There is no scientific cure for a hangover – there, we said it. But there are people working hard to find one. And with Christmas party season upon us, it’s the perfect time to learn their secrets.
The Alcohol Hangover Research Group, for example, is made up of a team of professionals around the world with an interest in hangovers: how they impact the body and, more importantly, if we can avoid them. While they can’t give us concrete findings to their studies just yet – they’re still researching, after all – they, and other alcohol experts, can let us know what they do to avoid them.
“We don’t know what causes the hangover, so there isn’t one universal cure – it’s more about treating the symptom,” says Alexis Willett, author of Drinkology: The Science of What We Drink and What It Does to Us. “So if you tend to get a headache, you might have a painkiller. If your stomach feels a bit sicky, you’ll probably have starchy foods, something plain, to settle that.”
Aside from the obvious prevention tip of not drinking booze at all, how else do experts avoid hangovers?
Drink water on the night
Elizabeth Ayre, a PhD candidate at Swinburne University in Melbourne, where they are evaluating treatments that target hangover symptoms, tells us she’s had “a few” hangovers in her life. So what are her secrets?
There is a possibility you can diminish the effects the next day by staying hydrated while drinking; that might involve having a glass of water for every alcoholic drink you polish off. “But it will not prevent a hangover from occurring if enough alcohol is consumed,” Ayre explains, “as there are many mechanisms involved in hangover onset.”
Drink a big glass of water before bed too, adds Willet: “Hydration is key.”
Craig Gunn, a psychology PhD student at the University of Bath and member of the Alcohol Hangover Research Group makes sure he paces himself. “Hangovers seem to be linked to peak blood alcohol concentration,” he explains, “so pacing yourself can help keep this peak low, and hopefully limit the severity of a hangover.”
Pacing yourself can help keep peak blood alcohol concentration low.Craig Gunn, member of the Alcohol Hangover Research Group
Like Ayre, Gunn drinks water between alcoholic beverages and won’t booze it up on an empty stomach to slow down the absorption of alcohol.
Tackle next-day dehydration with vitamins
As soon as Ayre wakes up after a night of boozing, she’ll drink lots of water and have an electrolyte drink – “one that is not loaded with added sugar,” she notes – to help with dehydration. She also takes a supplement with lots of B vitamins in, “as these can be lost with alcohol consumption and may help with energy and stress levels”.
Keep plans to a minimum
For Gunn, it’s more about ensuring he has little planned on his hangover day. “I tend to make sure that I don’t have too much going on – for example, weekends when I’m not working, or not planning a big day out,” he says. “This way I can rest and allow my body to recover throughout the day.”
Think twice about medication
Do you usually reach straight for the paracetamol to cure your headache? Ayre says she only takes painkillers if her hangover is severe. And if she does, she’ll always take them with food. “Otherwise I try to avoid medications,” she says, “especially any that can be abrasive on the stomach and gastrointestinal tract, as it is likely still recovering from excessive alcohol intake.”
Choose your food wisely
For breakfast, Ayre will aim to eat something nutritious rather than giving in to fatty food cravings (no McDonald’s breakfast, then). She also avoids eating large meals. “I find eggs with spinach or Vegemite – again, B vitamins – on toast the most comforting when all else fails,” she says. For Brits, Marmite will work the same as it’s also packed with vitamin B.
Unlike Ayre, Gunn is a fan of a fried breakfast on a hangover, if he’s feeling up to it – “but I know that this doesn’t work for everyone and some people just can’t eat the next morning,” he adds.
Don’t drink more booze
As for the “hair of the dog” method, Dr Laura Veach, a researcher at Wake Forest School of Medicine in North Carolina, suggests this is far from a cure. Drinking more booze the morning after a heavy night might temporarily ease your symptoms because it tops up the alcohol in your system, but it doesn’t cure the hangover, she told The Times. “It just sort of tricks you by masking the symptoms. They’re going to show up eventually.”