You roll out of bed, look in the mirror. Your eyes are horribly sunk back in our head. You feel like drinking water and spitting it out at the same time. You roll your thick, cottony tongue around the inside of your parched mouth, and feel the back of your furry teeth. Your hands shake and your bloodshot eyes involuntarily water, shedding precious moisture from your horrifically dehydrated body.
You’re hungover, stuck with a headache and stomach nausea bad enough that you’d trade a year off your life just to feel better.
At this point, you should probably start thinking about how to cure your hangover. Let’s start with the bad news: “No compelling evidence exists to suggest that any conventional or complementary intervention is effective for preventing or treating alcohol hangover. The most effective way to avoid the symptoms of alcohol induced hangover is to practice abstinence or moderation,” according to a study in the British Medical Journal. Most studies seem to say that a hangover comes if you've drunk around five to seven drinks.
But hey, if you're hungover, or planning to tie one on, this info doesn't help you much. And if you're clicking on this article, it's probably because you're currently hungover. Don't worry about what the eggheads say; no, there's not way to completely stop a hangover cold in its tracks, but you can do a lot to make yourself feel better. We'll start off with how to cure a hangover, and then tell you what you need to do to prevent on in the future.
The Morning After:
Continuing To Drink / Hair Of The Dog
An article in the Oxford Journal Alcohol and Alcoholism puts it succinctly: “The alcohol hangover develops when blood alcohol concentration (BAC) returns to zero and is characterized by a feeling of general misery that may last more than 24 h.”
The “returns to zero” bit is significant. It can take a surprisingly long time to return to zero. So if you’re 180lb and had 10 drinks, that misery you feel 12 hours later is your body STILL returning to zero, and you feeling bad as a result. Cracking open a beer staves off that process for a little bit.
Oh, and by the way, this is why you should never go driving the morning after a night out. You might still actually be drunk.
You know how you’re always going to pee while you drink? As the US National Institute of Health explains, that’s because alcohol is a diuretic, preventing your kidneys from reabsorbing water, so you pee more. And every time you pee, you’re flushing electrolytes out your body, leading you deprived the morning after. An electrolyte-rich drink like Gatorade before sleeping or after waking up can help mitigate that.
Remember that bit about alcohol being a diuretic? That means you were also draining your water supply somewhat. Drinking water at room temperature hydrates better than cold water. If, as happens unfortunately often, you can’t stomach drinking water afterwards, you can always have water-rich foods and vegetables like cucumbers, celery, iceberg lettuce and watermelon.
What To Eat
The most important thing is of course to have eaten beforehand. But if not, even the morning after, hunger can worsen the symptoms of your hangover, and your blood sugar may also be too low. In addition, foods can help replenish your body’s electrolytes (like salt, for example).
Simple, starchy foods are often considered to be good because they’re easy to digest and can raise your blood sugar levels, like crackers or bread. Some people also swear by burnt toast, because the carbon in the burnt toast is said to help filter the alcohol out of your body, although there’s little scientific backing for this.
Foods that help reduce nausea have the added benefit of settling your stomach. Try ginger, which settles the stomach, and consider club soda as it can also help. Clear soups are easy to digest and have the added benefit of hydrating you. If you can toss in something green to your clear soup, like cilantro or spinach, it can also help replenish the nutrients you’re now lacking.
Not for nothing does the phrase “sleeping it off” exist. Sleep deprivation can worsen a hangover, and it’s also worth pointing that alcohol, while it makes it easier to pass out, decreases your amount of REM sleep. This can make you feel restless the day after. If you can manage to nod off for an hour or two, you might just feel better.
The combination of the remnant alcohol in your system, low blood sugar and possibly decreased sleep quality can make you feel sluggish and drowsy the next day. Scientists will tell you that the caffeine doesn’t actually help, but anybody who has pounded back a couple of cups of coffee the next day knows they can lifesavers.
If you don’t have a commercial hangover remedy pill handy, a multivitamin could do the trick. Most hangover pills are just a cocktail of different vitamins, designed to replace the ones your body lost the night before. Vitamins B1 and B6 and well as C (for its antioxidant value) are the ones you want to look for. Other ingredients include magnesium (which can help relax muscles) and fish oil.
There’s no scientific evidence that sex really helps a hangover. But anecdotally there’s a couple things leaning its way. For one, it provides a welcome mental distraction from just how crappy you feel. Second of all, part of what a hangover is comes from your hormones being thrown out of whack. The endorphins released through sex can dull the pain and give you a feeling of happiness.
But lastly, one thing to remember is that sleep is a great hangover remedy. That sleepy feeling you get after sex is not only fairly brilliant, but also can help put you down for a couple of hours, which might be all you need to feel somewhat decent.
The Night Before
Sticking to a high-fat diet before, during or after getting drunk helps decrease the rate at which your bloodstream absorbs alcohol. Wolf down a greasy cheeseburger or two, and don’t be afraid to do it before you sleep, too. One of my great victories against hangovers was learning to force my drunken self to scramble a couple eggs, fried in disgusting amounts of butter, which shaved cheese added on top, no matter how late I came home from the pub.
A glass of water between every drink is a good rule. If nothing else, if you’ve completely forgotten this rule throughout the entire evening, force yourself to choke back a pint of water before you go to sleep, and then set the glass next to the bathroom sink. When you inevitably have to get up to go pee in the middle of the night, look at the glass and then force yourself to drink another tall pint glass of water. It will do wonders. Alternatively, go for electrolyte-rich items like sports drinks or coconut water.
Prickly Pear Cactus
One of the few hangover prevention methods with any true scientific backing, it has been shown that taking the extract of the prickly pear cactus before you drink can reduce the risk of a severe hangover by up to 50 percent.
So, there's your answer. Drink water and eat greasy unhealthy food beforehand, take some prickly pear cactus if you can, take your vitamins, grab a sports drink, have a bit of ginger and clear soup with crackers on the side, and if you can, have sex and pass out blissfully afterwards. Not that you'll ever learn...