Pick up the print edition of Barracuda #4 to read our complete hangover article, which gives detailed information on what really causes hangovers, which over-the-counter remedies are pure bunk (hint: all of them), how to lessen hangover woes and how to avoid congeners.
We believe this article is the only in-depth, seriously researched, scientific analysis of hangover causes and remedies ever published. Feedback from readers of this article support this belief.
The hangover is truly an elusive foe. Even when drinkers know their own tolerances and limits, hangovers seem to strike with a great deal of inconsistency. Similarly, hangover remedies seem to work with varying efficacy. This is because the hangover is actually a very complicated biological phenomenon, which is affected by widely varying factors, including, physiology, the specific alcohol involved and even the drinker's emotional state.
Hangovers will surely never be eradicated. But by understanding the many factors that affect their intensity, their severity can be minimized through a combination of preemptive habit changes and morning-after symptom management, without resorting to any actual teetotaling.
There's a disconcertingly small amount of definitive medical documentation on what really causes hangovers. So, by extension of that, there's also very little hard information on what can be done to cure a hangover.
It is in the vacuum of such clinical and scientific understanding that malarkey flourishes. So, we will attempt to parse through the clinical information and the specious claims of hangover remedies to show you some simple, do-it-yourself techniques for lessening the sting of hangovers.
In order to determine which hangover remedies are malarkey, we must first establish exactly what the physiological causes of hangovers are. Getting drunk is, for better or worse, the poisoning of your body. Alcohol enters your bloodstream at a rapid rate, smothering the frontal lobe of your brain, which releases its control of your judgment and social inhibitions. All symptoms of hangovers stem from your body's attempts to process alcohol and rid your system of it.
Contrary to popular belief, dehydration is not the only cause of hangovers. A lesser-known, but equally serious cause is congeners. Congeners are toxic chemicals that are created during the alcohol fermentation process. They give flavor, smell and appearance to alcohol and exist in varying amounts in different liquors. Unfortunately, congeners are also the main cause of the notorious hangover headache.
To cut down on miserable headaches, try to favor drinks made from liquors with fewer congeners. (See the print edition for a guide to which liquors contain the most congeners.)
Many people believe that drinking on a full stomach prevents a hangover because the food in your stomach absorbs alcohol. The effect is true, but the cause is malarkey.
Drinking on a full stomach actually does slow the absorption of alcohol, but this is because when food is present in your stomach, the stomach's pyloric sphincter closes to allow the food to digest. This closed pyloric sphincter keeps alcohol in the stomach, where enzymes begin preemptively neutralizing it before it gets sent off to your liver to be processed.
This is important -- don't ever take aspirin, Tylenol or ibuprofen while drinking or before passing out at the end of the night (unless directed to do so by a physician).
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is metabolized by the liver and the combination of alcohol and acetaminophen can cause your liver to release a toxic metabolite. Alcohol mixed with acetaminophen is very dangerous and can do serious damage to your liver. Tylenol was recently forced to include warnings on its packaging telling its users not to mix it with alcohol. Ibuprofen is metabolized by your liver as well.
When someone says that the only way to avoid hangovers is to not drink, not only are they being a smart-ass, they are wrong and don't understand the concept behind drinking. The whole idea of is to let yourself go a little bit, and as a natural extension of that, your sense and inhibitions usually go out the door to some extent as well. A result of this loss of sense is often drinking too much, which brings us back to where we started.
You can't get something for nothing. If you drink too much, you will always get a hangover, but by altering your drinking habits, you can lessen the intensity of these hangovers while still not having to be particularly actively sensible. If you still manage to get hungover, there is indeed no miracle cure, but with these tips, hopefully, you can help your body do its best to sweat it out.
"A hair of the dog that bit you."
This remedy calls for having a drink the next morning for relief of a hangover. It is recommended that you have whatever you were drinking the night before, although a bloody mary is a common substitute.
Malarkey? No. When you wake up after drinking, you're coming off the effects of a mild overdose of a depressant. Having a drink helps to ease the symptoms, and a bloody mary contains lots of vitamins your body desperately needs. Unfortunately, you are merely putting off the side effects temporarily.