The morning after

Room spins, nausea, dry mouth, stonking headache, sensitive stomach… The morning after the night before can make you wonder why you still have not learnt your lesson.

Hangovers are hell, and obviously the best thing is to drink sensibly and avoid them in the first place. But with Christmas party season in full swing, we can all get carried away from time to time.

Medical students and junior doctors are renowned for their bad drinking habits, and there are some amusing legends of colleagues who would routinely take a potent cocktail of medication then attach themselves to a drip before going to bed. Personally, small children have been the best cure for my hangovers; it is simply not worth the suffering involved, especially as hangovers seem to increase exponentially after the age of 35, so I try to avoid them in the first place these days.

How to deal with hangovers

Photo credit: © Henk Stolk | Dreamstime.com

Photo credit: © Henk Stolk | Dreamstime.com

Most of the symptoms are caused by dehydration; alcohol is a diuretic and makes you pee more, so it is a really good idea to keep drinking water throughout the evening. Have a big glass full when you get home and then keep a glass beside your bed and have a slurp during the night if you wake up.

Take a couple of painkillers when you wake up. Paracetamol based ones are less likely to upset your stomach further, but something like Alka Seltzer must have been designed specifically for hangovers, as it has an antacid to settle your stomach and aspirin for the bad head (but you should never take an anti-inflammatory like aspirin or ibuprofen on an empty stomach.)

Alcohol is a stomach irritant, so the lining of your stomach can take a real hammering on a heavy night out. Don’t forget to eat. Having some carbs in your system will slow down the absorption of the alcohol and may help to prevent that burning discomfort. If your stomach is suffering the next day, a simple indigestion remedy will help.

Shaky? Your blood sugar may be a little low so eat something sweet. I get real salt cravings with a hangover, and a cup of vegetable bouillon can be helpful; light on the stomach but salty and rehydrating at the same time.

Fresh air and a bit of gentle exercise can work miracles. Surfing in Devon once on New Year’s Day cured my hangover within minutes, but a gentle walk in the forest could be a more suitable and less drastic Luxembourg solution!

Hair of the dog? Probably more of a delaying tactic than a cure, so not really recommended.

How much is safe?

I cannot really write an article about hangovers without some guidance on how much alcohol is safe. 1 unit of alcohol is equivalent to ½ a pint of standard beer (around 250mls), a small glass of wine or a standard (small) measure of spirits. For men, up to 21 units/week is considered safe, for women up to 14. Both are recommended to have 2-3 alcohol free days per week. Binge drinking is defined as drinking 8 units at one session for men and 6 units (2 large glasses of wine) for women; not as much as you might imagine.

So enjoy your Christmas parties but go easy. If you do over-indulge, give your liver at least 48 hours to recover afterwards. And remember, it takes your body 1 hour to metabolise 1 unit of alcohol, so if you finished drinking late (or early), think twice before driving the car the next morning.

Happy Christmas everyone!

By Susie Tunstall-Pedoe, December 2013

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