Updated: Dec 15, 2020
Here's a funny story before we give you the full skinny on hangovers. We opened Rapid Recovery thinking we'd be a hangover cure spa. One of our owners had a treatment in Vegas that saved a trip and we wanted to do the same for people in Shreveport. Turns out only about 10-15% of our patients are hangover sufferers. Totally misjudged the market on that one.
That said, winter is the time we see more hangovers. More people are inside, at parties, celebrating holidays, etc., and this is when we go from about 10% of our patients having hangovers to about 15% having them. Don't worry. You aren't alone.
So, here we go. Who, what, why, where, and how.
All these #hangover tip columns say "you could just drink less", but anybody who is going to read this article isn't going to do that, and anyone who's willing to drink less isn't reading this article, so we aren't going to say that.
A hangover is a nasty batch of symptoms which you know all about (headache, nausea, a general feeling of feebleness, dizziness, confusion, stomach issues, body aches, etc.) but of which you may not know the root cause beyond "drank too much".
Alcohol in large quantities (and "large" varies for everyone) depletes several key nutrients in your body, and leaves you with some nasty byproducts which your body fights to its own detriment. Sadly, they affect women disproportionately worse due to the way their bodies absorb and process alcohol.
Unfortunately, the first thing you're going to be shy of after heavy drinking is something we can't help you with in this article, or our office. When you start getting a good buzz your neurotransmitters kick into turbo mode and you are releasing dopamine like crazy. Those are the "feel good" signals in your brain. They're basically in one train station doing nothing, the neuro-transmitters are like the train that moves them along to a station called a Dopamine Receptor, and when they arrive, you feel great. Two problems happen when you drink a bunch of alcohol. One problem is that dopamine isn't generated quickly, so if you've used it all up during the happy-go-lucky drunk time, there isn't much left for tomorrow, and the other is that alcohol causes your dopamine receptors problems and they aren't as efficient at receiving the much needed guests, if there are even many left. Still, that's not getting better with anything we are going to tell you. "Fight through it" Grandpa would say, but don't be surprised if you're a little depressed even if you can beat back the physical symptoms.
You're probably still loopy, and will be even after the bulk of the alcohol is gone. Why? Low blood sugar levels. That's another unfortunate side effect. You're basically hitting yourself with short term diabetes.
Another thing that happens is that alcohol tells your body to increase its urine production. You know where this is going. The first thing that happens after you urinate all night is that you're going to be dehydrated. That brain that's trying to get by on no dopamine is now also fighting a lack of fluids. Your muscles are far more likely to ache and cramp because they lack fluid, you'll have vision issues, and confusion is going to rule the day.
Next, alcohol breaks down into a poisonous substance called acetaldehyde, and when that's in your system at full hydration it's bad enough, but now you have less fluid in your body so the acetaldehyde is at a greater concentration. Yuck.
Another problem is that with all that urination you're excreting electrolytes (various salts), and a lot of potassium. You're going to be low on all those things.
A big big problem with alcohol is another group of byproducts called "congeners". For the sake of education, a "congener" is pretty much anything which is very similar in structure and makeup to something else. When you're talking about alcohol, you're really talking about ethanol. That's the "umph" in your booze. Ethanol is the alcohol. In terms of drinking, a congener means something that's really, really similar to ethanol, but isn't ethanol. There are lots of byproducts of the production of alcohol, and you're stuck with them. They're in very, very small amounts, but not good either way. Methanol is an ethanol congener. Acetone (no kidding) is an ethanol congener. So are acetaldehyde (which we discussed before), tannins which create a histamine response, and even some esters which closely resemble ether (the stuff I used to spray into my carburetor to fire up my diesel pickup when it was cold). Bad, bad stuff.
So how do we avoid a hangover or beat one if we've got it?
First rule: Dilution is the Solution for Pollution.
It's that simple. If you have one finger of poison in one finger of water, you've got half a glass of poison. If you have one finger of poison in one ocean of water, you really don't have any poison at all. Part of the trick to avoiding a hangover is water. Get plenty of it and don't stop. What I like to do is have one drink (or one glass of wine, or two beers) and then follow it up with a glass of water. This little trick does two things: 1) It limits the amount of alcohol you're drinking because you're walking around with a glass of water half the time, and 2) it keeps you closer to correct hydration so you don't suffer the effects of dehydration or have a higher concentration of gunk in your body due to lack of fluids.
Second rule: Don't Ask For Trouble
This one gets me every time. I can't help it. I drink red wine, and bourbon. That's it. Sometimes beer during football or baseball, but I don't do vodka, gin, white wine (except in the summer) or any of those other drinks.
That's a bummer because the darker alcohols contain more congeners. More acetone, more tannins (red wine) and more methanol. Yeah. You're WAY better off from a hangover standpoint if you can learn to like vodka. That stuff is the cleanest, least "hangovery" alcohol there is. You can do gin. You can do white wine. If it's clear, it's better from a hangover standpoint (except tequila - that still sucks for hangovers). I have not been able to master the art of the slow gin fizz, or the vodka tonic, but if you have, good for you.
Worse, red wine contains a LOT of histamines. Those produce an immune response in the body. They can cause inflammation, too much stomach acid (adding to that bad feeling in your belly), and even a thready pulse. It's why when you have a cold you take an ANTI-histamine. Bad juju.
Third rule: Mop it Up
You've heard it a thousand times, "don't drink on an empty stomach". You've heard it that many times because it's true. You can slow the rate of absorption of the alcohol you've consumed if your stomach has other stuff in it. Try to stay away from just plain meat, as that does little to "soak up" the booze (really a bad analogy), but if you have high fiber, high carb, vitamin-enriched foods like enriched breads (NOT that damned multi-grain stuff, something with carbs like Sunbeam or Wonder Bread - no kidding) and good vegetables in your system you're going to be better off in the long run. You also need the carbs (and the sugars, which we'll get to later) to help bring your blood sugar levels back to normal.
Fourth rule: Embrace the Dark Side
The alcohol in your system is going to ruin your sleep. Eight hours of "sleep" isn't going to be eight hours of SLEEP. Lots of the things in you are going to prevent deep, REM sleep for sustained periods of time. So, no TV in bed, no blue lights in your room, etc., etc., etc. Turn off EVERYTHING, get it as quiet as possible, and try to get every minute of sleep you can.
And now the tricks!
I'm going to number these. A few will be repeats but then we'll get into the serious Houdini magic of stopping one before it starts and fixing one if you can't, and maybe you want to print this.
You're going to have to go to the store BEFORE you go out. You may not get a hangover THIS time, but eventually it's gonna happen so go ahead and get all this stuff so you'll be ready when the unexpected happens. If you can, and you're going to shop before your next hangover, get some Vitamin C powder for your water, or even better yet, something called DripDrop. The DripDrop stuff tastes very similar to what you would think burned skunk hair tastes like, but it contains a ton of electrolytes and will really pay off in the morning. You'll also need white bread, a packaged honey bun, a Vitamin B supplement, an antihistamine, bananas, something called Nauzene, and a pain reliever that isn't acetaminophen.
Stay away from colored sugary alcohol if possible. Vodka, gin, white wine: good. Bourbon, Scotch, dark tequila, red wine: bad.
One drink, one glass of water. Repeat.
High carb, fiber-rich, dense foods. Potatoes, bread, rice, etc., and sugary foods.
Sleep, sleep, sleep.
Load up on what you KNOW your body is going to be missing. THIS IS KEY.
a) BEFORE you go to sleep make sure you EAT A BANANA. Your body is going to be
way minus potassium, so a banana will help level that out.
b) Take a Vitamin B supplement. Your body has eaten through its little natural "5 hour
energy" supply of B vitamins, and it's a really good idea to take a B supplement before
going to bed.
c) You absolutely MUST find a way to get down a full 32 ounce tumbler of lukewarm
water. Remember, half the problem here is dehydration. If you can get down that much
water without puking you're going to be a hell of a lot better off for it in the morning. Put
DripDrop (first choice) or Vitamin C powder in it if you can stomach it.
d) If you drank red wine take an antihistamine. Please, please, please do this. Make
SURE it doesn't say "non-drowsy" on it. You can't be missing any sleep, but you need to
counteract all the histamines in the red wine.
e) You're going to read elsewhere that taking a pain reliever isn't going to help. BS.
Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you take acetaminophen (Tylenol or any
equivalent) or anything like NyQuil that has acetaminophen, but you can take BC
powder or any NSAID (Advil, Aleve, et al) as long as you drink the water we
recommended. All pain relievers are bad on your liver, but if you drink the water you'll
be okay. If you don't drink the 32 ounces of water stay away from pain relievers.
f) Eat at least one piece (two would be nice) of that Wonder Bread and take at least one
of the Nauzene chewables when you do. This will put something in your stomach to go
with the banana, and keep you from puking it up.
g) Set your alarm for 35 minutes BEFORE you need to be awake. I'm not kidding.
SO that's the night of the drinking. Now let's pull a trick in the morning.
1) You'll need to be prepared, so before this night of legendary drinking I want you to
put this next to your bed:
One packaged "honey bun"
Vitamin B gummies or capsules
Non-acetaminophen pain reliever (meaning no Tylenol)
Vitamin C powdered drink supplement packs (or DripDrop)
A full 32 ounce tumbler of water
2) Your alarm went off 35 minutes early. Remember you set it that way last night? Good.
In the next 5 minutes I want you to reach over to the conveniently ready stash by your
bed, and eat the banana (for the potassium) and the honey bun (to raise your blood
sugar levels) that are next to your bed, take two of the Advils (or whatever you picked
for a pain reliever) and the Vitamin B caplet, and chug down as much of the 32 ounce
tumbler of water (WITH the Vitamin C powder in it) as you can get down in the 5
3) Go back to sleep. You don't have to be awake for another half an hour, that's why we
set your alarm for 35 minutes early. You're giving the carbs and sugar in the honey bun
a chance to be absorbed into your bloodstream and give you some energy, the pain
reliever a chance to work on your headache, the Vitamin C powder to work its anti-
inflammatory magic, the B gummies time to power your system, and the water a chance
to rehydrate you. All while you're asleep.
4) Wake up. Feel normal. Profit!
That's it my friends, our guide to avoiding a hangover, or beating one if you can't. If this doesn't work for you I know a place that will give you an #IV that will beat your hangover down almost immediately. You may have heard of it. It's called Rapid Recovery. ;-)
By the way, you may have noticed I didn't remind you to take a Lyft or an Uber, or have a friend drive you if you're going to be drinking. My assumption is that anyone who is smart enough to read is smart enough to know that. Don't be a dumbass. You could kill yourself or someone else. Just get a ride.
Enjoy your holidays and let us know if you have any other hangover-smashing ideas we can share with our friends!
If you're so far gone that these tips aren't working, better BOOK THE ROCKSTAR.