A casual term for the physical after effects of excessive alcohol consumption. The state of intoxication it can induce reflects the numerous effects alcohol has on the body. Alcohol:
• Dehydrates the body
• Alters the chemical balance of the blood
• Has a toxic effect on the liver, reducing its ability to filter impurities and wastes from the blood
• Dilates the peripheral blood vessels
These actions cause symptoms that vary among individuals though typically include headache, nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, chills, mental confusion, and disorientation to time and place. Symptoms generally occur upon waking from an episode of intoxication. There are many “remedies” promoted for relieving hangover. Though there is some merit to some of them, such as eating breakfast (which helps to restore blood glucose levels), the only truly effective treatment for hangover is time. It takes about 24 hours for the body to completely clear the toxins and consequences of a night’s indulgence in excessive alcohol consumption and for the body’s metabolism to return to normal. The “hair that bit the dog” approach of countering a hangover with an alcoholic beverage may relieve symptoms in the short term but it does so at the expense of delaying the body’s efforts to recover from intoxication. Ginger tea is soothing and helps to relieve nausea and vomiting. The best “cure” for a hangover is prevention. Of course, hangover only occurs with alcohol consumption, so not drinking guarantees no hangover.
Men who drink alcohol should do so in moderation; the liver can manage the metabolism of only about one alcoholic beverage an hour. Carbonated beverages such as beer, champagne, and mixed drinks made with sodas or soda water enter the bloodstream more quickly from the stomach. Eating foods while drinking (especially foods such as breads and crackers, cheeses, and pasta) helps to slow the pace of alcohol consumption as well as the rate at which alcohol enters the bloodstream. Fluid replacement also is important; drinking two glasses of water or juice for each alcoholic beverage consumed helps to maintain the body’s fluid and ELECTROLYTE balances. This not only slows the volume of urine produced (and hence the frequency of urination) but also slows alcohol consumption to further encourage moderation. The herbal remedy MILK THISTLE (silymarin) helps to protect the liver from damage and expedite the enzyme reactions necessary to metabolize alcohol and remove it from the body.
Some health experts believe the stage of recovery following alcohol intoxication presents a significant risk for injury to self or others, perhaps at a level comparable to mild intoxication. The foggy thinking and mental disorientation common with hangover signal altered brain function that does not return to normal until the body’s fluid, glucose, and electrolyte levels return to normal. Preventing hangover through moderation in consumption may have health benefits that extend beyond preventing the unpleasant symptoms that characterize “the morning after” a night’s overindulgence.