There's a few remedies for when you've been drinking heavily. Some are common sense, but there's a little science behind how to recover from your hangover and a few cures that are debunked.
You probably already know that the real cure to a hangover is prevention. Our friend Benji Frank offers the wise words that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” - which is great news if we plan ahead, however most times we only think about hangovers when it's too late.
Here's a few ways you can prepare yourself before you go out, and what to do when once you're already drunk.
Step 1: Reality Check + Health Notice
New flash: There is no such thing as a hangover cure.
Sorry to tell you this, but there isn't really any magical cure to a hangover. Drinking any alcohol can lead to a hangover, how badly this affects you depends on your body type. Some people can be hungover after one drink, while others can drink copious amounts and not be sore the next day. Alcohol is seen as a poison to your body, which is tries to counter by either releasing an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase which breaks down the alcohol for absorption into the body, or by evacuating the poison through vomiting.
Feeling hungover the next day is only part of the problem. Drinking alcohol isn't great for your health as it can:
- Dehydrate you by causing you to urinate more frequently. Your body uses water to process alcohol, which is then flushed from your body in the form of urine. Being dehydrated can cause headaches, dizziness, and thirst (duh).
- Trigger your immune system. Alcohol is interpreted by your body as a poison, and can cause physical symptoms like loss of motor skills, memory problems, unusual appetite, lethargy, and an inability to concentrate.
- Irritate your stomach lining. " Alcoholic beverages with low ethanol content (beer and wine) are strong stimulants of gastric acid secretion and gastrin release, the effect of beer being equal to the maximal acid output. Beverages with a higher ethanol content (whisky, gin, cognac) do not stimulate gastric acid secretion or release of gastrin." (source)
An irritated stomach lining can cause rapid stomach evacuation (vomiting), abdominal pain, nausea, and in cases of excessive drinking can cause bleeding.
- Decrease your blood sugar. Alcohol affects blood sugar levels when consumed, causing an increase in insulin secretion, which leads to low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia). Low blood sugar can cause light headedness and, weakness, and mood disturbances.
- Alcohol causes your blood vessels to expand, which can lead to headaches.
So now you know why you feel the way you do, here's a few simple steps you can take that will make the morning after a little more tolerable.
Step 2: Before You Go Out
Hydrate with water:
After learning what a hangover is it's easy to notice a trend towards dehydration. Drinking alcohol makes your body use a lot of water trying to process what it perceives as a poison to your body, therefore make it a point to ensure you are hydrated before you even start.
If you know you are going out later make a special effort to drink lots of water throughout the day in anticipation of the drinking you'll be doing later. Your body will thank you later.
Eat garlic and sesame + drink soy:
"Ethanol (alcohol) absorption in humans is controlled mainly by gastric emptying because the primary region of ethanol absorption is the small intestine. Vegetable oils such as soybean oil and coconut oil delay the elimination rate of gastric ethanol and lessen the resultant increase in plasma ethanol concentrations. The clearance of ethanol and toxic acetaldehyde is achieved by ethanol-metabolizing enzymes such as alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH), acetaldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH), and microsomal ethanol oxidizing system (MEOS). Therefore, components such as sesamin and garlic that stimulate the activity of these enzymes are expected to ameliorate alcohol toxicity."
Soy based foods can help a hangover by aiding in ethanol metabolism, and delays gastrointestinal emptying which reduces the rate that plasma ethanol concentrations increase. Eating garlic and sesame stimulate gut enzymes and can improve the upcoming negative effects of drinking alcohol.
If you're feeling very adventurous you can combine everything into one soy-based super-drink of minced garlic and sesame seeds. Sounds gross, but might be your magic elixir for a headache free head start for your hangover.
Step 3: While Drinking
This is the top tip when you're drinking alcohol. Drink water, lots of water.
The math is simple: drinking = dehydration = hangover. Break the chain and drink a glass of water in between every drink; it's easy to do and will keep you hydrated. The trade off is that you'll go to the washroom more often, but that's a small price to pay for not feeling terrible in the morning.
Don't mix types of drinks:
"Liquor before beer, you're in the clear..."? No. Just, no.
People react to alcohol differently, and how you react to beer might be totally different than how you react to whiskey. Your best chance to stay out the longest, and feel better in the morning, is to stick to one type of drink and stick to it.
Darker liquor can be dangerous:
"Substances other than alcohol produced during fermentation are called congeners, these substances include chemicals such as other alcohols (known as fusel alcohols), Methanol, acetone, acetaldehyde, and tannins. Congeners are responsible for most of the taste and aroma of distilled alcoholic beverages, and contribute to the taste of non-distilled drinks. It has been suggested that these substances contribute to the symptoms of a hangover."
Tannins are what what give some darker liquors their colour and can be found in almost any type of non-clear alcohol. Lending to this theory, studies suggest that a whiskey hangover is worse than a vodka hangover.
Beer doesn't count as food, so don't drink on an empty stomach. Eating doesn't "soak up" alcohol, but having something in your stomach prevents your small intestines from having only alcohol to process. When you eat food your stomach sends a signal to your brain to start processing what you just ate, keeping whatever contents inside your stomach and prolonging alcohol absorption through the small intestine (which is 30 square meters [230 square feet] in surface area, a high very high absorption area for your body).
Consuming high caloric (fatty) foods and carbohydrates also take longer for your stomach to process which can help keep you feeling full longer, ideally dissuading you from consuming more beverages. Be careful, as most drinking establishments offer very salty eats, designed to make your mouth feel dry in an effort to get you to drink more.
Step 4: Before Bed
Who am I kidding...you didn't do any of the precautionary steps, did you? You were out having a great time making questionable drink decisions, and now here we are; It's 3 in the morning, pants are on the bathroom floor, and you're loudly singing Rock You Like a Hurricane into an empty roll of toilet paper.
As soon as you get in the door, drink a glass of water. Before you make some late-night munchies, drink a glass of water. After eating the munchies and watching a few Internet cat videos, drink a glass of water. When you're all washed up for bed, have a glass of water. Your body is (or soon will be) craving water, so hydrate.
Bring a big glass of water to your bed and leave it somewhere convenient. You'll be needing it when you wake up.
Emptying your bladder is a good idea becasue you're going to want to drink a lot of water and have the extra room to help your body process the punishment you just served it. Drinking all that alcohol (and hopefully lots of water!) you're going to have to get up in the night to pee, so this is also a good time to get another glass of water and down it before you hit the hay again.
Step 5: The Morning After
We made it to the next morning. You had some weird dreams, and your arm is numb from you sleeping on it. If you were smart you should be seeing a tall glass of water near your bed. Wasn't that smart of you?
Try some over-the-counter pain medicine to relive the headache, inflammation, and overall soreness. There's loads of information about the dis/advantages for each type, so do some homework before taking anything.
Never take pain medication while drinking; paracetamol metabolizes in a similar manner to alcohol and can exacerbate your altered state, and ibuprofen can damage your liver which is already being taxed with processing the alcohol punishment you offered.
Electrolytes + Food:
Processing alcohol depletes the sodium and potassium salts (electrolytes) levels of your body. To replenish your body you can grab any hydrating sports drink, or make your own sports drink for almost nothing.
"Electrolytes are commonly found in fruit juices, coconut water, sports drinks, milk, nuts, and many fruits and vegetables (whole or in juice form)" (source)
When you're ready for food, think about some healthy options that are easy to consume like fruit (bananas) and dairy.
Drinking can cause an upset stomach, which is eased by antacids. Granulated antacids are easiest to consume and activate the quickest. Try an effervescent antacid, usually available in in all pharmacies in single serving pouches, they are dissolved in a glass of water which does double duty as hydrating and delivering some antacid to help settle excessive acidity caused by heavy drinking. .
You might crash pretty hard when you first go to bed, but most people wake up restless several hours later when the uncomfortable truth can no longer be ignored by your body. Sleeping is a great method to overcoming a hangover, so the longer you can get back to sleep (and stay asleep) the better.
After going through the rest of list above, give your body the time to heal on its own and sleep as much as possible.
Step 6: The Afternoon After
You survived the morning hangover, but are now tired of being stuck in bed hiding under the covers. Get outside!
Being active releases endorphins, which reacts with your brain and reduces your perception of pain and act similar to pain relief drugs like morphine and codeine.
This doesn't mean running a marathon, a simple walk will do. Light exercise can help reduce the pain effects of your hangover, reduce your stress, and help give you an appetite. Any exercise is going to require proper hydration, so remember to keep your exercise light and drink plenty of water.
Fresh air can help clear your head, and people watching can provide a pleasant distraction from the hammering in your head. Combine getting outside with light exercise and you've got a winning combination. This can be as simple as walking to the store to get something to eat, then taking it to the park to relax. Don't forget to bring some water with you.
Go to bed early:
You've earned it. Rest is the real cure for a hangover, so why not hit the hay a little early and give your body a chance to recover.
Step 7: What NOT to Do
Don't take pain relief while drinking:
Don’t take aspirin before or while drinking alcohol, you'll just make your hangover worse. "Aspirin and other drugs prevent the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase (found in the stomach and liver) from breaking down alcohol, thus slowing the liver’s ability to decrease blood alcohol content. In other words, alcohol will accumulate in your blood faster and have longer lasting effect". (source)
Hair of the dog:
The solution to a hangover does not involve more alcohol.
Ever wonder where the expression “Hair of the Dog” came from? In folk lore it was thought that a remedy for a dog bite was to rub the wound with the hair of the dog that bit you. In terms of alcohol it's thought that a little bit more of what you feel ill will make you feel better. Back in Step 1 you learn why you get a hangover, so adding more fuel to the fire isn't going to help your dehydration and upset stomach.
Coffee doesn't cure a hangover; you'll still feel the same, just be more awake. Caffeine can be a small remedy for a headache, but won't solve the other pains associated with a hangover. In addition, coffee is a diuretic and can cause more water loss through urination. Your body is going to need all the hydration it can get, not a new way to lose it.
Haven't you punished your stomach enough?
Though many people swear by it, a heaping pile of bacon an eggs doesn't have any magical hangover-healing properties, and having heartburn and a hangover is an very uncomfortable position to be in. Instead stick with easy to digest foods like toast or cereal, foods high in carbohydrates can help bring your blood sugar levels back up.
Of course, there's no shortage of other types of unsupported remedies. Maybe you can leave some of your favourites as a comment below.
Step 8: Lessons Learned
The two things to remember are:
- Drink a glass of water with every alcoholic drink
- Consume alcohol in moderation
There's no magical cure for feeling terrible after heavy drinking, but staying hydrated and getting plenty of rest are great ways to reduce your pain the day after.
Do you have your own tips and tricks for when you're tipsy? Share your hangover cures in the comments below.