I'm writing this on the eve of #StPatricksDay🇮🇪, as I prepare to attend my city's festivities with a couple of friends. The one who instigated this insisted that we show up in the early morning for the full experience. The beauty of imbibing early in the day is I often wrap things up early, have time to come back down, and still get to bed at a reasonable time. But occasionally, early days turn into long afternoons and hazy nights.
This got me thinking about everyone's favorite post-drinking friend that lurks in the shadows, the #hangover. I decided I should put together a guide of sorts. What shocked me in the process was discovering several things I didn't know or having assumptions I'd made challenged. I consulted three resources
The Mayo Clinic's page on hangovers and
a chapter from Drinking Distilled by Jeffrey Morgenthaler on them
I've broken things down into 3 categories: what we know, what is false, and what is still unproven.
What we know
Alcohol is a diuretic. It interferes with a hormone called vasopressin. When this happens, your body expels water (aka peeing) at a rate of up to 4x as much liquid as is coming in. What does this mean? Drinking a glass of wine can result in you peeing out a wine bottle's worth of fluids. When the body loses water, your brain temporarily condenses, which causes it to become inflamed, thus your headache.
Alcohol irritates the stomach lining. This can lead to indigestion, nausea, etc. If you take a pain reliever to fight a headache, it can cause further irritation to your stomach. And avoid Acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) when drinking alcohol. When combined, the two can damage your liver.
The only proven way to avoid a hangover is to drastically limit your consumption of alcohol or avoid it altogether.
What is false
“Liquor before beer you’re in the clear”. The sequence in which you drink does not correlate with a hangover. Instead, remember that if you’ve been out drinking for a while and then begin hitting “the hard stuff”, your already dehydrated body is likely to be more dramatically impacted. But if I have a beer and then a shot of whiskey, vs. a shot of whiskey and then a beer, I am no more likely to become hungover.
Drinking coffee or taking a shower will not prevent or cure a hangover.
Hair of the dog: Having an alcoholic drink the morning after a night of drinking will not help avoid a hangover. It can minimize some symptoms, but can also contribute to and further prolong them.
What is still unproven
Congeners are what create flavor and aroma in spirits, wine, etc. Vodka has very few congeners while whiskey and Jamaican rums have lots. Many people report feeling more hungover after congener-rich spirits. Despite this, research showing this to be true is inconclusive.
Sulfites are added to some wines as a preservative. Some people are sensitive to sulfites but some are not. If you are, they can increase the effects of a hangover but they have not been proven to cause hangovers in all people universally.
Using other drugs at the same time, like nicotine, appears to increase the likelihood of a hangover.
The saddest part 😢 of this research was discovering that it has not been proven that losing electrolytes is linked to the severity of a hangover. While this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have an electrolyte drink (e.g. Gatorade, Pedialyte) during or after drinking, it is not proven that this will help prevent or resolve one.
Hydrate and eat in advance and stay hydrated during the day with water. When I’m at home or a bar, I often have a drink and water in front of me at the same time.
If it’s going to be a real bender of a day, I put a rehydration packet on my pillow so I don’t forget to take it before I go to bed. As stated above, the research is inconclusive, but placebo or not, it makes me feel more prepared.