You are heading out to the big holiday party and planning to have fun, perhaps a few drinks, some beer, some wine or something stronger. If it is New Year’s Eve or another celebration, maybe there will be some champagne too.
Celebrating is fine, but don’t overdo it. And most importantly, as long as you don’t drive after drinking alcohol.
Unfortunately, many people will overdo it, and wake up the next day with a splitting headache and a queasy stomach.
Is there a cure for a hangover? In this article, a psychiatry professor at the University of North Carolina, who specializes in alcohol-related treatment and research provides some answers.
Fast facts on hangover cures:
- There is no cure for a hangover, but precautions can reduce the risk of it happening.
- Eating food before a drinking session is a must.
- Pacing yourself with a glass of water can help.
- Rehydration is key.
- Sports drinks might help reduce some symptoms.
- Ibuprofen can help relieve symptoms, but avoid aspirin and Tylenol.
A hangover is when you wake up to a feeling of nausea, headache, tiredness, inability to concentrate, and possibly sensitivity to light, after drinking the night before.
Alcohol, or ethanol, is a toxin, so it is not surprising that it causes people to feel unwell.
It is ethanol that triggers a key feature of a hangover, namely dehydration. This is because it causes the drinker to urinate more. Dehydration causes the headache.
But dehydration is not the only problem.
Ethanol also irritates the stomach. This leads to inflammation and prevents digested food from moving through the gut. It also causes the digestive system to produce more gastric acid. This contributes to the nausea.
In addition, as the body processes ethanol, it creates a byproduct, acetaldehyde, which builds up in the body. This is another toxin that can cause adverse effects in the body.
There is also a theory that a hangover is an immune response to the toxic ethanol.
An immune response is how the body responds when a foreign body or unwanted substance enters the body. It is the body’s defense mechanism.
Researchers have found that, during a hangover, there are more cytokines in the body. Cytokines are normally produced during an immune reaction.
Alcohol poisoning is a step up from a hangover, but while a hangover usually happens on the next day, the symptoms of alcohol poisoning can happen during the drinking session, as well as the next day.
Alcohol poisoning can be fatal. If someone passes out after heavy drinking, it is a serious medical emergency, and the person should be taken to the hospital right away.
How alcohol or a hangover affects a person depends to some extent on the individual.
There are many myths about hangover cures, but not a single one has been scientifically proven to work, according to Prof. James C. Garbutt, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, NC.
Prof. Garbutt specializes in alcoholism treatment and research.
He told Medical News Today:
“Hangover is one negative consequence of excess alcohol consumption but there are many others, including accidents, which can be serious, loss of control over emotions such as anger or sadness, and bad decision-making exemplified by the classic office party gone wrong.”
“The most important message I would emphasize is that people shouldn’t drink too much in the first place.”
Prof. Garbutt, Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies, UNC
However, if you do party too much once in a while, be sure to do it wisely. There are some steps you can take to enjoy a few drinks responsibly and prevent getting a hangover.
Here are some tips that may help reduce the chance of a hangover.
Prof. Garbutt advises people to eat before drinking.
“Eating food is an important element in reducing drinking and reducing the risk of intoxication,” he says.
“Eat a meal before you take your first sip of alcohol, and continue to take in food as the night wears on.”
Food, and especially fats, help slow down the body’s absorption of alcohol. But to truly be effective, the food must be in your stomach first. If you wait until you are feeling buzzed or tipsy to start eating, it is already too late.
Drink a glass of water
Another useful trick is to drink plenty of water.
Prof. Garbutt suggests that after finishing a drink with alcohol, you should drink a glass of water before the next round.
This will dilute the concentration of alcohol in your blood and help prevent dehydration.
If you do end up with a hangover, there are things you can do to aid recovery.
Taking two ibuprofen just before going to bed and then again on waking up will help reduce headache pain.
Aspirin is not recommended, because alcohol can aggravate gastritis and aspirin can increase risk of gastric erosion and bleeding.
“Put the two together and there might be increased risk of gastrointestinal bleeding,” Prof. Garbutt says.
You should also avoid acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol. In some people, taking this drug while alcohol is in their system can cause serious liver damage.
Rehydration is very important. Prof. Garbutt suggests that drinking a sports drink, such as Gatorade, will help both rehydrate you and replace salt and other electrolytes lost through the increased urination that results from drinking alcohol.
What about those hangover “cures” we have all heard about?
Prof. Garbutt gives his opinions:
Drinking coffee: This does not help. Caffeine may help you feel more alert, but it will not combat the other symptoms. It will not enable you to drive.
“The hair of the dog:” Drinking one more round of whatever caused the hangover will only delay recovery.
A “morning after” meal: Eating a big, greasy bacon and egg breakfast, or any other legendary “morning after” meal might have helped a bit if you had eaten it before you started drinking.
So when it comes to hangovers, the message is clear.
There is no cure for a hangover, but there are ways to prevent it, so that your fun night out does not turn into a miserable morning after.
Prof. Garbutt’s advice is simple: Drink responsibly and don’t overdo it.