Alcohol is a diuretic (meaning it removes fluids from the body), so drinking excessively can lead to dehydration.
Dehydration is what causes many of the symptoms of a hangover.
As well as dehydration, alcohol can upset your stomach and give you a bad night’s sleep.
You may even wake up and still have some alcohol in your system the next morning delaying the onset of hangover until later the next day.
Myths About Hangover Cures
Hangover cures are generally a myth. There are no cures for a hangover. There are tips for avoiding a hangover and for easing the symptoms if you have one.
The best way to avoid a hangover is not to drink. If you decide to drink, do it sensibly and within the recommended limits.
To minimise the risk of future serious health problems, men and women should not regularly drink more than two standard drinks a day.
To avoid a hangover, do not drink more than you know your body can cope with. If you are not sure how much that is, be careful.
Know Your Standard Drinks
Working out exactly what a standard drink is can be tricky. In a nutshell, one standard drink contains 10g of pure alcohol (equivalent to 12.5ml of pure alcohol), regardless of glass size or alcohol type (such as beer, wine or spirits).
For example, a 250ml can of high strength pre-mix spirits (7-10% alc. vol) equals 1.4-1.9 standard drinks, while a 285ml glass of full strength beer (4.8% alc. vol) equals 1.1 standard drinks. Therefore, these two drinks represent almost three standard drink measures according to their alcohol content. Always must measure standard drinks by the amount of alcohol they contain, not by the number of glasses that you consume.
In Australia, all bottles, cans and casks containing alcoholic beverages are required by law to state on the label the approximate number of standard drinks they contain.
Once you know how much alcohol a standard drink contains, you can keep track of what you are consuming. You may be surprised a couple of glasses of wine can quickly add up to a lot more than you intended to drink.
Tips To Avoid A Hangover
Follow these tips to keep hangovers away:
- Do not drink on an empty stomach. Before you go out, have a meal that includes carbohydrates (such as pasta or rice) or fats. The food will help slow down the body’s absorption of alcohol.
- Do not drink dark-coloured drinks if you have found that you are sensitive to them. They contain natural chemicals called ‘congeners’ (impurities), which irritate blood vessels and tissue in the brain and can make a hangover worse.
- Drink water or non-sparkling soft drinks in between each alcoholic drink. Carbonated (sparkling) drinks speed up the absorption of alcohol into your system.
- Drink plenty of water before you go to sleep. Keep a glass of water by the bed to sip if you wake up during the night.
The Morning After
If you wake up the next morning feeling terrible, you probably did not follow this advice. Although there are no real cures for hangovers, there are ways to ease the symptoms.
Treatment involves rehydrating the body so it can deal with the painful symptoms (though the best time to rehydrate is before going to sleep).
Over-the-counter painkillers can help with headaches and muscle cramps. Paracetamol-based remedies are usually preferable, as aspirin may further irritate the stomach and increase nausea and sickness.
Sugary foods may help you feel fewer trembles. In some cases, use an antacid to settle your stomach.
Bouillon soup, a thin vegetable-based broth, is a good source of vitamins and minerals, which can top up depleted resources. Its main advantage is that it is easy for a fragile stomach to digest.
You can replace lost fluids by drinking bland liquids that are easy on the digestive system, such as water, soda water and isotonic drinks (available in most shops).
‘Hair of the dog’ (drinking more alcohol) does not help. Drinking in the morning is a risky habit, and you may simply be delaying the appearance of symptoms until the alcohol wears off again.
If you’ve had a heavy drinking session, hangover or not, doctors advise that you wait 48 hours before drinking any more alcohol, in order to give your body tissues time to recover. Sometimes, of course, a hangover makes that advice easier to follow.
Most hangover “remedies” simply attend to one or more of the symptoms and do not really provide a cure as such. The hangover will not stop until the alcohol is out of your system, but here are a few things that will ease the suffering a bit:
- Berocca – Puts the vitamin B back in, as well as the big glass of water it is mixed with. It is probably best to do this before you go out.
- Coke – Fizz for the nausea, liquid for the dehydration, and a caffeine and sugar hit to make you feel a bit more lively.
- Coffee – The same as Coke, without the bubbles, to help ease the nausea. Try it with honey instead of sugar since the fructose is absorbed quicker than the sucrose in normal sugar, and it is better for you.
- Ginseng – It’s been noted that since caffeine is a diuretic like alcohol, it can actually make the dehydration worse, so try the herbal equivalent instead.
- Vegemite On Toast – Something in your stomach is good, and salty is even better. In addition, you get a Vitamin B top up. The same reasons also make peanut butter a good choice, but the oily nature might make some sensitive stomachs feel a bit yucky. If you do try this one, skip the butter and just have dry toast.
- Cold Pizza – Who knows, but it seems to work.
- Aspirin – Simply attends to the headache and does nothing for the level of alcohol in your system. Do not take them before you go to bed.
- Bananas – Sugar in the form of fructose, and potassium, which is one of the things you lose much of when you drink. Bananas are also a natural antacid to help with the nausea, and are high in magnesium that can help relax those pounding blood vessels causing that hangover headache. For a variety of reasons, try a peanut butter, honey and banana sandwich on white bread.
- Vitamin C – Another thing the alcohol takes out that you are advised to put back in as soon as possible. Orange juice, tomato, a 600mg Vitamin C tablet – doesn’t matter, just do it.
- A Hot Bath – The heat will sweat out the toxins that are causing all the problems. You will feel a bit woozy at first but go with it and you will feel better afterwards.