We have all been there: That moment you roll over after a happy hour that went one round too long and asked if anyone got the license plate of the truck that just hit you. The good news is you are not alone. Before you chalk up the day as a wash, though, I may have some tips to help you halt your hangover (and not feel like total garbage).
The Science of a Hangover
By standard definition, a hangover is a severe headache or other after-effects caused by drinking excessive amounts of alcohol—or even just one too many for you. Your symptoms can depend on what as well as how much you drank and may include feeling tired and weak, intense thirst and dry mouth, headaches and body aches, nausea, vomiting, or stomach pain.
Sometimes, systolic blood pressure goes up, the heart beats faster than normal, and sweat glands overproduce. All of this is evidence that the “fight or flight” response is amped up. Some folks find they’re more sensitive to light and sounds (similar to a migraine). Others suffer a spinning sensation similar to vertigo.
A hangover may very well be our bodies’ way of reminding us of the hazards of consuming too much alcohol. For some, it takes only one hangover to learn our lesson, but for others, it is almost like answering when that ex calls you late at night after a few too many, even when you know he or she is bad news.
How Can I Avoid a Hangover?
Probably the simplest way to avoid a hangover is to abstain from drinking. However, if you find yourself not able to do this, first determine if there are underlying concerns associated with the behaviors that are causing you to consume alcohol. But if there are no issues and you are occasionally having a beverage or celebrating an event or milestone, then allow me to share some things you can do pre-drinking to help halt your hangover.
Several studies suggest methanol, a common congener, is associated with hangover symptoms. If you are a fan of drinking whiskey, cognac, or tequila, this could be a big culprit of the hangover symptoms. Bourbon, in particular, is exceptionally high in congeners.
On the flip side, alcoholic beverages you can see through, such as vodka, gin, and rum, all have low levels of congeners. In fact, vodka contains almost no congeners at all, so it may be the safest option when it comes to avoiding the horrible hangover. (I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that no matter what you drink, you are not completely safe as too much of any drink will still lead to feeling bad.)
Alcohol, in any form, is a diuretic. This means it will make you need to empty your bladder frequently. While it may seem counterproductive to also add a few glasses of water to the mix, studies have shown that you can minimize the aftereffects of alcohol by drinking a glass of water—or another non-alcoholic beverage—between alcoholic drinks. It also can’t hurt to have at least one large glass of water before going to bed.
Alcohol can really wreak havoc on your sleep, so make sure you are able to get ample sleep after a night on the town. If you have a big meeting or an important function (e.g., your wedding) the following day, it may be best to drink in moderation or not at all. Or, at the very least, be prepared to take a nap the next day before your big event.
What Can I Do if I Didn’t Plan Ahead?
Have you ever heard of “the hair of the dog?” This means that to cure a hangover, you should have a drink of whatever you were drinking the night before the morning after. While I do NOT recommend this, science would have us believe there is some truth to the concept. According to Dr. Robert Swift, a researcher at the Providence Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Rhode Island, who co-authored a review paper on hangovers, “Both alcohol and certain sedatives, such as benzodiazepines like diazepam (Valium), interact with GABA receptors on brain cells. And it’s well-documented that some people have withdrawal symptoms from short-acting sedatives as they wear off. Perhaps the brain reacts similarly as blood alcohol levels begin to drop.”
Again, this just creates a cycle, so I would not urge folks to drink more to rid themselves of a hangover, but it was worth mentioning.
Along these lines of possible blood sugar levels being down, your body may be starved of energy. While some may hit up the 24-hour diners and Taco Bell drive-thrus after a night of heavy drinking, others may forget to eat. It is no coincidence that we crave carbohydrates and greasy food—the body is starving for fuel. Rather than loading up on unhealthy options, though, it’s best to stick with plain toast until we have our wits about us to prepare a healthy meal.
Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate. We previously mentioned one should consume water in between each alcoholic beverage, and this method still works wonders the morning after. Even if you don’t feel like you can drink anything, at minimum, take sips of water.
It may seem like a good idea to pop a few aspirins to alleviate the pounding of your head, but before you reach for the bottle, there are a few things you should be careful of. NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) may help relieve the headache and the overall achy feelings, but they also may aggravate a stomach that’s already irritated by alcohol. Rule of thumb—steer clear of acetaminophen (Tylenol) if alcohol is lingering in your system, as it may heighten acetaminophen’s toxic effects on the liver.
Speaking from personal experience, I always gravitate toward caffeinated beverages to help halt a hangover. While this may not be the best option, as caffeine is considered a diuretic, it definitely helps with the grogginess. I am somewhat partial to carbonated caffeinated beverages, one in particular from a popular fast-food chain known for their Golden Arches. This is one that hasn’t failed me yet (knock on wood).
If you are looking for a recipe to help you hat your next hangover, I am going to do you a solid and share one of my tried and true recipes.
But before I do, if you find yourself praying to the porcelain God, I recommend sticking with coconut water. Coconut water actually has more potassium per ounce than your typical sports drink. Potassium helps control the amount of fluid in the body, maintains a healthy blood pH level, and is vital to cell function. Plus, coconut water is free of artificial colors and sweeteners. And bonus, the sweet taste will help curb your sugar craving with just the right balance of carbs and calories to prevent sugar overload. Win-Win.
Speaking of win-win, let’s look at one of the longest-lived recipes to help halt a hangover—the Bloody Mary.
My Secret Recovery Drink: Virgin Bloody Mary
For starters, tomato juice provides several benefits on its own, including a high amount of the antioxidant lycopene. Lycopene may help fight the toxins in your liver, and it’s also been shown to help support brain function.
Worcestershire sauce (bonus points if you can say that correctly) combines anchovies, molasses, garlic, cloves, and chili pepper. It’s rich in vitamin B6, which may help the body fight infection and aid in digestion. Due to a high content of niacin (vitamin B3) found in anchovies, Worcestershire sauce may help our bodies break down carbohydrates and fats into energy and further aid our livers in eliminating toxins.
Another ingredient in my virgin Bloody Mary is lemon juice. This juice is essential for soothing your digestive tract, and it acts as a natural laxative. Plus, the acids in lemon juice help your body process useful nutrients more slowly. This can be beneficial if you can stomach a few bites of food.
Add in a few celery stalks for natural sodium, which helps with water retention—think dehydration—and your favorite hot sauce, which will help you sweat out the bad mojo, and you are on your way to feeling like yourself again. I always throw in a dash of horseradish for good measure.
Nowadays, I feel like restaurants and bars are trying to one-up each other in how many things they can fit onto a skewer, making Bloody Marys both a beverage and a meal. I have seen bacon, soft shell crabs, fried chicken, and everything in between. Gone are the days when a simple olive and celery stalk will suffice. But you don’t need all this hype to rid last night’s bad decisions from your mouth. Stick to the basics, and you can thank me later.
Coach Note: You can always add a shot of vodka, you know, if you are looking for that hair of the dog.