Another fascinating theory of the hangover is that it could be acute alcohol withdrawal. This is based on the fact that these two conditions share similar symptoms. They both can cause nausea, confusion, headaches, sweating and anxiety. Another observation to support this theory is that ingestion of alcohol can relieve symptoms for both conditions. This is the “hair of the dog” hangover remedy. However, there are arguments against this theory. In the hangover state there is decreased brain activity, while there is increased activity and excitability during alcohol withdrawal. To make things more complicated, in certain studies alcoholics have not experienced hangover symptoms. Yet these same alcoholics have experienced withdrawal symptoms.
The Cure? Please Let There Be A Cure.
Now to get to the important part, how does one cure or prevent a hangover? A quick search of Google produced over 1 million hits for hangover cures. What works and what does not? Are there any scientific studies that tried to find a cure for this morning after syndrome? The answer might upset you, but let’s look at the most popular cures for the hangover.
Running or vigorous exercise is a supposed to be a sure-fire prevention and cure for the hangover. The theory is that aerobic activity will increase metabolism and help your body burn off alcohol. This does make a bit of sense and it could also help to reduce driving while under the influence. However, there is no proof that this works and it could be dangerous. Vigorous activity may lead to further dehydration and actually make symptoms worse. It is also not a good idea to exercise while in an impaired mental state; it might lead to injuries.
Perhaps you should drink plenty of sport drinks before going to bed or in the morning. This idea also makes sense. It helps with two causes of hangovers: dehydration and electrolyte loss. The same argument could be made for drinking coconut water. There are a few drawbacks to this course of action. Sport drinks contain a lot of sugar and could lead to weight gain and dental cavities. Fluid consumption before bed might lead to many nighttime bathroom trips, which may interfere with getting adequate sleep. Maybe a small glass of water before bed might be a better idea. Don’t forget to have a big glass of water or other fluid beside your bed for the morning. Perhaps a better idea would be to drink water during your night on the town.
How about taking an over the counter painkiller before bed such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen? This sounds good in theory, but it really is a bad idea. The combination of alcohol and acetaminophen could lead to liver damage. Alcohol metabolism interferes with the livers ability to remove acetaminophen from the body. This build up can be toxic to your liver. Ibuprofen and other anti-inflammatory drugs should not be combined with alcohol either. Both alcohol and anti-inflammatory drugs are irritants to your stomach. This might lead to further stomach upset or worse: a stomach ulcer.
What about the “hair of the dog that bit you” remedy? Earnest Hemingway was rumored to drink beer and tomato juice to cure his hangovers. There is a bit of theory behind this idea. Ingestion of ethanol can reduce the breakdown of congeners into further toxic by-products. Alcohol can act as a painkiller and will help withdrawal symptoms. Shawn Soole, Executive BarKeep – Clive’s Classic Lounge, Tales of the Cocktail “World’s Best Hotel” nominee gives his remedy for a hangover: “My favorite hangover cure is a Fernet Branca, a lager and a good spicy gin caesar and not in that order. The lager winds you down, the Fernet winds you up and the spicy caesar gets you ready for the day.”
Strong black coffee has been a hangover cure that has survived the test of time. The high caffeine content will help to reduce the drowsiness associated with a hangover, but that is about it. It might make things worse. Coffee and caffeine can be stomach irritants and potentially act as a diuretic. This further fluid loss will only compound the problem.