Let’s talk hangovers

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We’ve all been there: you go out and get loose with some friends, and drink a full bottle of red wine, or ten beers, or a few too many shots of rye, and wake up feeling like your head is going to explode; or maybe you lumber to the bathroom and give your toilet a hug. Hangovers are as hellish as they are unpredictable.

Surprisingly, the jury is still out on what precisely is happening to our bodies during a hangover which, according to a 2008 paper in a peer-reviewed journal called Addiction, 76 percent of adults experience. Who, I wonder, are these lucky 24 percent?

Speaking to CNN, Laura Veach, director of specialized counseling intervention services and associate professor at Wake Forest School of Medicine, said:

“Just in the previous decade, we are seeing more sophisticated clinical and preclinical research advance our understanding of all that is involved in a hangover. Briefly, we have indications that the immune system and an inflammation response is involved when that hangover alarm goes out, from the central nervous system, when the blood alcohol concentration finally gets to zero. The absence of alcohol in the body at that point is often where the hangover symptoms are at their worst.”

CNN reports that the viciousness of a hangover depends in part on the type of alcohol you consume. The more fermented the liquor (which will have more “cogeners”), the worse you’re likely to feel in the morning. Darker liquors are typically more fermented, so expect a nastier morning-after experience from scotch than rum, for example. Then again, some of my worst hangovers have been vodka-induced, so who knows.

“At least two studies show more severe hangover symptoms occur when drinking liquors with very high congener content, but more research is needed since, for example, not all bourbon whiskey is made in the same process,” Veach said.

Tips for preventing, or at least lessening, hangovers are the same ones you have likely heard your entire life: don’t drink on an empty stomach, stay hydrated while you’re drinking, and keep up your levels of vitamin A, vitamins B, zinc and potassium. (Also, drink a lot of water right after waking up.)

No medical professionals appear to endorse the Hair of the Dog technique, but if it works for you, I don’t see why you should eschew it.