you’ve had enough.
It also could mean passing on drinking altogether for some of
us, particularly pregnant women and those taking prescribed medications
— which can produce deadly interactions when taken with alcohol.
It can mean a lot of things, because there are a lot of things
we can do to take the danger out of drinking. But they all start
with each of us. And they all end with being responsible.
at you, kid.
..Sidebar | Mastering Moderation: How To Drink Responsibly
If you’re a drinker
and want to avoid hangovers, learn to drink responsibly. That
means not drinking to escape — problems or people — and not
drinking to get drunk. But that’s onlly what it doesn’t mean.
What it does
mean is learning to see alcohol for what it is-a drug- and remembering
to approach it with the healthy dose of caution it deserves.
Here are four
ways to reduce your risk of problems:
- Eat before drinking.
Food slows the rate at which alcohol is absorbed, lowering peak
blood alcohol levels. That means that if you want to avoid waking
up in your own private hell, eat before drinking — and snack
on foods while drinking.
- Drink slowly.
Sip drinks rather than gulping them. Drinking too much often
results from drinking too fast. And don’t chug or “shotgun”
your drinks. If you do, you might not have to worry about waking
up with a hangover. You might not wake up at all.
- Space your drinks.
When you’re drinking, switch off to soda or fruit juice from
time to time.
- Set a drinking
limit. Know — and respect — your personal drinking limit. Notice
how different amounts affect you. Then set a realistic limit
on your own drinking — and stick to it.