The Dreaded Hangover

the-dreaded-hangoverMost people who consume alcohol sooner or later have the experience of taking in just a wee bit too much during a party or celebration. The result is quite often that most dreaded of morning-after discomforts: the hangover.

What is a hangover exactly, and how can we increase our enjoyment of alcoholic beverages by avoiding the sometimes unpleasant after-effects?

What Is A Hangover?

People experiencing hangovers manifest diverse symptoms, from headache, to nausea and vomiting, to fatigue and dehydration. Dehydration is, by the way, one of the main reasons for a hangover. Hangovers can make it difficult to get out of bed, to get to work or school, or to perform essential tasks. Feelings of irritability and dizziness can impede work and school performance.

Hangovers are caused by the presence of a toxic chemical, ethanol, in alcoholic drinks. This chemical not only causes the “high” feeling we experience when we drink but is also a diuretic that causes you to urinate more frequently, thus becoming dehydrated and experiencing some of the mentioned symptoms. As it moves through your digestive track, ethanol is absorbed in the blood. Your liver must process the ethanol and remove it from your blood. More alcohol than the liver can filter means it travels to throughout our bodies, including to the brain, creating that drunk feeling.

Organic  molecules produced during the fermentation process, including methanol, tannins, acetone, esters and other compounds — all of which contribute to the taste and aroma of alcoholic drinks — may also add to the hangover symptoms of grogginess or headache. The presence of higher levels of these substances, also called “congeners,” can make a headache or other symptoms worse. Tests seem to indicate that although the level of congeners has little impact on performance, more congeners do make hangovers worse. For instance, vodka has fewer congeners than bourbon, and thus bourbon appears twice as likely to cause sickness as the same amount of vodka.

You may have heard that champagne and sparkling wine can induce a worse hangover than other types of wine. Although scientists are not sure why, this may be true. It’s something about the bubbles. Bubbles in sparkling drinks are, after all, carbon dioxide, which helps you absorb the alcohol faster. thus magnifying the hangover. One way to cut down on the number of bubbles consumed is to serve champagne in a glass with a wider bowl rather than a flute. The wider bowl allows more bubbles to escape, so you don’t get drunk as fast, and the potential for hangover will be diminished.

All types of alcoholic drinks, be it hard liquor, wine or beer, can give you a hangover. The key for avoiding a hangover is to avoid consuming too much alcohol.

Avoiding Hangovers

Everyone has a different threshold for tolerating alcohol, but the low-risk practices listed below are helpful for all sippers of alcoholic beverages for avoiding hangovers.

  • Keep track of the number of drinks and ounces of alcohol you consume. There are guidelines for body weight to help promote lower-risk consumption habits.
  • Food slows down your alcohol absorption rate. Always eat before you drink.
  • Avoid “rounds” or “flights,” which make it harder to track your consumption.
  • Drink water between alcoholic beverages to counter dehydration.
  • Stop drinking alcohol well before you plan to depart from an event or before you go to bed. Give your body time to metabolize the alcohol before bedtime so you can fall asleep.

You can enjoy champagne or any kind of alcoholic beverage without concern for a hangover if you develop drinking practices that minimize exposures to health or safety risks.