We’ve all had one – possibly even right now. And we’re all going to have one again – probably tomorrow. So here we dispel the myths, provide some temporary solutions and hook you up with the greatest guide to the worst 24 hours of your life. Drink it in!
Hangovers are only one day younger than alcohol itself – and science is still mystified. The symptoms are well known, but when it comes to explaining and curing them, nobody really knows anything more than that they suck. And that if you don’t want a hangover, don’t get pissed. Thanks a lot, science!
Stage One: Anatomically Incorrect
What’s actually going down when you feel like throwing up
You’ll look dull, dry and generally older the morning after. The red eyes are caused by blood vessels dilating, and dehydration is why they feel all dry, itchy and puffy. Abuse booze and chronic blood vessel dilation will leave you red-faced. Yep, your mug and nose will be forever reddened. Handy at Christmas time, but pretty shit for job interviews, dates, court appearances, etc.
Thirst and dry mouth can be blamed directly on liquor. Smoking doesn’t help things, either, because it intensifies your hangover in general. But alcohol acts as a diuretic, sucking the fluid from a male body faster than that tall babe with the husky voice you met in that Bangkok bar. Hey, no judgement, man.
Hormone production goes haywire, affecting your body clock and messing up your nervous system. Prepare to get sensitive, but not in the way women respond to. On waking up, your enemies will include light, sound and touch. More things to look forward to include sweating, high body temperature, tremors and a lack of focus and coordination.
Does it feel like a razorback made love to your skull? Blame cytokines, which are inflammatory chemicals that booze causes to be produced in excess by your immune system. These cause pain, thinking and memory problems, even anxiety.
The throbbing sensation is a result of the blood vessels in your noggin dilating. Dehydrated organs begin to panic and they try to leech water from your brain, shrinking it and agitating the lining. You feel sleepy after a few because grog puts the brakes on glutamine production, which is a natural stimulant that keeps you awake.
Hannibal Lecter’s lunch produces the enzymes responsible for breaking down ethanol. During the breakdown, fatty and lactic acids build up, your blood sugar plummets and you transform into a moody, sore-muscled jerk. In the long term, too much of the stuff and scarring becomes a problem.
Low blood sugar and dehydration combine to cause aches and fatigue. If you plan on exorcising the demon drink through exercise, down a sports energy drink or three first. If you’re into feeling light-headed and dropping dumbbells on your foot, ignore that advice.
Bending the elbow will destabilise this dynamic duo. As your night rages on, the kidneys fail to reabsorb water, you pee more and become dehydrated. On the plus side, your dance moves suddenly go from crap to out of this world!
Your racing heartbeat is a result of the build-up of acetaldehyde. The cumulative effects of a sustained drinking problem enlarges the wrong love muscle and could lead to congestive heart failure.
Nausea, vomiting and horrifying bowel movements are all agents of the hangover. Drinking irritates the stomach lining, delaying digestion. It also leads to excess digestive fluid production, meaning stomach pain and the potential for puke. As for the runs, hooch speeds up the workflow of the intestines – and we mean that in every sense of the word. Everything passes through the pipes more rapidly, so instead of solid poop you get a spray.
Stage Two: Help Me!
These popular post-drinking “cures” are anything but
Once the espresso comes out, the party is over – but it’s not a cure. Coffee is another diuretic and will only sap more precious water from your already drained body. You might as well pour some Bailey’s in there to keep things interesting.
Sweating it out is a popular solution, but it’s the least helpful. The critical workout is in your liver, not your quads. Neither anaerobic (pounding weights) or aerobic (working the Pilates mat) exercise boosts liver function. In fact, dehydrating yourself further will only make a bad situation worse. The flexible eye candy at the gym may provide some small comfort, though.
Hornovers are the only bonus to your morning hell. Nobody is quite sure why we wake up so toey, but some reckon that hooch, as a capillary-widening vasodilator, gets the blood flowing to your main vein fast. Spending the morning-after charming your palm – or even having sex with another human being – is a relief of one kind, but it won’t soothe your skull.
Be an alcoholic
The tolerance that alcoholics develop is due to increased enzyme production. While great in the short term, that doesn’t make you immune to hangovers. Studies show that you may be able to handle alcohol-related hangover symptoms, but you’re more likely to suffer from alcohol withdrawal problems, like hallucinations – which might explain the large pink elephant that just skipped into the office with the dwarf lion-tamer…
Hair of the dog
“Drinking more alcohol might postpone a hangover for the short run,” explains dietician Susan Kraus, “but you’ve set yourself further back for the inevitable.” But seeing as you’re a real man, you should reject sound medical advice and enjoy one of the rejuvenating cocktails to the far right.
Stage Three: Resurrected
Gird your loins – and the rest of your body – for another night in Booze Town
“Anything high in protein is a good alcohol buffer,” says James Schaefer, PhD, a lead researcher in hangover studies. Hang on, why wasn’t that subject around when we were at uni? A meal high in delicious amino acids should keep the pyloric valve closed longer – that’s the valve that controls when your stomach contents dump into your small intestine, where most alcohol is absorbed. Avoid fatty or sugary meals before a bender, as they’re less efficient. On the other hand, poultry, dairy and vegetables are winners.
The paracetamol in things like Panadol can exacerbate liver problems in heavy drinkers. Go for an over-the-counter antacid instead – it’ll ease the cauldron of pain brewing in your gut and contains enough aspirin to act as what Dr Sack calls a “prostaglandin synthetase inhibitor”. That’s something to battle body-damaging cytokines, but not enough to harm your delicate stomach lining.
Water is an obvious friend when you’re on the tear, but once the serious drinking has commenced it’s difficult to follow the “one drink, one water” rule. Just try to skip all carbonated drinks – they irritate the pyloric valve. Take your beverages mixed with water or fruit juice instead. You might even convince yourself you’re being healthy…
Listen to the East
According to a study conducted by the Department of Food Science and Technology at the College of Agriculture and Biotechnology at Chungnam National University in Deajeon, South Korea – it’s real, trust us – certain natural compounds could help delay the absorption of alcohol in the small intestine. If you can get your hands on leaves of laurus nobilis, fruit of kochia scoparia, or seed of aesculus you’ll be good to go! You’re also probably a woodland druid.
Illustrations: Peter Arkle