You’re a professional. You successfully completed school, you have gainful employment, a retirement account, and you know not to browse adult entertainment unless in private mode.
Whatever your background dear drinker, the thing to remember is that there is no such thing as a hangover cure. Scientists don’t even accurately know what exactly causes a hangover yet. But it is possible to mitigate a hangover, and an ounce of prevention is worth a metric shit-ton of cure.
You probably already know one of the primary causes of hangovers is dehydration, in particular dehydration of your brain. Headaches result from dehydration, “because the body’s organs try to make up for their own water loss by stealing water from the brain, causing the brain to decrease in size and pull on the membranes that connect the brain to the skull, resulting in pain.”
It follows that drinking water is the first step towards mitigating your pain. Ideally you should enjoy one drink of water for every alcoholic beverage you consume, but this is hardly enjoyable, let alone practical.
Chug a pitcher of water straight after you finish that pitcher of beer? I don’t think so. Some people will try to cram in all their water-drinking just before they go to bed, but again, if you’ve managed to defeat a couple of bottles of muscular Rioja in an evening, trying to diligently pound 1.5 liters of water when all you want to do is collapse like the Iraqi army is an unrealistic ask for all but the most self-disciplined drinkers. This strategy is most practical when you’re imbibing cocktails or hard spirits, because the volume of liquid consumed tends to be so much lower.
Photo: Greg Nairn
In my experience, drinking one glass of water for every two glasses of alcohol is a good compromise. It’s not so much water as to make you feel like a bloated whale, but it will counteract a substantial amount of alcohol’s dehydrating effects. Then if you can manage to drain a big glass or two of water before bed, so much the better. Drinking water works best when you combine this strategy with food consumption.
It is of course possible to eat a salad while you’re drinking, assuming you are a particularly self-disciplined drinker who is more concerned with the destination than the journey. To such vodka-drinking, salad eating people, I say to you: why not just invest in an alcohol vaporizer and remove 100% of the pleasure from eating and drinking?
No, when you’re drinking, the correct food to consume is salty, fatty, carb-laden protein of the forms so helpfully offered in the modern bar environment. Fries, meat, cheese and bread; these are the things that will most effectively slow down the rate of alcohol absorption in your stomach – not to mention taste a lot better than skinny ever feels. Plant-based foods have their place, and that place is while you’re getting in good enough shape to properly abuse yourself when drinking.
So, you’re enjoying some quality beverages, you’re pacing yourself with a water in between every second drink, and you’re sensibly lining your stomach with the sort of food nutritionists caution you to avoid. You’re mitigating your hangover on multiple fronts, but there’s still a couple more strategies that can help ensure the next morning sees you bounce out of bed ready to join the army.
Romance. There’s no science that I know of to back this one up, but I swear that the times I’ve been drinking and sealed the deal before crashing out I’ve never felt as hungover as I deserved to the next day.
A headache is surely something that it’s much, much better to treat preemptively rather than after the fact. So don’t pop a couple of painkillers after you wake up the next day – scarf them while you’re brushing your teeth before bed for a headache preempted. Popping painkillers after you wake up when there’s a meat grinder already stuck in the middle of your frontal lobes is a rookie mistake. Be careful however, of ibuprofen or acetaminophen, as is found in Tylenol and Advil. Acetaminophen is by far the most common cause of liver failure in the United States, and combined with alcohol it can be deadly as the effect of the two drugs on the liver is greatly magnified. One or two pills are usually safe, depending on the amount of alcohol in your system. Aspirin can be helpful before sleep and upon rising with plenty of water, but only in moderation. Aspirin, a blood thinner like alcohol, spares your liver but increases the risk of bleeding in your stomach and gastrointestinal tract. If your body is sensitive to aspirin, it will hate it while drunk.
A pharmacist buddy of mine with an affinity for craft beer advises taking 2-3 capsules of the painkiller Aleve with food (or any generic with the active ingredient Naproxen). This is because of its long acting nature (10-12 hours) and the fact it contains no acetaminophen. Try to avoid taking it on an empty stomach unless you like the idea of stomach bleeding.
TL;DR painkillers used before bed are good, but will end up making your liver fail, and/or stomach bleed if you’re drinking several nights a week.
I’m skeptical of any multivitamin cures. There’s no published evidence they work, they’re expensive, and of the ones I’ve tried I found it difficult to distinguish between their effects and a placebo effect.
There’s one other thing that will go a long way to mitigating your hangover though: sleep. Sleep allows your body to repair itself, and pouring alcohol – poison – into your body, damages it. If you can combine a solid 8-10 hours of sleep with these strategies, you’ll be amazed at how good you can feel after a fulsome session of liver abuse.
What have I missed?