• Posted May 24, 2001

Why drinking too much hurts your head and how to avoid booze blues.

Whether you're celebrating spring break, New Year's Eve or out for a hot summer night on the town, sometimes you can end up with the hangover from hell. Assuming you're old enough to drink and you aren't trying to destroy your liver, here's why a hangover hurts and how you can avoid the pain. What is a hangover? No matter how much advertisers, company parties and college culture promote it, alcohol is still a drug. It acts as a strong toxin (this means poison) to both the liver and the nervous system and it wreaks havoc with the digestive tract (porcelain god, anyone?) and urinary system. It's no wonder that you don't feel 100 percent after a few too many. Any time you get a hangover, your body is trying to purge itself of alcohol. The typical symptoms of a hangover can include headache, body aches, nausea, fatigue and dehydration. Sometimes you experience vomiting, diarrhea dizziness and suppressed appetite. These symptoms are caused in part by dehydration -- your body has to work hard to get rid of all that liquor, and in the process, it loses a lot of water and nutrients. Hangovers are made worse by alcohol that contains congeners, which provide the scent and flavor in different liquors. They also cause of that pounding hangover headache. One sure way to decrease the likelihood of a hangover is to drink liquor that has few congeners -- such as white wine, vodka or gin. You should also know that because of the way our bodies metabolize alcohol it's harder on women's bodies. So, if you find yourself hung-dog every weekend it's probably time to take a break from booze. How to make it stop? Of course, the best cure for hangovers in not to drink so darn much. Once your head is pounding it's best to sleep, drink a ton of water and eat something healthy, like fruits, vegetables or soup. But the sad and painful truth is that sometimes we don't have time to baby a hangover. The next time you get your drink on, remember these helpful hangover hints: 1. Before you drink. Drink several glasses of water to hydrate yourself before you drink. Eat a big meal -- the more food in your system the less the alcohol will affect you. Decide on a limit for your drinking -- cut out before last call. Don't take aspirin or ibuprofen. According to the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, "Acetominophen, aspirin and ibuprofen should never be taken with alcohol (unless directed by a physician). Alcohol plus acetominophen has led to numerous liver transplants and is very dangerous. Ibuprofen is also metabolized by the liver." 2. While you drink Pace yourself. Munch on snacks. Do something (pool, darts, flirt with the hottie you came with) that prevents you from double-fisting your drinks. Drink a couple glasses of water or juice. Don't mix different types of alcohol -- liquor, plus wine, plus beer -- your body takes longer to recognize and metabolize the individual types. Don't focus on colored liquors (red wine, whiskeys, rum) -- these have more congeners. Don't drink a lot of sugary drinks -- the sweetness can make it hard to tell how drunk you are and it can further dehydrate you. Don't drink fizzy drinks -- the carbonation gets you drunk faster. 3. When you get home Drink lots of water. Stay awake until you don't feel tipsy anymore. Once you fall asleep, your metabolism slows down and your body doesn't process the alcohol as efficiently. Drink a sports beverage like Gatorade to replace electrolytes. Sleep as much as possible -- as soon as you've sobered up. 4. When you wake up? If you still have a hangover, despite precautions: Get as much rest as possible and drink plenty of fluids. Treat yourself as if you have a very bad cold. Drink flat, room-temperature ginger ale or a similar beverage if you can't keep anything else down. Resist the urge to puke, but be careful to keep hydrated -- water or a drink like Gatorade are ideal. Eat something if possible -- your body needs fuel to feel better. And some people swear that a good greasy breakfast dulls even the worst hangover. Drink some coffee if you're a regular coffee drinker. Even though coffee increases dehydration, regular coffee drinkers could get a caffeine withdrawal headache along with a hangover headache. Caffeine also constricts enlarged blood vessels, which can reduce headache pain. Just be sure to drink water too. Try putting a cold washcloth on your head. This constricts enlarged blood vessels and it Take plenty of thiamine (vitamin B1) or B complex vitamins. Thiamine helps metabolize alcohol and thiamine deficient bodies have a hard time breaking down alcohol. Plus, a thiamine deficiency while drinking can eventually lead to alcohol-related brain damage. 5. When your tummy is upset too? If you have an upset stomach: An aromatherapy cocktail. Mix four ounces of water, the juice of half of a lemon and a drop or two of fennel essential oil and drink before breakfast. Doctors who practice Ayurvedic healing, (an 5000 year old science of health) recommend stirring a teaspoon of lime juice and a pinch of cumin into a cup of fresh orange juice. A homeopathic remedy for nausea and hangovers is nux vomica, a potent extract used for it's healing properties -- be sure to read the label carefully to avoid an overdose, it's available in health food stores, take one 6C or 12C tablet every three to four hours as needed. Drink flat ginger ale or 7 Up to deal with fussy tummies. The only real cure for a hangover is time. But the next time you curse yourself and your taste for cheap booze, your love of last call or you confusion about alcohol content set some new limits and so you can avoid that pounding pain. Editor's Note: Don't hesitate to call a doctor for yourself or a friend if you can't keep water down, continue to vomit or have trouble regaining consciousness -- alcohol poisoning can lead to brain damage or death. Elka Karl, a fiction writer (a.k.a., aspiring alcoholic) living in Texas, is happy to report that during her last bout of inebriation, a kind boy forced her to drink six glasses of water before tucking her into bed. She awoke with no hangover.

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