Probably one of the most often searched questions on the internet in the month of January is “Hangover cures”.  Of all common ailments, next to the common cold, the next greatest health issue to tackle is hangovers.  A hangover is often easily avoidable, whereas the common cold is not.  However, we all know common sense is not so common.  In fact, it even happens to the best of us.  It happens even unknowingly.  An old friend is in from out of town, you go for “one” drink. One drink turns into several, and then just “one more” for old time’s sake, and probably there were a few shots between drinks. Of course, you didn’t eat first, and that only compounds the issue.

Before you read anything else, do a search for Do a search for Water Intoxication and you will see it happens.  Sometimes from water drinking contests, sometimes by accident. You can die. There are cases of it recorded every year. It ironically happens most often in college students who have a poor diet, and drink a lot of water to feel “full”.

Typically what causes a hangover is dehydration.  Even if it is something like beer, which is mostly water, you are flushing a lot of salt out of your body, and what your body is retaining, is the alcohol. If it is wine, it has sulfites. If it is cocktails, then its too much sugar. Sugar and alcohol dehydrate, but it is the salt in the body that needs to be replaced too. Salt is the only mineral that the body does not produce, and yes, you will die without it.  If you ever want to experience a hangover without having a drop of alcohol, drink as much water as you can and don’t eat anything all day.  Your brain will swell and press up against the skull, creating a painful headache like no other.  Sure, icepacks will help a little by shrinking the swelling, but seriously don’t ever be stupid enough to try this.

Many of these precautions below are things you should do every day, even if you are not drinking, but here they are:

1)  Eat first: never do anything on an empty stomach, except eat.  This includes working, walking, and drinking. It is a proven fact that if you do not eat before you start your day, chances of heart disease increased.  Food slows the absorption of alcohol into the system.

2)  Slow & Steady: if you know you are going out for a night of drinking, this does not mean you have to be passed out drunk by midnight. As soon as you get to the party or bar, someone will ask what you are drinking.  Always ask for a water or seltzer first. Sure, you will often be ridiculed, but that is fine.  You are thirsty, you want a water or seltzer with lemon first before you start going at it.  And, every other drink should be a glass of water. Not only will this slow you down, but you will be hydrating yourself, and that is the number one cause of hangovers, under hydration.

3)  Hydration: This cannot be stressed enough. Your body needs water. Not only to flush out the alcohol, but to replace what water your body is absorbing in place of the alcohol.  Sure, you might have to use the bathroom a few more times, but if you are hungover, it beats a day in bed with a pounding headache.

4)  Don’t Mix: If you like beer, stick to beer. If you like wine, stick to wine.  If you like Whiskey, do not go switching off to vodka, gin, Sambuca or Jaegermiester.  Drinking several different types of spirits from a Rum & Coke to shot of Fireball to a beer is just going to confuse and overload the body’s processing process trying to break all these things down.

5)  Do not trust supplements: Sometimes I have to go to wine, whiskey and cocktail tastings and/or review a cocktail bar. However, I have to rely on my own judgement and not trust this industry created to “cure” the hangover with a pill.  You can find many packets of supplements that promise you won’t get a hangover “or your money back”.  I’ve tried them as review products (meaning, I got samples free). And, when they pressed me for a review, I simply told them I rather give no review than a negative review.  They do not work.  They might have essential vitamins like B12, but sometimes this is like putting a bandaid on a knife wound.

Assuming you followed all these steps, there is the “cure”. And no, there really is no cure.  However, there are some things which might help take the edge off of the pain.

Ampelopsin, Dihydromyricetin, Hovenia, Milk Thistle: These are commonly found in Asian cultures as herbal remedies. While better in their natural format, it is likely you will only be able to find them as a supplement in a vitamin store.  They do help take the edge off. However, over time, if you find this your “go to” cure for hangovers and/or even before drinking, they will lose their efficiency, especially because they are taxing on the liver (the organ that breaks down the alcohol).

Gatorade, Pedialyte, etc:  These are not just good for hangovers, but people who are athletic and/or who work out daily.  They contain vitamins, electrolytes and of course water for hydration.  I am not sure what role the sugar plays, other than to make the liquid taste better, but obviously vitamins and electrolytes are good for the body and need to be replaced daily for overall general health. The other important element is salt. Salt is the only mineral the body does not replace which is essential. While most people intake too much salt (processed foods, meats, junk food, etc), drinking often flushes out the salt from the body.  After a hard night of drinking, it is typical to be drinking a ton of water. This does not always help matters, since you are flushing what little salt is left in your body. So, replace the salt in a natural way.

Eating hearty:  A full breakfast or hamburger can also help. While generally eating healthy does not include bacon, potatoes and eggs with cheese, in the case of a hangover, you need a lot of carbs, salt, sugar and calories to get the body to repair the damage done.

Asprin and/or Painkillers: As with any medication, know what you are putting in your body. While aspirin is fairly harmless, it can lead to ulcers, and interactions with other medications might pose a bigger risk to the liver than a hangover which will generally only last 24 hours or so.

Sleep it off:  If you have the option, stay in bed, keep a liter bottle of water close, and just rest. We don’t always have this option, some of us work every day. But if it its the weekend and/or you have the option to take the day off, do yourself a favor and sleep it off so the body can recover.

What does NOT work: “hair of the dog”, meaning, start drinking again.  Sure you might feel slightly better for a little while, you are really just prolonging the process while the body is trying to heal. Adding gas to the fire will not help, even if the logic that liquid extinguishes flames.

Long story made short: Don’t be a dumbass.  The older you get, the harder it will be, and sometimes a hangover is not just done by getting drunk the night before, but simply because you had “one” (yes just one) too many.  Know your limit.  For most of us, it is 3-5 drinks. When I was still young and in my 20s, I could easily have 10 and feel nothing the next day.  Now, I can have 3, and wake up fine. However, if I am feeling good and think just “one” more will not hurt, a 4th drink will cause me to wake up groggy, with a headache, and have a miserable day.  Know your limit.

Don’t beat yourself up.  We all make mistakes. Especially in a social setting with old friends. We start feeling good from the intoxication, then lose judgement, and keep going as if there is no tomorrow.  If it does happen, suck it up, stay in bed, re-hydrate, eat right, and just be sure it never happens again.  If this happens often (more than twice a year) then it is time to seriously consider to seek counseling, especially if it is NOT a social setting.