Hangover myths

It's the day after a fabulously wild party. You wake up and chuckle briefly at memories from last night - who was that lunatic playing Twister in a tutu and a pair of flippers? Then it hits you: a pounding headache accompanied by dizziness, terrible thirst, sensitivity to light and sound, shakiness, a mutinous stomach, and the awful realization that it was you in the tutu and flippers. Welcome to the morning-after hangover.

Hangovers are the result of consuming too much alcohol over the past 24 hours. The more alcohol you consume, the more likely it is you'll have a hangover.

Symptoms of hangovers may be the result of several factors. You get headaches because alcohol causes the blood vessels in your head to expand. Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning that it stimulates urine production. As you urinate more, you become dehydrated, and this causes thirst, lightheadedness, and dizziness. Alcohol also makes your blood sugar drop, triggering fatigue, shakiness, and weakness. It can also stimulate stomach acids, irritate your stomach lining, and delay stomach emptying, causing discomfort, nausea, and vomiting. You'll feel awful for the next 8 to 24 hours, and there's not much you can do to speed up the process. (If you think you or someone else may have alcohol poisoning, characterized by mental confusion, coma, vomiting, seizures, irregular or slow breathing, or hypothermia, seek medical help immediately.)

But wait, you say, what about the remedies I heard about in college? Let's look at popular hangover "cures."

Coffee

A cup of Joe will keep you awake, but it won't stop a hangover. You may feel tired and jittery at the same time - not a pleasant combination.

Shower

You'll be squeaky clean, but you'll still feel like garbage.

Ibuprofen, aspirin, or acetaminophen

These can relieve headache pain, but they won't rid you of other symptoms. Taking them after alcohol can also cause problems for some people. Aspirin and ibuprofen can irritate the stomach, and acetaminophen combined with excessive alcohol intake can damage the liver.

"Hair of the dog" (more alcohol)

This is short for "hair of the dog that bit you," and the idea is to drink more alcohol to relieve a hangover. This is a good way to prolong the problem, not relieve it.

Exercise

Unfortunately, huffing and puffing your way through physical activity (and that includes sex) won't do anything to rid your body of alcohol.

Don't believe us? Trust the science. A study published in the British Medical Journal in 2005 reviewed all available studies on hangover treatment. The researchers concluded, "No compelling evidence exists to suggest that any conventional or complementary intervention is effective for preventing or treating alcohol hangover." The best way to avoid a hangover, they added, is to "practise abstinence or moderation."

We say, enjoy yourself, but drink slowly, dilute your drinks, alternate with non-alcoholic beverages (this will help reduce dehydration), and have a meal before you drink to slow alcohol absorption. Have no more than one drink per hour (one drink is any one 12-ounce bottle of beer, one 4-ounce glass of wine, or a 1½-ounce shot of liquor). Be aware of your limits, and don't let others pressure you into drinking more than you're comfortable with.

Choose beverages with fewer congeners, which are ingredients that give drinks their flavor. There are more congeners in dark liquors (whiskey, brandy) than clear ones (vodka, gin).

If you've got a raging hangover, replenish lost fluids with water or fruit juice, and eat some bland foods (crackers, toast) to calm your stomach. Take it easy, avoid tasks that require concentration, and beg your friends not to post their party pictures online.

The contents of this health site are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition.

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