How to deal with hangovers

You know you have a hangover when, after a night of carousing, you wake up exhausted and sick, with a pounding headache. You may feel depressed, anxious, irritable and experience muscle and joint pains.

Hangovers may even last a couple of days. Usually, a hangover begins several hours after the last drink, when blood alcohol level is dropping. Symptoms normally peak about the time alcohol level reaches zero.

Alcohol may cause dehydration, leading to headaches, stomach pain, nausea and vomiting; hypoglycemia (fall in blood sugar levels); disturbed sleep patterns and biological rhythms, contributing to fatigue; and irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia).

Research shows that beverages that contain few biologically active compounds (such as gin and vodka) cause fewer headaches. Contrary to popular opinion, combination of different alcoholic beverages is unlikely to cause a hangover unless you have consumed too much.

What you can do

Drink plenty of water before going to bed to minimise ill effects of hangover. Fresh lime water, juices, coconut water and plain soda can be beneficial.

Taking vitamin B6 or an extract from opuntia ficus indica ('prickly pear' cactus) before drinking may reduce the severity of hangover. A simple vitamin B supplement helps too.

Eating bland foods that contain complex carbohydrates (such as toast and crackers) can combat low blood sugar and possibly nausea. Adequate rest and sleep can ease fatigue.

Drinking non-alcoholic and non-caffeinated beverages can alleviate depression. Caffeine can worsen hangovers as it increases urine production. Hangover symptoms usually disappear in eight to 24 hours.

Some medicines can also relieve symptoms. Antacids, for example, may relieve nausea and stomach pains. Mild painkillers may reduce headaches and muscle aches, though they may cause stomach irritation.

Use of medicines like painkillers and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can be dangerous, particularly for heavy drinkers, as it can increase the risk of liver damage.

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