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A hangover is the after-effect following the consumption of large amounts of one drug or another. In particular, it is most commonly associated with the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Veisalgia is the medical term for the condition. This article deals mainly with hangovers caused by alcohol consumption; for other drugs, see Withdrawal.


The symptoms

An alcohol hangover is associated with variety of symptoms. Depending on severity, they may include dry mouth, headaches, irritability, bloodshot eye , sensitivity to light and noise, or nausea and vomiting.

The cause

Hangovers are multi-causal. Ethyl alcohol has a dehydrating effect (such drugs are known as diuretics), which causes headaches, dry mouth, and lethargy. This can be mitigated by drinking plenty of water between and after the alcoholic consumptions. Alcohol is also a metabolic poison, and its impact on the stomach lining probably accounts for the nausea.

Another factor contributing to hangover is the conversion of alcohol to acetaldehyde by the liver by the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase. This metabolite is probably more toxic than alcohol.

Finally there are various nervous effects. The removal of the depressive effects of alcohol in the brain probably account for the light and noise sensitivity.

It is also thought that the presence of other alcohols (such as methyl alcohol and fusel oils), by-products of the alcoholic fermentation also called congeners , exaggerates many of the symptoms; this probably accounts for the mitigation of the effects when distilled alcohol, particularly vodka, is consumed.

The amount of tannin in the drink may also have an effect. Red wines have more tannins than white wines, and some people note less of a hangover with white wine.

Some people believe that sugar (often found in sweet cocktails) worsens hangovers.

Nicotine poisoning can often worsen hangovers, as smokers tend to smoke much more than usual while under the influence of alcohol.

Genetics also plays a part, as some people seldom, if ever, suffer hangover symptoms no matter how much they drink.

The amount of flavor compounds in the drink will increase the hangover, so a dark beer, or stout, such as Guinness will produce a worse hangover than drinking the equivalent amount of alcohol diluted in water (basically Vodka, which, if drunk pure, doesn't usually cause strong hangovers).

The psychosomatic nature of hangovers shouldn't be ignored either. If people expect a hangover, they tend to feel one.

The cures

Common folk medicine has a wide variety of hangover cures. Indeed there appear to be nearly as many ways of curing hangovers as there are of getting drunk in the first place. Essentially all of these hangover cures have one major thing in common, which is that they are nowhere near as effective at curing a hangover as alcoholic drinks are at getting you drunk.

Among the more common (and relatively effective) cures are:

  • drink a large amount of water before going to bed, and during the night (a little water is much better than none)
  • eat pickles, canned fish, or other mineral-rich foods
  • eat anything substantial, especially before going to bed (pizza, sandwich)
  • drink some (not too strong) coffee but be wary of caffeine-induced dehydration
  • orange juice/vitamin C (see hair of the dog below/ screwdriver breakfast)
  • cabbage leaves or tomato juice
  • cysteine, which is available as the over the counter supplement N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is known to assist in processing acetaldehyde, best taken already while drinking and before going to bed. (Egg yolk is also rich in cysteine, and it is notable that many hangover folk remedies or morning-after breakfasts incorporate eggs.)
  • drink some more alcohol (hair of the dog)
  • take a vitamin B1 supplement before going to bed as alcohol flushes out all B1.

Another cure that the Northern Irish will swear by is the Ulster Fry, a meal that is an all day breakfast.

  • 2 Slices of Potato Farls (Tattie Bread)
  • 2 Rashes of Bacon
  • 2 Eggs
  • 2 Slices of Soda Bread
  • 1 piece of Black Pudding
  • 1 piece of White Pudding

All fried in the same frying pan is the traditional version. Additions to the meal are:

  • 2 Small Pancakes
  • Baked Beans Poured over the Top

or of course all of the above.

As of 2003, the latest fad hangover cure is a Russian pill, sold in Russia as Antipokhmelin (Anti-Hangover), and marketed as RU-21 in the USA. It is also known as the KGB pill due to its supposed use by the KGB to allow spies to keep a clear head while drinking.

  • Coca Cola, otherwise known as "Black Doctor". Commonly in use in Australia. If you are suffering from nausea and vomiting, the caffeine, bubbles and sugar can be easier to hold down than pure water.

More recently, a 2004 clinical study suggested that taking prickly pear (Opuntia ficus indica) fruit extract several hours before drinking can significantly reduce certain hangover symptoms, including nausea. The authors theorize that the extract may work by suppressing the body's natural immune reaction to congeners. Makers of competing hangover remedies containing activated carbon (charcoal), such as Chaser, claim that it prevents absorption of congeners in the first place (which scientists speculate is possible, though so far untested). [1]

See also

External links

Last updated: 05-20-2005 03:28:19