The holiday season is often synonymous with work party season, and (sadly) hangover season. It’s a time when most of us choose to treat ourselves a little (and rightly so!) – but long nights and those summer sun beers can take their toll.
The medical term for a hangover is ‘Veisalgia’, and theories about what actually causes them include how alcohol impacts hydration, sleep, blood sugar levels, gut irritation and psychological factors. Want to know how to cure a hangover? Although prevention is key, here are the best strategies for reducing the symptoms of a hangover.
How can you prevent a hangover to begin with?
When it comes to the silly season drinks, and the hangovers that come with them, prevention is key.
1. Drink less
Knowing safe limits is a starting point, and as corny as it sounds the ultimate prevention to a hangover is taking it easy on the alcohol or steering clear in the first place. Current Australian guidelines for reducing alcohol related risk recommend we drink no more than two standard drinks on any one day, and no more than four on any one occasion. For a lot of people, the average office Christmas party can mean a fair few more than this, and it’s important to know that when it comes to hangovers more is more. The more alcohol we consume, the worse a hangover will be. As we age, our tolerance of alcohol and the impacts of the factors that likely cause a hangover also change – so it’s important we moderate how much we’re drinking as time goes on.
2. Stay hydrated and eat properly
Aside from the drinking itself, other prevention tips for reducing the hit of a hangover include hydrating and eating. Drinking plenty of water before, while and after we drink can reduce dehydration theorised to be behind many of our hangover symptoms, and eating a meal (particularly one high in fats/carbs) before drinking means our absorption is slowed.
Other theories on what causes a hangover include the way alcohol (and big nights out) impact our sleep – aside from just staying up much later on a night out, alcohol changes the actual architecture of our sleep itself. Getting in a solid set of hours sleep before and after drinking might thus mitigate the added impact that poor sleep has the next day.
4. Pick your poison
Some theories have looked into different additives to alcohols and how these might impact hangovers. ‘Congeners’ are products in alcohol that have shown some links to worse hangovers. Some studies have shown less congener in clear spirits like Gin or Vodka, and that hangovers might thus be less with these drinks. As always however it’s not what we’re drinking but how much and how we’re drinking that is the most important factor.
Can you cure a hangover? Or at least shorten it?
I hate to be that doctor, but the only sure fire way to “cure” a hangover, is to not drink in the first place. The less we drink, the milder and shorter any hangover will be. So apart from avoiding one to begin with, there are unfortunately no miracle cures or hangover heals.
While there are a number of products and new health clinics/spas that claim to hold miracle hangover cures, medical evidence around this is largely lacking. Aside from hydration, ‘hangover tonic/drinks’ or IV drip vitamin/hangover infusions aren’t shown to actually cure or reduce hangovers themselves. IV drip infusions can also come with risks around getting hooked up to an IV line without the evidence to back it up – these can include damage to veins and nerves, pain and infections.
1. Stay hydrated and hit the carbs
We can improve hangover symptoms, and hopefully shorten them, by hydrating after we drink and during the next day. Drink plenty of water or fluids (alcohol free of course), and a juice or smoothies can offer the added benefit of a carb hit. Bumping our glucose levels back up with a good meal of quick absorbing carbs can help too. Some cereal and fruit can be a good option, or try something easily digested that offers a bit of a sugar hit.
If we’re really dehydrated, or struggling to keep things down, solutions that help hydrate us faster available at your chemist might be the way to go.
2. Sleep it off
We know that some of the symptoms behind a hangover come down to the way alcohol impacts a natural sleep cycle – recharging with a power nap might just help shorten that hangover too.
3. Relieve pain
Simple pain and symptomatic relief can be a help here too when taken as directed. Simple pain relief like paracetamol and/or a nausea tablet can help us move through the day a little easier.
4. Manage your mood
We tend to beat ourselves up a lot while we’re hungover, and some of this might also frame the psychology and mood change we often get with a hangover. Avoiding anxious thoughts, beating ourselves up and catastrophising by knowing this too shall pass and going easy on ourselves can help things. Distract with something light and positive like a movie, or some chill time with a mate.
What should you definitely NOT do when you have a hangover?
1. Keep drinking alcohol
The old ‘hair of the dog’ trick is a common misconception. Some theories around what might cause hangovers include a possible type of brief withdrawal syndrome. For this reason drinking while we’re hungover might help with some of the initial symptoms, but it’s never a good idea.
The hair of the dog approach will only delay and worsen the hangover that will inevitably follow, so having another drink to avoid a hangover is a bit like throwing petrol on a fire.
2. Avoid food and fluids
Another thing to not do is to ride a hangover out without keeping our fluid and food up. Even if we’re really in the pits, small regular sips of fluid and top ups with some easily digested, simple, foods is important. Wasting away in bed all day without rehydrating or getting our strength back with some food won’t be helping anything.
In severe cases where we’re really ill, can’t keep food/fluids down or are noticing symptoms outside a usual hangover it’s also key to see a doctor. Don’t avoid getting help just because we might be feeling somewhat sheepish after one too many.Published on Women's Health