We at the Herald-Guide encourage you to drink sensibly or not at all on New Year’s Eve and throughout the year, but if you do partake – and overdo it – the following “hangover remedies” from doctors at Harvard University can help you feel better on New Year’s Day. For the record, hangovers appear to be the body’s way of reminding us about the hazards of overindulgence. Symptoms may include diarrhea, fatigue, headache, nausea, shaking, nervousness, hair-trigger temper, confusion and more.
Sometimes blood pressure shoots up – the heart beats faster than normal, and you sweat. Some people become sensitive to light or sound. Others experience a spinning sensation and feel dizzy even when sitting down.
Because drinking interferes with brain activity during sleep, a hangover may be a form of sleep deprivation. Alcohol also can trigger migraines, so some people may think they’re hung over when it’s really an booze-induced migraine they’re suffering.
Hangovers begin after blood alcohol levels start to fall. In fact, according to some experts, the worst symptoms occur when levels reach zero.
Oddly enough, several studies suggest that light and moderate drinkers are more vulnerable to getting a hangover than heavy drinkers.
Dr. Robert Swift, a researcher at the Providence Veterans Affairs Medical Center, in Rhode Island, co-authored one of the few review papers on hangovers in 1998. It’s still one of the most frequently cited sources on the topic. The rundown on hangover remedies that follows is based on that review, an interview with Dr. Swift, and several other sources.
“Hair of the dog that bit you.” Drinking to ease the symptoms of a hangover is sometimes called taking the hair of the dog, or hair of the dog that bit you. The notion is that hangovers are a form of alcohol withdrawal, so a drink or two will ease the withdrawal.
There may be something to it, says Dr. Swift. Both alcohol and short-acting sedatives, such as benzodiazepines like diazepam (Valium), interact with GABA receptors on brain cells, he explains, 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.
Even so, Dr. Swift advises against using alcohol as a hangover remedy. “The hair of the dog just perpetuates a cycle,” he says. “It doesn’t allow you to recover.”
Fluids. Alcohol promotes urination because it inhibits the release of vasopressin, a hormone that decreases the volume of urine made by the kidneys. If your hangover includes diarrhea, sweating, or vomiting, you may be even more dehydrated. Although nausea can make it difficult to get anything down, even just a few sips of water might help your hangover.
Carbohydrates. Drinking may lower blood sugar levels, so theoretically some of the fatigue and headaches of a hangover may be from a brain working without enough of its main fuel. Moreover, many people forget to eat when they drink, further lowering their blood sugar. Toast and juice is a way to gently nudge levels back to normal.
Avoiding darker colored alcoholic beverages. Experiments have shown that clear liquors, such as vodka and gin, tend to cause hangovers less frequently than dark ones, such as whiskey, red wine, and tequila. The main form of alcohol in alcoholic beverages is ethanol, but the darker liquors contain chemically related compounds (congeners), including methanol. According to Dr. Swift’s review paper, the same enzymes process ethanol and methanol, but methanol metabolites are especially toxic, so they may cause a worse hangover.
Pain relievers. Aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin, other brands), and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may help with the headache and the overall achy feelings. NSAIDs, though, may irritate a stomach already irritated by alcohol. Don’t take acetaminophen (Tylenol). If alcohol is lingering in your system, it may accentuate acetaminophen’s toxic effects on the liver.
Coffee or tea. Caffeine may not have any special anti-hangover powers, but as a stimulant, it could help with the grogginess. Coffee is a diuretic, though, so it may exacerbate dehydration.
Vitamin B6. A study published 30 years ago found that people had fewer hangover symptoms if they took a total of 1,200 milligrams of vitamin B6 before, during, and just after drinking to get drunk.