I’m sure most of us have been there a time or two — waking up the morning after a big night out with a pounding headache or possibly even the need to hug a toilet for a few hours. Hangovers are no fun and, at my age, pretty much ruin the entire next day. Avoiding them at all costs is crucial, and thankfully I’ve found a mostly fool proof way to eliminate (or at least reduce the severity of) my next day regret session.
What Is a Hangover?
You feel miserable. Your head is pounding and your stomach feels like a cesspool. You know why — a little too much alcohol the night before — but what exactly is happening to make you feel like this?
The first answer is the most obvious and the most pressing, and that’s dehydration. Alcohol is a diuretic, which means that it reduces the amount of water in your body. It’s the same thing that happens with caffeine (so, word to the wise, alcohol and caffeine is just a double whammy here). When you become dehydrated, one thing that happens is that you can develop what’s referred to as a dehydration headache. When your brain becomes dehydrated, it shrinks, pulling away from your skull on the inside and triggering pain receptors.
Yeah, I know, it’s weird and little icky to think about. But it does make the resolution painfully obvious: the only way to resolve the issue is to re-hydrate yourself.
Dehydration can also play a part in the gastric discomfort, but that’s more about the alcohol irritating the lining of your GI tract and stomach. Alcohol is a mild poison after all, and it can harm the lining of those organs.
Okay, so now we have a better idea of what’s going on. So, how do we fix it?
Advanced Planning: Drink Up! (With Water)
The best way to never get dehydrated is to stay ahead of the curve. If you over-hydrate, then the diuretic effects of the alcohol won’t have as much of an effect on your body later.
The best way to do this is by drinking lots of water and electrolytes before and throughout the night. Aka: set yourself up for success.
Try to Reduce your Alcohol Intake
The other best way to avoid a hangover is to drink in moderation. A hangover is your body telling you that you had more alcohol than you should, and you should really pay attention to those signals.
Especially in these strange and trying times with COVID-19 still going on, alcohol abuse is something that any of us can fall into. Consider whether you are having more frequent or severe hangovers, and if so, reach out to someone and talk about it. If all else fails, there’s always the SAMHSA hotline available for someone to talk to.
But what if all that fails? You forgot to pregame a Gatorade, the crew pressured you into that one last cocktail, and now your life is pain and suffering. How do you fix it?
Step 1: Electrolytes and Water
Most people immediately reach for the pain relievers and the pills. This is a mistake — your stomach is irritated, making it more likely that those drugs will just come right back up again, and that’s not even going to fix the root cause of the issue.
The biggest threat to your well being at this point is the dehydration. You probably just woke up, which means not only are you dehydrated from the night before, but now you just spent like eight hours not drinking anything getting even more dehydrated. You are severely “behind the power curve” with your water intake and you need to fix it.
The #1 absolute best thing to drink is something with electrolytes. Not only will the water help rehydrate you, but the electrolytes (compounds like sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, etc.) are necessary for your body to continue to function. Personally, I have a case of sugar-free sports drinks that I keep on hand for just such an emergency, with one bottle chilling in the fridge at all times.
I find that after fifteen minutes of just sipping water I’m generally feeling good enough to move to the next step, which is making yourself something to eat.
Step 2: Magic Pancake
Pancakes are your best friend here — specifically, bland sugar-free pancakes. They work so well that my wife has dubbed them “magic pancakes”. I started with this recipe from the New York Times, but here’s what it really boils down to:
- Throw two cups flour, two teaspoons baking powder, and a dash of salt into a bowl.
- In a second bowl, combine two eggs, 1 cup water, and 2 tablespoons melted butter.
- Pour the wet stuff into the dry stuff. Mix, adding more water until you hit the right consistency (something akin to wet concrete).
- Heat a pan on the stove and cook like you would normal pancakes (dollop the batter in one scoop at a time, flip when the batter starts to bubble).
That’s it. Notice that there’s no vanilla, no sugar, nothing fancy. I don’t even use milk, using water instead here because it has fewer things that can irritate your stomach. Keep in mind that we aren’t going for the tastiest pancake here — we’re trying to make you a functional human again.
Make the pancakes. DO NOT add syrup. Nibble on it until your stomach feels better. Then go get some actual breakfast.
Step 3: Ibuprofen
We’ve addressed the underlying conditions. Things are trending in the right direction and not likely to get worse. Finally… it’s time for the drugs.
I’m a fan of ibuprofen, personally. The reason being that, in addition to being a pain and fever reducer, it also reduces inflammation. One of the other effects of alcohol is (paradoxically) bloating, which can be uncomfortable. Using a bit of ibuprofen will help take down that swelling.
This process has worked, time and again. It has reduced my hangovers from raging infernos to barely a quibble in no time flat, and works wonders for my wife and friends as well. Hopefully it’ll help you out, too.