Scenario no 1: It’s Monday morning and it was just your birthday on Sunday. You wouldn’t normally party too hard before the beginning of a workday, but since such a special occasion only presents itself once a year, it’s hard to say no. The fact that you’re usually surrounded by friends and loved ones encouraging you to celebrate is also not helping, and therefore Sunday night you found yourself drinking until 3 AM. Now it’s 8 in the morning and you can still feel the effects of the alcohol, but you also suddenly remember that at 12 o’ clock at noon you have to drive and pick up your associate and meet with a very important client together. There’s so much that depends on this meeting, and therefore you’d really need a miracle to manage to sober up fast.
Scenario no 2: It’s Saturday morning and you feel like your head’s about to burst. You have to meet your parents for lunch but right now you’re at that point where you can’t even get out of bed. The last thing you want is to get out of the house. You now lie buried under pillows and start regretting the moment you accepted those rounds of tequila your friends so kindly offered. And what about that weed you smoked? Instead of relaxing you, it only made things worse. You have no idea how to sober up but you need to do it fast, before your loved ones see you, and especially before you even think about driving to meet them. Well, luckily we’re here.
But before we get into details regarding how to sober up, we should first talk about the hangover phenomenon. It can be helpful to know how a hangover appears and what symptoms to look out for. It also helps you understand what your body’s going through. Understanding the whole process can modify your thinking process when deciding whether to accept or pass on your friends generous tequila offer. Sometimes a headache is just not worth it. Getting sober can be complicated sometimes.
The hangover…our worst nightmare. But what does it actually do? This post-drinking phenomenon includes both physiological and psychological effect. If you’re lucky enough, your hangover can last up to more than 24h. This situation can affect your job performance, leading to taking one or several sick days (this is why we were talking about a deeper analysis whether to accept or decline your friend’s offer of another round of shots).
So when you wake up after a hardcore drinking night you’ll most likely have a banging headache, a mouth as dry as the Sahara, you will probably feel dizzy, drowsy, nauseous and maybe sweaty. Other symptoms include having a hard time concentrating (thus work performance issues), fatigue, gastrointestinal issues (aches, vomiting, diarrhea), hyper-excitability and anxiety.
With age, hardcore drinking will change to softcore as these symptoms will appear even more frequently and at a lower alcohol intake.
According to numerous studies, there are a few factors that contribute to the hangover experience. Some of them are: large amounts of acetaldehyde or acids in the body, modifications regarding the immune system and the sugar metabolism, drinking insufficient water, altered prostaglandin synthesis, high cardiac output, vasodilation, not sleeping enough and eating insufficiently.
According to recent studies, certain changes in the immune system, especially in the cytokine metabolism can affect the intensity of certain hangover symptoms such as nausea, headache and fatigue.
Scientist discovered that after alcohol intake, the body produces high amounts of certain cytokines such as Interleukin 12 (IL-12), Interferon gamma (IFNγ) and Interleukin 10 (IL-10).
Hangover intensity is also dependent on some personal factors: personality, genetics, health status, age, sex, the quality and duration of sleep and if the person was doing other things besides drinking (like dancing, smoking, taking drugs)
It is well known that many Asians cannot hold their liquor. Alcohol tolerance and hangover development in Asians is influenced by the presence of a certain mutation that alters the body’s capacity of metabolizing acetaldehyde.
Acetaldehyde is the first product that results after the body digest alcohol. Some people (mostly East Asians) present a mutated gene that makes the alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme convert ethanol to acetaldehyde faster than it should.
And to make things more interesting, the same mutation causes a slower conversion from acetaldehyde to acetic acid resulting in large quantities of unmetabolized acetaldehyde to cluster in the body.
A high quantity of acetaldehyde in the body is what causes the typical reaction known as “alcohol flush” or “Asian Glow”.
The silver lining to this unfortunate mutation is that people with this genetic modification are less likely to become alcoholics as they experience intense side effects after alcohol intoxication, not to mention intolerable hangovers.
We all know that with age come worse hangovers. This is due to the body’s decline in alcohol dehydrogenase (the enzyme that metabolizes alcohol) production.
We all noticed that most men have higher alcohol endurance than women. Studies showed that this is because men attain a lower blood alcohol concentration (BAC) after drinking the same amount of alcohol as women. Hangovers on the other hand, are experienced the same in both sexes.
Studies show that when you smoke cigarettes while drinking, your body absorbs acetaldehyde which enhances the hangover experience.
Some substances like additives or congeners that are added to alcoholic beverages in order to increase their shelf life can also contribute to your post-drinking hangover. Generally, dark liquors contain higher amounts of congeners in comparison to clear liquor. Bourbon for example contains 37 times more congeners than vodka which has a congener concentration equal to that measure in pure ethanol.
Methanol, another congener found in alcoholic beverages that were incorrectly distilled, is broken down into formaldehyde and formic acid, toxic compounds that can worsen the hangover.
Hangovers not only affect you but it can also harm the ones around you. Hangovers impair your judgment and concentration, leading to low job performance, decreased productivity and poor academic activities. In this situation, you will be tempted to take a day off, which in some cases is the right thing to do. But taking too many days off can affect the way your employer sees you. So frequent hangovers can actually get you fired.
Hangovers can also affect your capacity to drive a vehicle or operate heavy machinery thus risking not only your life but also that of the people near you.
Speaking of substances that interfere with driving capacity, one should be careful when on methamphetamine treatments. These drugs are used under the methamphetamine hydrochloride form (like Desoxyn for example) in order to treat ADHD and patients with exogenous obesity (meaning the disease is caused by factors that cannot be controlled by the patient). Methamphetamines are a “last resort” option when it comes to treating obesity. These substances will be included in the obesity treatment only after all other options failed.
The methamphetamine derivate, Levomethamphetamine, is used in some nasal decongestants that are sold over the counter. Vicks vapoinhaler is one of them.
Under methamphetamine treatment, one can experience such side effects as a feeling of restlessness, hallucinations, aggressive behavior, chest pain, acute and intense headaches, dizziness, insomnia, tremors. You can understand why it is unadvisable to get behind the steering wheel while taking these substances.
In addition to this, methamphetamines are dangerous substances that can cause serious addictions.
There is not much you can do at home to lessen the side effect. You can try to drink high quantities of milk because the calcium it contains can help the body relax. Bread and fruits are also said to work as they absorb some of the chemicals generated after you have digested the methamphetamine medication.
Ethanol causes dehydration through the increase of diuresis (urine discharge). This leads to thirst, the feeling of your mouth being dry and dizziness. It can also lead to a disruption in electrolyte balance which, according to studies, is actually a secondary causative factor when it comes to hangovers.
According to some studies people that experience hangovers also have a low level of blood sugar. The link between these two cannot yet be explained.
How to sober up fast
Unfortunately there are no surefire methods that can teach you how to sober up. There is no technique that can quickly take away the pain and the nausea. So what can you do?
Ask any relative what’s their personal cure for hangover and you will get various answers. From water to pickles and some weird smoothies, everyone has their own ways to deal with those gruesome headaches.
Alcohol is as old as time…and so are the hangover remedies. Ancient Romans consumed raw owl eggs or fried canary. The raw egg remedy remained throughout history. In 1878, at the Paris World Exposition, a new raw egg based recipe that guaranteed to reduce hangover symptoms to nothing was presented. Besides raw egg yolk, it contained Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce, salt and pepper.
By 1938, distinct hotels came up with hangover services for their customers. The Ritz-Carlton Hotel offered a hangover remedy made of Coca Cola and milk (before becoming the world wide popular drink, Coca Cola was at first a hangover remedy).
Writer Ernest Hemingway considered the two most important post-drinking items to be tomato juice and beer. Speaking of tomato juice, some cocktails were designed with this certain purpose. Bloody Marys for example or Black Velvets which is a drink made by mixing equal parts of champagne and stout.
According to a 1957 survey conducted by Waye State University, most people considered the best cure for hangovers to be a combination between large quantities of fried foods, tomato juice and sexual activity.
Here are some of the remedies that are still used today to lessen hangover symptoms
- Drink lots of water
As we explained, alcohol increases diuresis, leaving you pretty dehydrated. Leave a glass of water lying next to your bed each time you go out and consume alcohol so that when you come back home, you can bring your hydration level back to normal. This way you avoid waking up the next morning feeling like you have sand in your mouth. So drink lots of water so you won’t become a raisin the next day.
- Take a long nap
Although after a night of drinking, you fall asleep quite easily, the moment the alcohol in your body is metabolized is the moment withdrawal (which will result in a massive hangover) sets in. The symptoms (dry mouth, thirst, nausea) will surely wake you up.
Sleep deprivation does not lead to hangover but it makes you more sensitive to the symptoms.
So the best thing to do is to sleep the whole hangover off.
- Hair of dog
The traditional belief is that drinking alcohol when hungover will help relieve the symptoms. This hypothesis is based on a theory that considers hangovers a form of alcohol withdrawal. So by meeting the body’s need for alcohol, it will ease the intensity of the hangover. Usually, Bloody Marys or Fernet Brancas are consumed in this situation.
Although social drinkers and those suffering from alcoholism claim that drinking when hungover relieves the hangover, research shows that using alcohol as a hangover remedy is actually a sign of a current or future alcohol abuse situation due to negative reinforcement and the development of physical dependence.
So while tradition tells us it’s ok, science states that by continuing this habit of drinking to relieve hangovers you just postpone the symptoms and increase the possibility of developing an alcohol addiction. So it is better to just let your body go through the process of recovery.
- A breakfast that is rich in fats
Although it hasn’t been proven, many people choose to eat a hefty breakfast after a night’s drinking. In most cases, such frequent high calorie breakfasts will just increase the risk of heart disease. According to John Brick PhD, author of “The Doctor’s Hangover Handbook”, it’s better to choose your regular breakfast like toast or cereals and drink lots of water. He added that “no specific foods are recommended, although honey sandwiches are helpful to some people.”
Coffee is a bit tricky. If you decide to stay in bed that glorious hungover morning and skip on that regular cup coffee you might want to reconsider. Not drinking coffee might set off a caffeine-withdrawal episode which results in an additional dose of headache.
If you do decide to make a quick cup of coffee, you should take into consideration that caffeine narrows the blood vessels thus increasing the blood pressure and risking an extra headache. Brick suggests that if you drink coffee daily, it is better to drink a small amount instead of skipping your regular dose of caffeine. After drinking the small cup of coffee, wait about a half an hour to see how you feel. If all is well, you know you can still keep coffee in the hangover remedy category.
No one’s making you hit the gym in such a state. But a bit of stretching never hurt anyone. So get out of the bed and in your living room. Open a window and start stretching!
But remember to eat and drink half an hour before doing any light exercise. Then return to bed and sleep.
If you live in a neighborhood with sauna facilities, you might consider doing a “sweat session” to eliminate all those toxins you gathered the night before. It’s better if you stayed at home and slept because saunas can cause changes in the blood flow and the blood vessels which are hard to endure when hungover.
In addition to this, sweating in saunas when you are clearly dehydrated after a night of drinking can generate life-threatening situations such as acute blood pressure drops and heart arrhythmias.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
Aspirin is one of those drugs. Many people use it to lessen the post-drinking headaches.
One of the most popular aspirin-based products used in hangover treatment is Alka-Seltzer. It has been in the “hangover cure” category for as long as 80 years. It is a mix of aspirin and sodium bicarbonate (the well-known backing soda) which is great for treating that morning nausea we all hate. There are some things you need to look out for. If you already have stomach problems, taking Seltzer is not the most recommended thing as it contains citric acid and aspirin which irritate and already irritated stomach.
In 2001, its producing company released the “Morning Relief” version which is specifically aimed to decrease hangover symptoms.
There are, however, some studies that showed that by combining alcohol with aspirin you increase the chances of developing stomach bleeds and liver problems.
- Hangover pills
There are many options: Chaser, PreToxx, RU-21 etc. but there is little proof regarding their effectiveness.
According to Joris C. Verster, PhD and assistant professor of psychopharmacology at Utrecht University in the Netherlands “hangover pills that have been studied are not effective, or only help against a few complaints…but not all”.
A better alternative to hangover pills are multivitamins, as they help with the body’s recovery.
The Internet is full of methods on how to sober up fast. While some of them are effective, the best way to avoid your head from exploding the morning after is to reduce the quantity of alcohol you consume.
All in all, there is nothing that will completely cure your hangover. You have to accept the fact that although drinking is fun during those early hours in the night, the side effects will surely arise once the alcohol effect wears off.
It is, however, important you remember to drink lots of water before going to sleep. You will be thankful the next morning. And if you have the possibility of lying in bed the whole day, do it. Your body will thank you.
So how do you sober up? You just try and try until you get your personal remedy. There is no better ending for this article than the following quotes:
“In the end, the only surefire treatment for a hangover is time.“
“Her head felt like elephants were doing the merengue on her cerebellum.”