A hangover is the result of drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. What constitutes an excess varies from person to person. For this reason, some people may have just a few drinks and experience a hangover while others can binge heavily and be relatively unaffected the next day. If you are experiencing a hangover, your focus is on getting over it as soon as possible. Time is a major factor in overcoming a hangover but there are several ways that you can help the process along. First it is important to understand why a hangover occurs.
Reason for a Hangover
The word “hangover” is a common term to describe the unpleasant feeling after excesses of alcohol. It is a consequence of several changes that occur in the body during and shortly after consuming alcohol. Alcohol and the products formed when it is broken down in the body are toxic. It also causes :
- Changes in the brain hormones
- Dehydration – loss of water and electrolytes
- Alterations in blood glucose levels
- Muscle spasm
Exhaustion may also play an important role in the overall hangover, especially if a person had been very active while drinking and not slept for a sufficient period of time. Alcohol affects the quality of sleep so even “passing out” for a long period of time may not guarantee a restful sleep.
Drink Water with Electrolytes
Drinking plenty of water is important in overcoming a hangover. But just water alone is not sufficient. When you lose water through urine and sweat, electrolytes are also passed out in the process. Electrolytes are basically salts that the body needs for different processes like muscle contraction and nerve conduction. It is not just table salt (sodium chloride) that the body needs. There are a host of different electrolytes that are required by the body.
The best way to replenish these salts is to use an oral rehydrating solutions (ORS) or a sports drink. You can buy pre-mixed solutions from a supermarket or drug store but the better option is to buy a sachet of the powder and add it to water. An ORS powder is carefully formulated for the right concentration of electrolytes when added to a specific measure of water. Using an ORS can also help prevent diarrhea that may occur by drinking large amounts of water.
Do Not Have Another Drink
The old saying “the hair off the back of the dog that bit you” is untrue when it comes to a hangover. Having another drink to counteract a hangover does not work. It may simply dull the hangover symptoms but ultimately contributes to the symptoms of a hangover. Remember that alcohol and its byproducts are toxic to the body so by having another drink, you simply add to the toxicity. You also once again alter the brain hormones and water and electrolyte levels that are already out of balance.
Black Coffee Has Its Ups and Downs
Strong black coffee is often said to be one of the best options for dealing with a hangover. This may be true in that it helps you cope with the symptoms and stay awake since caffeine is a stimulant. But coffee only gives you a temporary boost, after which you will need to drink coffee again to keep going. Otherwise you will sink into a ‘downer’ and feel just as bad, if not worse, then before your cup of coffee. Some people find that coffee helps them with a hangover but not every personmay not benefit from the same effects.
Caffeine is a diuretic so you will be losing more water and electrolytes by drinking coffee, which further compounds the problem. It can also worsen a headache and nausea which are common symptoms of a hangover. If you are going to drink coffee then make sure you have about 2 glasses of water (preferably an ORS) between each cup of coffee. Drink coffee in moderation. Do not opt for large mugs of strong coffee. Instead go with smaller amounts and see how you feel about an hour later before pouring yourself another cup.
Sleep and Recharge
Sleeping is one of the best ways to not experience the symptoms of a hangover and allow your body the time to recover. As you sleep your liver will detoxify your body and spare you the unpleasant effects of the hangover. However, alcohol itself affects the quality of sleep that you will have and sleep can sometimes worsen the hangover symptom. So even after a long sleep, you may still feel very exhausted. Ensure that you have water available at hand, preferably an oral rehydrating solution. This will allow you to rehydrate every time your sleep breaks. A good period of sleep can also help stabilize the different brain hormones that have been thrown out of balance by excessive alcohol intake.
Moderate Exercise and Physical Activity
Your liver and kidneys become more active when you exercise. This can help speed up the detoxification of alcohol from your system. But take it easy. The increased demand on your body during exercise can further strain the system. Alcohol and its after-effects alters the heart activity and blood pressure which are further altered during exercise. Moderate exercise is helpful but strenuous physical activity can be harmful. Trying to “sweat out” the booze may do more harm than good. You lose water and electrolytes in perspiration which further worsens the dehydration. Make sure you constantly rehydrate yourself while exercising.
Eat Bland Foods and Small Meals
A greasy breakfast or spicy curry may not help your hangover as is often thought. In fact it can worsen it by irritating your tummy and worsening nausea. Sometimes these meals can even lead to vomiting or diarrhea which worsens the dehydration. Rather stick to simple foods and bland meals. Hold back on the spice and make sure that you have a balanced meal with carbohydrates, proteins and small amounts of fat. You need nourishment and taste should not matter while you are trying to overcome a hangover. It is better to eat several small meals at regular intervals rather than trying to pile it on with one or two large meals.
Take the Right Pills
At a time when we are used to popping a pill and relieving any symptoms, it is not as simple with a hangover. Various studies have looked at the effectiveness of hangover pills but none have been able to provide compelling proof that these pills are helpful. In other words, you may be wasting your time and money by using these pills. But if you want to use it and have probably had some good effects, then most of these pills are fairly safe to use.
Instead look at taking pharmaceutical drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen for a headache and general body aches that may be a part of a hangover. But do not overdo it. These drugs can irritate the stomach lining and strain the liver just like alcohol. Use these over-the-counter drugs in moderation and if it is not helping your hangover symptoms then just wait for your body to flush out the booze. Be careful about sharing medication prescribed for other people. Rather speak to a doctor than pop pills indiscriminately to cure a hangover.