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The Hangover: an owner's manual If you've had too much to drink, this advice may ease your pain Friday, December 28, 2001 Eileen Dempsey Dispatch Accent Reporter Let's get something straight right off the bat.
The three simple rules for avoiding a hangover?
1. Don't drink too much.
2. Don't drink too much.
3. Don't drink too much.
We do not condone drinking and certainly not drinking and driving.
But if, by an unusual alignment of the heavenly spheres, you find yourself drinking at a holiday party, you can't say you weren't warned.
Ah, the joys of a hangover, or veisalgia (the little-known scientific name, which combines a Norwegian term for "uneasiness following debauchery" and a Greek word for "pain"):
The queasy stomach.
The pounding head.
The mouth as dry as Westerville.
The bloodshot eyes.
The numbing fatigue. If you've ever suffered a hangover, you know all too well the pain and discomfort.
The same question keeps running through your head: Why did I do this to myself?
And you vow never to suffer another hangover.
Here's the secret to keeping that vow:
"The only thing that will prevent a hangover is not drinking too much," said Cheryl Foreman, a registered dietitian with the McConnell Heart Health Center.
Yes, the best cure is (drumroll, please) abstinence. Short of that, try moderation. (Your liver will thank you.) Remember, alcohol is a drug.
It sounds simple, but with New Year's Eve around the corner, some will find themselves drinking too much.
And that's nothing new. Hangover cures go as far back as, well, hangovers.
The ancient Egyptians thought cabbage water could cure a hangover. The ancient Chinese cure was to eat horse's brain. A 16th-century cure involved raw eels and almonds. In the 19th century, hung-over English chimney sweeps drank warm milk with a teaspoon of soot.
Makes Alka-Seltzer look downright appetizing.
Today, Alka-Seltzer is promoting its new Morning Relief, which promises to make you "feel better than you should." The effervescent product packs caffeine and a painkiller to ease a headache and fatigue.
But caution is urged when using this or any painkiller to alleviate a hangover, says Dr. Mrunal Shah, assistant program director for the Riverside Family Practice Residency Program.
Popping painkillers before passing out is a common "home remedy." Some drinkers take a couple of aspirin, Tylenol or Advil with a glass of water before going to bed.
Aspirin can irritate the stomach and lead to gastritis and peptic ulcers, which are erosive diseases of the stomach, Shah said.
Teen-agers and young adults, he said, should avoid aspirin because they could be at risk for Reye's syndrome, a rare and often-fatal disease.
People who use alcohol regularly should avoid Tylenol, Shah said. Tylenol contains the painkiller acetaminophen, which is processed by the liver. The liver also processes alcohol, and the combination could cause liver problems, he said.
While Advil or Motrin, which contain ibuprofen, are the best choice for combating hangover symptoms, Shah cautioned that these painkillers also can irritate the stomach and lead to gastritis or peptic ulcers.
"In any case, taking painkillers after a night of drinking should not be your normal routine,'' Shah said. "The alcohol will cause its own share of problems, and these drugs could cause other problems, from liver failure to esophageal tears.''
Long-term alcohol use can lead to permanent brain damage, liver failure, blackouts, gastritis and severe anemia, Shah said.
"Even regular binge-alcohol use can run the same risks of complications as long-term regular use,'' Shah said.
A safe amount to drink depends on your weight and how much and how long you drink. But consuming more than two or three drinks at once is considered excessive, Shah said.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends that women have no more than one drink a day and men no more than two drinks a day. One drink is a 12-ounce beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine or a 1 1/2 - ounce shot of liquor.
Drinkers also should consider congeners, organic compounds created in the fermentation and distillation of alcohol, that give liquor its flavor and color.
Darker liquors, such as bourbon or whiskey, have more congeners than clear liquors such as vodka or gin. As the compounds are digested, they can irritate your stomach and make you feel worse, Foreman said.
But "If you think, 'I'll drink vodka and I won't have a hangover,' you'll be real disappointed the next day,'' Foreman said.
Another fact to keep in mind: Alcohol is a diuretic.
The more you drink, the more you have to go to the bathroom, and the more dehydrated you become. That dehydration often causes nasty headaches the next morning.
"The tissue around the brain requires a certain amount of fluid to keep everything moving around,'' Shah said. "But when you're dehydrated, the fluid is pulled away from the tissue, and you get an almost spinal-type headache because the tissue around the brain is being pulled.''
To cure a hangover headache, start drinking water.
But if you're already hung over, the tissue around the brain can take as along as six hours to return to a normal fluid level. You won't cause any brain damage, but your head will hurt. Like heck.
If you are dehydrated, you are also at risk of passing out or feeling lightheaded or dizzy.
Because alcohol can irritate the lining of the stomach, Shah recommends eating before, during and after drinking.
Some folks say they always drink milk or eat before they go out drinking. That's a good idea, Shah said.
"Eating something will coat the stomach and protect it. The food acts like a sponge to keep the alcohol from being absorbed so quickly,'' Shah said.
If you drink on an empty stomach, you often feel the effects more quickly because the alcohol is more rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, Shah said.
But no amount of food prevents the alcohol from eventually being absorbed into the bloodstream, Foreman said.
"Unfortunately, people may drink more because they're not feeling the effects of the alcohol as quickly,'' Foreman said. "Eventually, it will get into your system. So know your limits and pace yourself.''
As for the home remedy of eating the next morning, by then it's too late to slow the absorption of alcohol, Shah said.
"But eating a greasy cheeseburger might help you feel better because this will help coat the stomach so it won't be so irritated,'' Shah said.
If you have heartburn, take chewable antacids to reduce stomach acid, Shah said.
To stave off dehydration, Foreman recommends drinking two glasses of water for every alcoholic beverage consumed. If you follow this advice, however, be prepared to spend plenty of time in the bathroom.
Forget about the myth that drinking coffee cures a hangover.
"You're still drunk, but now you're more awake,'' Foreman said.
If you vomit after a bout of drinking, Foreman suggests drinking a sports drink such as Gatorade to help replace electrolytes.
Another myth, she said, is that vitamin B or C will cure a hangover. The vitamins won't hurt, but they won't necessarily help.
The dietitian suggests eating a healthful, well-balanced meal the next morning. Start with skim milk and whole-grain toast with peanut butter. A few hours later, eat a banana.
"If you're nauseated, try to eat something good. Cold pizza probably is not the best choice the next morning,'' Foreman said.
She encourages clients who are cutting calories to restrict alcohol.
At a party, "Try to socialize away from the bar and drink more water or nonalcoholic beverages,'' Foreman said. "Alcohol and food are not necessities for having a good time. The centerpiece of parties should be having fun with family and friends.''
While researching hangovers, Foreman found an unusual remedy on the Internet: A college student reported eating burnt toast.
This "cure'' might have some merit, Foreman said. Charred toast contains carbons, and carbon often is used to neutralize alcohol in victims of alcohol-poisoning.
Above all, don't drink and drive.
Better yet, be the responsible (and sober) designated driver.
Your fun will come the next morning, as you bemusedly watch your ailing friends try to cure themselves with "the hair of the dog.''
Those silly fools.
Don't they realize that drinking again only delays the inevitable hangover?
-- Anonymous, December 28, 2001
I used to have a friend at work with considerable experience, morning hangover-wise. He swore by some concoction where the magic ingredient was a generous dollop of Agonstra (I'm sure I'm mis- spelling) Bitters.
-- Anonymous, December 29, 2001