Think Before You Drink: Tips for avoiding morning-after headaches

by Divya Gunasekaran | 11/30/07 2:15am

by Tilman C. Dette / The Dartmouth


Regardless, our ragey students aren't dumb. They have an understanding of the risk factors associated with drinking. Alcohol poisoning, future liver failure and long-term dependence on alcohol aren't necessarily among the factors that students consider before embarking on an epic night of partying, but one thing is: the dreaded hangover. Luckily, there are preventive measures that can potentially mitigate the effects of the monstrous morning-after hangover, although there is much debate surrounding whether these measures definitively work.

Keggy Wants You to Drink...Responsibly

Limiting your intake is the only surefire way to prevent a hangover. It takes approximately one hour for the liver to metabolize one standard drink. Any additional alcohol accumulates in the bloodstream and body tissues. Brian Bowden, coordinator of the Alcohol & Other Drug Educational Programs, advises "no more than one drink an hour, no more than three drinks a day, and not every day."

"Once you drink over two to three drinks, especially in the evening, it can interfere with your REM sleep and other functions of the body," Bowden said.

"It is a matter of time and metabolism," said Win Turner, a doctor in the psychiatry department of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and a licensed alcohol and drug counselor. "I would really suggest people know their rate of drinking. Know your body weight, and know your blood alcohol concentration while you drink."

Dr. Turner suggests keeping your blood alcohol concentration below .06. "Obviously, the less drunk you are, the less hungover you'll be," said Robert Taintor '08, a risk manager at Sigma Nu.. Taintor tries to avoid the "overall feeling of death" that is a hangover by drinking earlier so his body has time to metabolize the alcohol. "The more sober you go to bed, the happier you'll be."

Drinking responsibly is the only agreed-upon method for preventing hangovers and, at the same time, the most ignored. Unfortunately, this technique seems to betray the decree of raging to which Dartmouth students so lovingly and steadfastly adhere.

The Drink for a Wise Man

There's a reason water is called the liquid of life. Staying hydrated is one of the most important measures to take.

"Hydration is always important, and since alcohol is a diuretic, an individual who is actively drinking will become dehydrated, usually accompanied by a headache," said Stuart Gitlow, author of the book "Substance Use Disorders: A Practical Guide."

Alcohol stops the production of the hormone vasopressin. As a result, water is sent to the bladder rather than being reabsorbed. If the body's water supply is not replenished, water is redirected from the brain to other organs, which is why a headache is one of the common symptoms of a hangover.

"If they plan on drinking at all, they should alternate between alcoholic beverages and non-alcoholic beverages," Bowden said.

A good rule of thumb is to consume one glass of water for every alcoholic drink.

Eat, Drink and Be Merry

Approximately 20 percent of alcohol is absorbed through the stomach and almost 80 percent is absorbed through the small intestine. Eating a full meal, especially one consisting of fried, fatty or protein-rich foods before drinking can help slow absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream.

"Beforehand, it's a good idea because it'll coat your stomach and not get you drunk as fast," said Yasmin Mandviwala '08, a risk manager at Delta Delta Delta Sorority.

While eating the next morning after drinking is said to only irritate the stomach, students claim that it's a miracle worker.

"I always find eating a cheeseburger the morning after at The Hop does wonders," Mandviwala said.

Vitamin Power

Drinking the night away usually also means pissing the night away. Literally. But you're also pissing away nutrients and vitamins.

"While you're drinking, fruit juice is a better mixer because it replenishes the vitamins you lose," said Mandviwala, who also likes using Vitamin Water as a mixer and suggests taking vitamins B6, B12 and C the morning after.

Yet, the necessity of taking vitamins is a subject of debate. Some sources say vitamins can replenish lost nutrients and combat the symptom of fatigue, while other sources disagree.

"Vitamins are a good idea if an individual has been drinking steadily over an extended number of days and ignoring regular dietary requirements," Gitlow said. "Otherwise, they'll do little to alter the withdrawal process."

Take a Chill Pill

Taking aspirin is another area of contention in the world of hangover prevention. Some health professionals suggest taking two aspirin before going to sleep after a night of drinking and two aspirin upon waking up in the morning. Aspirin can help ease the painful symptoms of hangovers as well as reduce inflammation of arteries that heavy drinking can cause. Agreement, however, is not unanimous.

"No one knows how aspirin even works, let alone what it might do when combined with alcohol withdrawal symptoms," Gitlow said. "I wouldn't recommend it."

Aspirin is also not advised for sensitive stomachs, as it may cause stomach pain after drinking. Individuals are warned to consult a doctor before taking aspirin or other painkillers if they consume three or more alcoholic drinks every day.

Painkillers containing caffeine or acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) should be avoided after a night of drinking. Caffeine is a diuretic like alcohol and can result in further dehydration; the combination of acetaminophen and alcohol, even in small doses, has been reported to cause liver damage.

Look Before You Chug

Preventing hangovers isn't just about what you should consume; it's also a matter of what you shouldn't consume.

"Carbonation can help to increase the absorption rate of alcohol," Bowden said.

Thus, drinks like beer, champagne and sparkling wine and mixers like Seltzer, Coca Cola and other sodas will make you drunk faster and should be avoided.

Attention should also be paid to the proofs of the alcohol. Beer is around three to seven percent alcohol, wine is approximately 12 percent alcohol and liquor can have 40 percent or more.

"Obviously, the ones with higher proofs should be consumed less or avoided if you want to avoid a hangover," Bowden said.

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