It’s happened to the best of us. You wake up in a room you don’t recognize, next to a person you don’t recognize, wearing pink floral shorts you DEFINITELY don’t recognize. Your head feels like it has an iron cannonball rolling around in it, thumping against the delicate pink tissue that lines the inside of your skull. And it tastes like a large animal – a carnivorous animal – relieved itself inside your mouth at some stage while you were asleep. If your tongue didn’t belong to you, you would spit it out.
Oh alcohol! Such a bitter-sweet, love-hate relationship we have with this hydrocarbon.
Booze gives you the gumption to chat up all the pretty birds in the bar. It makes you feel indestructible, sexy and powerful. It gives you the energy to dance for hours, with the occasional push-up set right there in the middle of the club. It sharpens your conversational skills, sense of humour, wit (pre-tequila) and confidence. Alcohol is awesome!
So then why did you wake up next to Jabba the Hutt? What is that massive red welt down the side of your face? WHY IS THAT DAMN ANT MAKING SO MUCH NOISE?! And why do you have to refer to the bottle of pills next to Jabba the Hutt’s bed to remember her name?
Lithium? What kind of name is that, anyway?
Hangovers are NO fun. So, what can science tell us about them? Is there a way that we can enjoy our booze without the morning after banging headache, breath that could melt cement, crippling nausea, stiff joints and signed marriage papers to your cousin?
Yes! Sort of…
“I’ll Just Have One Glass and then Head Home”
Not even the prospect of the Harvard bar exam has prevented law students from uttering these famous last words. So you can be forgiven for your weakness. What we all would like to know is what you can do to prevent the hangover you KNOW you’re going to have tomorrow. Well, the best way would be to abstain from alcohol altogether.
Hahahahahaha!! Relax, I’m just kidding!
The best way to prevent a hangover is to understand what alcohol does to your body and to then mitigate this damage as best as you possibly can. Let’s examine the anatomy of a hangover, starting with this very scientific question… why does alcohol make you feel so sh*t?
The Morning After the Night Before
Alcohol blocks the production of anti-diuretic hormones in your kidneys. A diuretic is something that makes you want to pee. This – in addition to that entire keg of beer you just drank – is why you can’t stop going to the loo. This causes your body to dehydrate and dehydration is the root of all hangover evil. It makes you feel lethargic and gives you a banging headache.
Alcohol expands the blood vessels in your head, while dehydration causes your brain tissue to shrink and pull away from the sides of the skull. This makes you feel like you stopped an earth-bound asteroid with your noggin.
Then there’s the effect alcohol has on your digestive system. Your stomach can quite easily manage a few cocktails or beers. But ten Kamikazes later, you’ll be going Kamikaze out the open window of your friend’s car. Alcohol irritates your stomach lining. To top it off, most alcoholic beverages are acidic, which combines with your own stomach acid to produce a seriously potent brew. That’s when the little gremlins in your belly hit the ‘emergency eject’ button.
It Lowers Blood Sugar
Alcohol screws around with your body’s glucose levels. Glucose is blood sugar, which is the energy your body needs to move and grows. This is why you so desperately hope you win that game of rock-scissors-paper against your flatmate so that HE is the one who has to walk to McDonalds for emergency hangover breakfast.
That’s what alcohol does to your body on a regular day in the office. Now… how can we STOP it?
Your Essential Hangover Kit
Every dedicated drinker should own a hangover kit. You qualify as ‘dedicated’ if you’ve done one or more of the following:
- Taken pictures of people you couldn’t remember meeting.
- Taken your shirt off in the middle of a crowded bar.
- Made out with your best guy friend. And you’re a dude.
- Had a good boo because that song the DJ played was just so beautiful!
- Woken up next to someone whose name you couldn’t remember.
- Woken up and couldn’t remember your own name.
- Pledged that you’re going to stop drinking for a month
- Reconsidered # 7 and pledged that you’re going to stop drinking for a week.
- Ended up congratulating yourself on not drinking for TWO WHOLE DAYS.
- Didn’t go to rehab when they tried to make you to. Noooo, noooo, NO!
Now that we’ve established your status, your hangover kit should consist of:
Water: A good two litre bottle of mineral water will help you rehydrate.
Electrolytes: It’s not good enough to drown your body in water. You will need to replenish all the essential minerals, salts and other goodies your body loses every time you go to the loo, which, when you’re hanging like a bat, is a lot. Stock your hangover kit with a few sachets of electrolytes and/or some sports energy drinks.
Vitamin B (or Thiamine) tablets: Trust me on this one. I have performed repeated controlled scientific experiments involving alcohol and Vitamin B. Take a tablet before you start drinking and then another one in the morning. Vitamin B helps your body to metabolize alcohol, expands your blood vessels (preventing headaches) and restores your energy levels. In other words, it’s your best friend.
Opioid painkillers or aspirin: If you can’t readily get your hands on some morphine and the caterpillar in your garden is all out of “that good shit”, then take an aspirin. It’s a big hangover no-no to take acetaminophen or paracetamol. The combination of this common subset of painkillers and alcohol is a cocktail that can do extensive liver damage. If you’re only finding this out now, don’t worry. Me too, buddy. Me too.
Feed the Hangover! You won’t want to eat, but you must. Food is your divine saviour and one of the most effective ways to combat a hangover. It replaces all the goodness you spent relentlessly banging out of yourself the night before. If you’re feeling too nauseous to tolerate food, take an anti-emetic (anti-nausea) pill like Valoid or Motilium. Ginger is a natural anti-nausea remedy if you’re not keen on polluting your body with chemicals, which is an idiot way to think: where was that philosophy last night when you were hammering back the Jagermeister?
Get Up and Get Moving! You’re going to hate this one, but it’s true. There have been times I’ve been forced to get up in the moist grips of a crippling hangover and go out, usually to try find my scooter and retrieve it (God, I miss Thailand). Or to play tour guide to a visiting friend who’s too excited to see Table Mountain to nurse their hangover. Once I’ve gotten moving, however, I actually don’t feel that bad! Exercise elevates your metabolic rate and this helps your body to process alcohol and all the crap that comes in those huge cocktails you drink quicker. The injection of oxygen into your body also puts you on the fast(er) track to feeling better.
Class Dismissed: Your Take-Home Message
Scientific diagram illustrating the awesomeness of alcohol
Alcohol is an excellent social lubricant (although Durex has a pretty decent line too). But your body pretty much sees it as a poison, so you have to be careful. If you drink booze like a camel, you’re going to end up in the hospital ER, or immortalized on YouTube doing something really stupid and really embarrassing.
By understanding how alcohol affects your body’s organs and functions, we can see with greater clarity what we need to do to offset the symptoms of a hangover, or at least to alleviate their severity. Put together a hangover kit and nurse your body back to good health. You will not feel 100% – you don’t deserve to – but you may be able to scrape together a sufficient number of brain cells to write your exam without blowing chunks over the back of the student in front of you; which, when you’re really hung over, is good enough!
I’ll drink to that!
Copyright © Thea Beckman 2015