A Cure for the Common Hangover

Please put down the Tylenol, ma’am. Nice and slow.

Hiccups and hangovers: Everybody’s got their own cure, but sometimes the cure is worse than the malady. The hair of the dog, for example, is an old codger’s tale that will only prolong your agony, especially if it involves tomato juice, which will enact bitter torture on your wounded stomach. And did you know that taking acetaminophen after drinking alcohol is like kicking your liver in the balls? You’re poisoning yourself.

Treating your hangover requires an understanding of the symptoms. Alcohol is a depressant and a strong diuretic. When you’ve overimbibed, expect dehydration, lethargy, and low blood sugar at the very least. Your raging headache is caused by brain shrinkage due to dehydration, mineral depletion, and a few particularly nasty chemicals called acetaldehyde and congeners, alcohol’s malevolent wingmen.

At one point in the booze breakdown, your body metabolizes alcohol into acetaldehyde. The worst hangovers happen when you drink too much too fast, and rather than wait in line to get into club liver, acetaldehyde decides to take laps around your bloodstream. Acetaldehyde poisoning causes myriad cruel physical effects, such as disorientation, memory loss, and intense, full-frontal headaches. Congeners, which cause your red-wine headache, are natural by-products of alcoholic fermentation, as well as mineral and metallic substances added to spirits as flavor enhancers. As a general rule, darker spirits and wines contain more congeners. Score one for vodka and gin.

Proper planning prevents pissed paralysis. When you use party as a verb, modify it with “capably” by taking time to prepare:

First, pre-funk with starch and salt. Give your body something to help slow the rate of alcohol absorption and aid in hydration. While you’re boozing it up, alternating drinks with glasses of water will improve your day-after mobility; also, avoid large quantities of acidic mixers. After the party, drink a giant glass of water and avoid painkillers. Aspirin will irritate the situation as much as it will your stomach, and acetaminophen is never a good idea when you have a measurable blood-alcohol level. Instead, take a multivitamin or an Emergen-C packet, both of which contain minerals and antioxidants, and drink something with electrolytes, which can be as simple as sea salt in water (sea salt is packed with minerally goodness). If you start replacing these things the night of, you will have more wits about you the morning after.

When you wake up next to reality, replacing lost fluids and minerals is the best way to treat your headache. If you need to pop pills, go for ibuprofen. Stay away from caffeine (a diuretic), unless you counterbalance it with tons of water. Take some vitamins and chug a sports beverage to replace minerals and acquire sugar. If the taste of plain water makes you sick, try herbal tea; the hot water will help settle your stomach. Be kind to the lining of your stomach by avoiding acidic fruit juices and giving it some grease. Fry some eggs in a puddle of oil, or eat copious amounts of french fries—just make sure they’re glistening and heavily salted.

Treating a hangover is like treating a cold: Time, water, and rest are the only guaranteed medicine. A banana, a large fountain Coke with enough dashes of bitters to make my wrist fall off, and all the Dick’s fries I can eat are the closest thing to a cure I’ve ever found. It may be almost as bad for you as the booze, but sometimes two wrongs do make it all right .


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