Text by Henrylito D. Tacio
“This can’t be the hangover that all the films talk about. It just can’t. It’s too terrible. If this is the result of drinking, then why would anyone bother?” – Lauren James
The world, it seems, is not enough for those who drink. Television actor Leonard Nimoy – known for his enduring role as Mr. Spock from Star Trek – had this ritual of drinking wine, beer, or other spirits at the end of shooting every day. American First Lady Betty Ford battled an addiction to alcohol, which led to the establishment of Betty Ford Center, a rehabilitation clinic.
In the world of arts and letters, there have been many famous drunk geniuses: Dylan Thomas, William Faulkner, Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson, and Christopher Hitchens. Stephen King, for instance, was “in a haze of alcoholism” when he wrote in his memoir On Writing that he “barely remembers writing” his 1981 novel Cujo (which earned him several awards and even turned it into a 1983 movie).
The Philippines also has its fair share of celebrities who were also famous for their capacity to imbibe spirits: Amado V. Hernandez, Blas Ople, and National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin.
This feature is not about these well-known people. It is about what happens the morning after a drinking bout. Yes, it is about a hangover, a group of unpleasant signs and symptoms that develop after drinking too much alcohol.
Hangovers are no joke. “Every morning, my hangover feels like being born again,” wrote Rasmenia Nassiyd in You Don’t See Any of This. “My head throbs, like being squeezed and pushed out, fists trembling, throat grunting and wailing in protest of the light, screaming for the comfort of warm, dark silence.”
Here’s what Jeff VanderMeer experienced. “I’d wake in the morning, my head fuzzy, sometimes with someone I knew but who was a stranger just leaving, and realize I was one day closer to the end of it all,” he wrote in Annihilation.
Adam Felman, writing for Medical News Today, says symptoms of a hangover generally start when blood alcohol levels drop considerably. This usually happens the morning after drinking.
Symptoms include bloodshot eyes, excessive thirst, headache, body aches, sensitivity to light and sound, bad breath, excess saliva, fatigue, anxiety, low mood, fast heartbeat, dizziness, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, and trembling or shaking.
According to the Mayo Clinic, more-severe signs and symptoms that accompany heavy drinking may indicate alcohol poisoning, which is a medical emergency. If the person experiences the following: confusion, vomiting, seizures, slow breathing (less than eight breaths a minute), irregular breathing, blue-tinged skin or pale skin, low body temperature, difficulty remaining conscious, and passing out and can’t be awakened, bring him or her immediately to the nearest hospital.
A hangover can vary from person to person. Generally, alcohol is the culprit, but other components of alcoholic beverages might contribute to hangover symptoms or make a hangover worse.
Congeners produced during fermentation contribute to the taste and smell of alcoholic beverages. These are found in larger amounts in dark liquors, such as brandy and bourbon, than in clear liquors, such as vodka and gin.
On the other hand, people who have sensitivity to sulfites, compounds that are added to wine as preservatives, may experience a headache after drinking wine.
Aside from the headache, a person with a hangover may experience problems with memory, concentration, and dexterity, according to the Mayo Clinic. The temporary dulling of a person’s abilities increases his risk of a number of problems at school or work, such as absenteeism, trouble with completing tasks, conflict with others, falling asleep at school or on the job, and workplace injuries.
One big problem with hangovers is sleeplessness. In the beginning, alcohol can make you sleepy. “But it prevents deeper stages of sleep and often causes awakening in the middle of the night,” the Mayo Clinic says.
“Drinking interferes with brain activity during sleep, so a hangover may be a form of sleep deprivation,” the Harvard Medical School points out. “Alcohol scrambles the hormones that regulate our biological clocks, which may be why a hangover can feel like jet lag, and vice versa.”
Is there anything you can do about a hangover? Unfortunately, not a whole lot. There is no one thing that cures a hangover except time. But there are a few things you can do to relieve the symptoms so that you can get through the day after as painlessly as possible. Here are some of them – as listed in The Doctors Book of Home Remedies I and II:
Drink fruit juice. A drink may be the last thing you want to reach for now, but relief will come faster if, this time, you drink a large glass of orange juice or tomato juice. “Fruit juice contains a form of sugar called fructose, which helps the body burn alcohol faster,” explains Dr. Seymour Diamond, director of the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago, Illinois. Both of the fruit juices are also high in vitamin C, which helps minimize the effects of alcohol.
Get help from honey. “You can help a hangover by eating a slice of bread or some crackers spread with honey – or any other food that’s high in fructose,” Dr. Diamond says. “Honey is the sweetener with the highest concentration of fructose.” Other good sources of fructose are apples, cherries, and grapes.
Sip bouillon. A cup of bouillon is the perfect morning-after meal. It’s light enough for the way you’re feeling, and it can help replenish the salt, potassium, and other vitamins and minerals you lose from drinking, says Dr. Diamond.
Avoid coffee. You read it right! That jolt of caffeine may be just what you think you need, but Dr. John Brick, the biological psychologist at the Center of Alcohol Studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey, says there is no scientific evidence that caffeine helps a hangover in any way. “And since coffee is diuretic, it may worsen your already dehydrated state,” he adds.
Replenish your water supply. “The biggest mistake most people make in treating hangovers is not drinking enough water,” says Dr. Brick. “Since alcohol is a diuretic that dehydrates the body, I recommend drinking water as much as you can before going to bed and then as much as you can the next morning.”
Don’t take aspirin before you imbibe. Despite the popular opinion that taking aspirin before you drink will help you minimize or avoid hangovers, just the opposite is true. Scientists at the Alcohol Research and Treatment Center at the Veterans Administration Hospital in New York City found that taking aspirin before or during drinking increases blood alcohol concentrations to induce a quicker and more severe state of intoxication.
But do take aspirin after drinking. If you have a headache or a hangover, you can take aspirin but be sure to wait at least four hours after you’ve finished drinking. “Aspirin is probably still the best way to treat a hangover,” says Dr. Brick – but you need to wait a while. Aspirin or similar compounds on a booze-bothered belly can be irritating.
Load up on vitamin C. Taking vitamin C before drinking has been shown to counteract some of the effects of alcohol in some people. “In our tests, people who took vitamin C beforehand weren’t as severely affected by alcohol as those who didn’t take it,” says Dr. Vincent Zannoni, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Michigan. “Vitamin C helps by speeding up alcohol clearance from the body.”
Eat amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Like vitamins and minerals, they can also be depleted by the use of alcohol. Dr. Kenneth Blum, chief of the Addictive Diseases Division at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center, says that replenishing amino acids plays a role in repairing the raves of a hangover. Eating a small number of carbohydrates will help get amino acids back in the bloodstream.
However, the best and only foolproof cure for a hangover is still 24 hours. “Treat your symptoms as best you can,” the home remedies book points out. “Get a good night’s sleep and the next day – hopefully – all will be forgotten.”
A hangover once is a hangover never wanted again. But it doesn’t mean that you have to give up alcohol altogether to have a fun night out turn into a feel-good day after.
“There’s good evidence emerging that the chief cause of a hangover is acute withdrawal from alcohol,” Dr. Mack Mitchell, assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University, told the editors of Prevention magazine. “The cells in your brain physically change in response to the alcohol’s presence, and when the alcohol’s gone – when your body’s burned it up – you go through withdrawal until those cells get used to doing without the alcohol.”
Couple that with the effects alcohol has on the blood vessels in your head (they can swell significantly depending on the amount you drink), and you end up living through a day after that you’d rather forget.
So how do you avoid it all? The Doctors Book of Home Remedies shares the following tips:
Drink on a full stomach. This is probably the single best thing you can do to reduce the severity of a hangover. Food slows the absorption of alcohol, and the slower you absorb it, the less alcohol actually reaches the brain.
Go for protein-rich or high-fat foods. Cheese and other high-protein foods stay in your digestive system longer, so there’s something in your stomach to soak up the alcohol. The result is a less severe state of intoxication – and thus less of a hangover the next morning.
Drink slowly. The more slowly you drink, the less alcohol actually reaches the brain – even though you may actually drink more over the long haul. The reason is simple math: Your body burns alcohol at a fixed pace – about an ounce an hour. Give it more time to burn that alcohol, and less reaches your blood and brain.
Skip the French fries and nuts. Salty foods (like those served in most bars) make you thirsty, which makes you drink more. The combination of alcohol and salty foods also speeds the dehydrating process, a big factor in hangovers.
Drink the right drinks. Sometimes, it’s not the alcohol per se that gets you but rather the additives and impurities – called congeners – formed during the making of the beverage. Generally, for people sensitive to congeners, a good rule of thumb is the darker the drink, the cloudier your head will feel the next morning.
Now, let’s drink to that!