Hangover: Prevention, cure, and myths

You are heading out to the big holiday party and planning to have fun, perhaps a few drinks, some beer, some wine or something stronger. If it is New Year’s Eve or another celebration, maybe there will be some champagne too.

Celebrating is fine, but don’t overdo it. And most importantly, as long as you don’t drive after drinking alcohol.

Unfortunately, many people will overdo it, and wake up the next day with a splitting headache and a queasy stomach.

Is there a cure for a hangover? In this article, a psychiatry professor at the University of North Carolina, who specializes in alcohol-related treatment and research provides some answers.

Fast facts on hangover cures:

There is no cure for a hangover, but precautions can reduce the risk of it happening.

Eating food before a drinking session is a must.

Pacing yourself with a glass of water can help.

Rehydration is key.

Sports drinks might help reduce some symptoms.

Ibuprofen can help relieve symptoms, but avoid aspirin and Tylenol.

What causes a hangover?

man sitting at desk rubbing his eyes stressed and with a headache
Headache is a hallmark sign of a hangover.

A hangover is when you wake up to a feeling of nausea, headache, tiredness, inability to concentrate, and possibly sensitivity to light, after drinking the night before.

Alcohol, or ethanol, is a toxin, so it is not surprising that it causes people to feel unwell.

It is ethanol that triggers a key feature of a hangover, namely dehydration. This is because it causes the drinker to urinate more. Dehydration causes the headache.

But dehydration is not the only problem.

Ethanol also irritates the stomach. This leads to inflammation and prevents digested food from moving through the gut. It also causes the digestive system to produce more gastric acid. This contributes to the nausea.

In addition, as the body processes ethanol, it creates a byproduct, acetaldehyde, which builds up in the body. This is another toxin that can cause adverse effects in the body.

There is also a theory that a hangover is an immune response to the toxic ethanol.

An immune response is how the body responds when a foreign body or unwanted substance enters the body. It is the body’s defense mechanism.

Researchers have found that, during a hangover, there are more cytokines in the body. Cytokines are normally produced during an immune reaction.

Alcohol poisoning

Alcohol poisoning is a step up from a hangover, but while a hangover usually happens on the next day, the symptoms of alcohol poisoning can happen during the drinking session, as well as the next day.

Alcohol poisoning can be fatal. If someone passes out after heavy drinking, it is a serious medical emergency, and the person should be taken to the hospital right away.

How alcohol or a hangover affects a person depends to some extent on the individual.

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The search for a cure

There are many myths about hangover cures, but not a single one has been scientifically proven to work, according to Prof. James C. Garbutt, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, NC.

Prof. Garbutt specializes in alcoholism treatment and research.

He told Medical News Today:

“Hangover is one negative consequence of excess alcohol consumption but there are many others, including accidents, which can be serious, loss of control over emotions such as anger or sadness, and bad decision-making exemplified by the classic office party gone wrong.”

“The most important message I would emphasize is that people shouldn’t drink too much in the first place.”

Prof. Garbutt, Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies, UNC

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