Marcus Harrison drank so much cognac at a Memorial Day party a few years ago that when he tried to sleep, his bed started spinning. So he slept on the floor — and wasn't...
Marcus Harrison drank so much cognac at a Memorial Day party a few years ago that when he tried to sleep, his bed started spinning. So he slept on the floor — and wasn’t surprised when he felt terrible the next morning.
“I had a whole-day hangover,” said Harrison, 38, a guest-services employee at a Baltimore hotel.
Although he describes himself as an occasional drinker, he has a preferred remedy for hangovers: one or two 10-ounce glasses of grapefruit or orange juice. He also quaffs Gatorade or some other sports drink.
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“Always avoid coffee,” he said. “Avoid anything with caffeine. It always dries you out.”
Good advice, it turns out. About two-thirds of Americans consume alcohol in some form, and some will do it to excess tonight. As a result, millions will ring in 2005 with personal remedies to treat the nausea, headaches and upset stomachs that inevitably follow.
“My cure is straight water and plenty of it, and drink it the night before, if you think of it, to dilute the impurities in the alcohol,” advised Harrison’s buddy, Michael Jackson, 32, who joined a discussion at a yacht club on a recent afternoon.
Jackson said he sticks to beer because it minimizes the potential for a painful morning-after.
The basic cause of a hangover is well-known: Too much alcohol, consumed too quickly, drains the body of fluids.
“What a hangover is, primarily, is dehydration,” said Siegfried Streufert, a psychologist at the State University of New York’s Upstate Medical University in Syracuse and an expert on alcohol’s effects.
An effective, over-the-counter cure remains elusive. And experts say the only reliable home remedy is the one that has worked since the dawn of fermentation — rest and gradual rehydration.
Quick cures are hard to find because mechanisms that trigger hangover symptoms — from nausea to a pounding headache — remain a mystery.
“The overall cause is too much alcohol, but other than that, nobody really knows what causes a hangover,” said Dena Davidson, an associate professor of psychiatry at the Indiana University School of Medicine.
The lack of a sure hangover cure may not be such a bad thing. Some health experts view hangovers as nature’s way of limiting alcohol consumption.
Alcohol itself is a poison absorbed in the stomach and broken down by the liver. Most of it enters the bloodstream directly, where it dilates blood vessels and depresses the nervous system, yielding a brief high.
But as alcohol wears off, its effects are all too familiar. They include:
Fatigue: The brain becomes more alert as the depressant effects of alcohol fade. That often means waking up in the middle of the night, or not getting enough of the precious, deep-level REM sleep the body needs.
Dehydration: Because alcohol is a diuretic, the body tends to lose a lot of water. If you have four drinks, you will urinate up to a quart of water over several hours, according to a 1998 study co-authored by Davidson.
Drinking plenty of water before bed can prevent some dehydration and wash some of the alcohol out of the brain. Davidson recommends taking water between alcoholic drinks to rehydrate.
Stomach ache: Alcohol produces a buildup of acids, causing inflammation of the stomach lining and delaying digestion. Eating food before or while drinking allows alcohol to be absorbed more slowly and reduces the stomach pain. Antacid tablets the next day also can help.
Headache: Alcohol’s precise chemical effect on the brain remains a mystery, but it is known to affect neurotransmitters and hormones that act on the brain in ways that trigger headaches. Some drinks, such as red wine, increase serotonin and histamine levels in the brain, which also trigger headaches.
Aspirin, ibuprofen or other pain relievers may help headaches, but they also can upset stomachs.
A 2003 survey of 1,230 University of Missouri students found that women suffer worse hangovers than men, or at least are more willing to report them. Of 13 symptoms listed, thirst was most common, followed by fatigue and headaches.
Researchers attributed the difference to size: women have smaller bodies, which accommodate less water.
Although imbibing can result in short-term memory loss, many people work hung over — and manage to cope.
A 1995 Penn State University study found that 21 male managers who normally drink in moderation showed no measurable difference in performance the day after consuming enough screwdrivers to record a 0.10 percent blood alcohol level — which will snare a drunken-driving conviction in most states.
“They complained of a headache, they were grumpy, unhappy, they didn’t feel very good. But it didn’t affect their work,” Streufert said.
But 48 students at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands had a harder time recalling 15 words in a test the morning after drinking the alcoholic equivalent of eight to 10 beers.
“The whole brain becomes disregulated by the alcohol,” lead researcher Joris Verster said. “As the tasks become more difficult, the ability to perform them drops off sharply.”