Message in a bottle
The joy, the epiphanies, the unbridled affection for oneself and the other people who happen to be in the room - these are just a few of the transitory pleasures of excessive alcohol consumption. Ahh, but eventually the fun must end.
In his 1768 memoirs, British writer William Hickey described his experience: "My first return of sense or recollection was upon waking in a strange, dismal-looking room, my head aching horridly, pains of a violent nature in every limb, and deadly sickness at the stomach. From the latter I was in some degree relieved by a very copious vomiting... In that moment I do not believe in the world there existed a more wretched creature than myself. I passed some moments in a state little short of despair."
Welcome to a hangover - a collection of unpleasant feelings that include fatigue, headache, thirst, nausea, decreased attention span, depression, anxiety, and a general wretched feeling.
Despite all the innovations in science and medicine since Mr. Hickey's day, there is still no definitive cure for a hangover. This may be because there are so many physiological factors that contribute to a hangover that it's nearly impossible to alleviate one symptom without exacerbating another.
A hangover peaks when your blood alcohol content (BAC) level reaches zero. The alcohol is gone, yet the toxins remain, and your body must begin the painful process of dealing with them. Part of what you are experiencing during a hangover is withdrawal, which causes sweating and what is commonly known as "the shakes."
This is why drinking the next day - the "hair of the dog that bit you" remedy - helps...sort of. According to a Swedish study, replenishing your body with alcohol does not cure a hangover so much as postpone it. Your liver essentially switches gears - it welcomes the new alcohol, glad to put off the far more painful task of processing the toxins left behind from the previous binge. The most popular hair-of-the-dog vessel is the Bloody Mary, which combines vodka with tomato juice, and a number of spices, including Tabasco sauce, Worcestershire, and horseradish, that might help settle your stomach, which has also received its share of abuse. Then there are the spin-offs, like the Redeye - tomato juice, beer, vodka, and a raw egg.
These concoctions work on the same principle that greasy foods do. They distract your body with new digestive predicaments without solving the old ones.
Another major component to most hangovers is dehydration. Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it causes more water to leave your body than you can replenish. It is due to dehydration that you wake up thirsty, yet too weak and dizzy to reach for a glass of water. Hence the most practiced hangover defense: drinking lots of water, preferably before you end the night.
Due to alcohol's effect on many organs, prolonged drinking slows glucose production, leading to hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, causing you to crave something sweet. As our brains basically run on glucose, hangovers often include feeling weak and moody. The caffeine in most sodas also can help as a temporary energizer, which is why coffee is exulted as the ultimate hangover panacea. Unfortunately, coffee, like alcohol, is a diuretic and will ultimately make matters worse.
There are also several non-alcoholic factors that contribute to the impact of over-drinking: sleep deprivation, other drugs (including nicotine), malnutrition, and genetics. Also, most alcoholic beverages have impurities, known as congeners, which affect the nature and intensity of a hangover. Generally speaking, light beverages - gin, vodka, white wine - have fewer congeners than darker ones, like whiskey and rum. This might explain why hangover remedies vary from culture to culture. Russians, who mainly drink vodka, might address a hangover differently than whisky-swigging Americans.
Hangovers are different for everyone, which is why there are so many different remedies. Here are a few of those recommended by Vineyarders: aspirin, vitamin B12, bacon, ramen, miso soup, water, pickles and beer, jogging, golf, a root beer float then a swim in the ocean. Or just sleep it off.
The good news is that no matter how much you suffer, when the next cause for celebration rolls around, you'll have forgotten all about it.