Thousands of years after the first "morning after the night before", we can send people to the Moon and create computers of mind-numbing power, yet we are still far away from a science-based, experimentally verified hangover cure. Why? The simple answer is that in the eyes of most governments, doctors and industries, a hangover cure would trigger a catastrophic upsurge in alcohol abuse, tempting mild drinkers to overindulge. Hangovers are, after all, nature's way of saying "don't do this to yourself" ...

I expect most of us have done it - gone out on a drinking binge, or even stayed at home and had a few too many, only to suffer terribly the next day. If you haven't yet experienced this, don't worry, the chances are that you will one day!

The classic symptoms of a hangover can sometimes begin even before your drinking session has stopped. It starts with a headache, then maybe feeling dizzy, nausea, vomiting. It's time to stop drinking and take precautions - these are well documented above by stepnwolf, but at this early stage I personally find drinking as much water as possible to be the most helpful.

A truly bad hangover can make you feel very ill for a long time after you stop drinking and the alcohol has cleared from your system. Your heart rate soars and your body overheats. You sweat and become dehydrated, you feel like you have the 'flu'. Your neuromuscular performance is impaired and your reaction times are slow; EEG scans show decreased brain wave activity for up to 16 hours after the alcohol has cleared from your bloodstream.

So what is a hangover? Is it just our body reminding us that we have just tried to poison ourselves? Is it our brain crying out, "Remember: don't ever do that again!"?

The fact is that hangovers are still poorly understood, and the reasons behind them are many and various.


  • There is no doubt that toxins are produced in the body as a result of the liver breaking down alcohol - the main culprit here is acetaldehyde. This is broken down by an enzyme to harmless acetic acid, but the rate of breakdown depends on your speed of drinking, your gender and ethnic background - Oriental Asians in particular are deficient in acetaldehyde dehydrogenase.


  • Dehydration is another major factor in causing a hangover. Alcohol is diuretic - it makes you pee more! Just when your body needs extra fluid to help dilute the toxins, you're flushing valuable water down the toilet. This is why drinking water last thing before going to bed helps to reduce or prevent a hangover.



  • Not only are you passing more water than your body would like, but you are draining your system of vitamins and salts. Calcium, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins B1, B2, C are lost in the urine, and vomiting or diarrhea lead to a further loss of potassium and magnesium. Changes in blood potassium levels can cause muscle weakness, headache, changes in heart rate and general fatigue.


  • The type of alcoholic beverage is linked to the severity of the hangover. In general clear, colourless drinks such as vodka, gin and white wine are far less likely to give you a hangover. Bourbon is one of the worst offenders; red wine, port, brandy and tequila fall somewhere in the middle. This effect is due to the presence of chemicals called congeners - a group which includes methyl alcohol, aldehydes, histamine, tannins, tyramine, iron, lead and cobalt. As a rule of thumb, the cheaper the booze, the worse the hangover - cheap brands of whisky and champagne are especially notorious. Also cheap wines that haven't been laid down for long enough contain high levels of 'nasties' and are to be avoided.


May what goes down not come back up again - Traditional toast


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