The Science of Hangovers (and How You Can Actually Beat One)

Want to celebrate without the pain? Enjoy a few drinks without paying for it in the morning? Science weighs in on how to beat the wrath of the grapes and the truth behind the hair of the dog.

For those of us who have, on occasion, had a drink or two passed what could be considered a reasonable limit, there is little doubt that hangovers exist. However, despite the fact that humans have been experiencing this scourge ever since the discovery of fermentation, science still hasn’t pinpointed precisely what causes hangovers.

The most frequently suspected culprit is dehydration. Alcohol makes you pee frequently, so your body loses a lot of water while you’re drinking. You wake up the morning after completely parched. Dehydration can make you feel really lousy, causing headaches, nausea, and fatigue.

Obviously, the cure for dehydration is water. Drink water with your booze. Have a glass of water beside your drink. That way you won’t be chugging alcohol just to quench your thirst, you can use the water for that. This allows you to savour your whisky, wine, or beer for its taste and craftsmanship at a more leisurely pace.

Also, drink a pint of water before going to bed after drinking, and keep a glass of water beside the bed. If you find yourself thirsty in the night, chug it down. You’ll wake up rehydrated and in much better shape in the morning. You may want to put a couple of Aspirin or Tylenol by the bed as well in case of headaches.

Choose your poison. Dark alcohols are more likely to cause dehydration than clear drinks. That is because darker drinks have a higher concentration of congeners, byproducts of fermentation. These toxins are much more present in bourbon, whisky, beer, read wine and even tequila than in white wine, vodka, or gin.

In one study, 33 per cent of people who drank an amount of bourbon relative to their body weight reported severe hangover, compared with only 3 per cent of those who drank the same proportion of vodka.

So, if you’re partying on the holiday Monday, but have to go to work on the Tuesday, try sticking to clear drinks.

Another theory is that, since alcohol is a drug, a hangover is actually a mild form of alcohol withdrawal. This leads to the theory of the ‘Hair of the Dog.’ The notion is that if you have another drink in the morning, while you’re feeling hungover, a Caesar or a breakfast beer, you’ll feel better because you’ve put an amount of alcohol back into your system.

Does the hair of the dog work? Not really. Putting some alcohol back in the system can temporarily delay the symptoms of your hangover, but you’re still going to have to deal with them eventually. So, the hair of the dog is only postponing your pain, not curing it.

However, if you have nothing to do that day, a hair of the dog beer in the morning can put off the hangover pain and make you sleepy again, potentially allowing you to go back to bed and sleep off the hangover.

One other common hangover remedy is the big classic breakfast. Fried eggs, sausages, home fries, toast – the works. The high-volume of carbohydrates in in this meal can help restore depleted blood sugar levels, making you feel better. (Of course, eating the big meal before drinking can help prevent the hangover in the first place. You will feel the metabolic crash much earlier and more acutely if you are drinking on an empty stomach.)

The coffee isn’t helping, though. People have often tried to use coffee or other caffeinated beverages to ‘sober-up’ a drunk person. This doesn’t work – if fact it will probably make them feel worse. If someone is passing out from drinking too much, caffeine can indeed wake them up, give them an energy boost. However, they’re just going to be awake drunk, and when that wears off, awake and hungover.

The only known real cure for the hangover is time. So, if you’re lucky enough to sleep through the transition from drunk to sober, then do it. Sleep it off. The liver detoxifies alcohol in the system at a consistent rate of about one drink per hour. There’s no way to speed that up.

How to beat a hangover

Pacing yourself and moderation can help prevent getting hungover in the first place. Drinking on an empty stomach will make it worse. Clear alcohols put fewer toxins into your system than darker drinks. Consume water along with your booze to fend off dehydration. Take a couple of pain killers for the headache, and try to sleep it off.

Coffee can’t sober you up or cure a hangover, and the hair of the dog is only delaying the inevitable.

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