Hangovers are caused by a number of chemical and biological reactions to alcohol. Understanding these reactions can help you avoid that nasty feeling after a night of drinking. Following are a number of causes of hangovers, followed by steps you can take to prevent them from occurring.
Remember the old saying, �Drink One, Pee Two?� Well, this is actually based on fact. Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it causes you to urinate, and dehydration is one of the leading factors in hangovers. Dehydration also causes your body to lose vitamins (Vitamin B12 is the most important, as you will see) that are necessary to metabolize the alcohol. So, the more you drink, the less able your body is to process the alcohol. This leads to headaches, tiredness, and the yucky dry taste in your mouth.
There are lots of big long words involved in describing the effect of alcohol and how enzymes break the proteins down so that the body can process them. If you are reading this, then chances are high you have a hangover and can't focus on words like acetaldehyde dehydrogenase. So, we won�t bore you with all that garbage.
The bottom line is that because many of your body's enzymes are busy trying to break down all the alcohol molecules in your blood, they aren't available to process food into glucose, and the brain is therefore deprived of some of the energy it needs to function optimally. This leads to dizziness, concentration problems, and ... um, what was I saying?
There are also chemicals within alcohol that cause adverse reactions within our bodies. These chemicals are called �congeners�, and are considered both impurities as well as important ingredients of some types of liquor. In small doses you don�t notice the negative effects of congeners � in fact, they make certain types of liquor taste better. As you increase the number of drinks, however, their effects become much more apparent.
Some forms of liquor are more pure than others. Vodka and Gin are almost pure ethanol and water, and therefore many of the congeners that are responsible for causing hangovers are distilled out. Theoretically you have to drink more Vodka to get a hangover than you would if you were drinking Whiskey, and the hangover you get is more the result of dehydration and loss of vitamins than it is a product of chemical reactions.
Spirits that contain more congeners are: Whiskey, Rum, Brandy, Red Wine, and Beer
Spirits that contain fewer congeners are: Vodka, Gin, and White Wine
Cause: Cheap Liquor
Many people have the impression that cheap liquor is more likely to cause a hangover. This perception is largely true. Cheap liquor is usually not distilled to the same standards that the top-shelf stuff is. Many brands of top-shelf liquor are distilled multiple times to improve the purity, and strip out the congeners. Cheap liquor is more likely to retain the impurities that can cause hangovers, or make them worse.
The Beer Myth � err sortof
People tend to think that beer is less capable of producing a hangover than distilled spirits. This is partly true in the sense that because beer has so much water in it, you do not get as dehydrated with beer given the same number of drinks. However, because beer is not distilled, it never has a chance to lose the congeners that are pulled out of spirits. Thus your hangover is more the result of the congeners than the dehydration, but it�s still a hangover. If you mix your liquor with juices or other mixers, then you may actually be better off with the Liquor � especially if the mixers contain vitamins that will replace those you are about to urinate out.
The Tipping Point
There is definitely a �tipping point� after which no matter what you do, you're going to have a hangover. The tipping point is not measured in the number of drinks per se. It is a moving scale that changes over time. The more drinks you have per hour, the greater your chance for a hangover. Also, the more drinks you have in a day the greater your chances of having a hangover.
How to Cure a Hangover:
Most of the hangover cures you will see will fall under the category of �preventive�. In other words, you need to do these things BEFORE you drink or before the hangover starts. Once you have a hangover, there is little you can do to help it other than take pain relievers, eat, and get some sleep.
Preventing a Hangover
- Don't drink - Ok, that's not an option.
- Drink a glass of water between each alcoholic drink. This will replace the water your body loses from the diuretic effect of the alcohol.
- Take vitamins before and after you drink. Focus on those that contain Vitamin B12, as this will help your body to process the alcohol.
- Pace yourself. This will help you avoid becoming overly intoxicated. Getting falling down drunk really isn�t fun anyway, and it just almost always ends badly. Limit yourself to one drink per hour, and your body will be able to keep up with your intake. Also, set a limit on the total number of drinks you have. Switch to non-alcoholic drinks like sodas or �Mocktails�.
- Stop drinking at least one hour before you go to bed, and try not to go to bed drunk. This gives your body time to process some of the alcohol. When you sleep your body�s metabolism slows down. By staying up a bit longer, you will not have as much alcohol in your system as you sleep. Generally speaking, if you go to bed drunk, you will probably wake up with some degree of hangover.
- Take some Tylenol with a pint of water before bed. Again, you are trying to replace the water your body is losing, and the pain reliever will help with the headaches.
- Eat something before and after you drink. Food helps in a couple of important ways. First, it dilutes the alcohol and slows its absorption into your blood stream. Secondly, it helps to replace the vitamins and minerals that are lost when you urinate. Thirdly, it speeds up your metabolism, so you are better able to process the alcohol once it is in your bloodstream.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- In the morning, avoid caffeine and sugary foods that will increase your blood pressure. Consuming these foods is a great way to make a little headache turn into a big headache.
- There are a number of over the counter medications that claim to prevent a hangover. It is hard to prove a negative, so you never know if you would have had a hangover, but many believe these medications work. The science is still not settled on these. If they work for you, then great.
There are also a few obvious things that should be said here. First, hangovers are almost always caused by alcohol abuse. Having the occasional hangover is usually not a problem, but if you find that you are often suffering from hangovers, then you might have a drinking problem.
Some people have allergies to certain ingredients in alcohol. Yeast, Alcohol, and Sulfites can cause intense reactions in some individuals. If you suffer from an allergy to any of these things, then it is best that you either avoid alcohol altogether, or else exercise extreme caution about what you are drinking and how much.
The good news is that as long as you practice the fine art of responsible drinking, and you exercise the precautions listed above, you may never have another hangover again!