What Is A Hangover? Causes and Cures for the Morning After

Although there are certainly some cocktail enthusiasts who always manage to indulge in moderation, most of us have done it at least once – too many cocktails in too short a time, and the resulting misery of a hangover.

Many people are familiar with the notion that Eskimos have a hundred words for snow. Well, according to Modern Drunkard Magazine, there are more slang words for inebriation than for any other word in the English language. Benjamin Franklin – certainly no stranger to a good party – famously published “The Drinker’s Dictionary,” a list of 220 euphemisms for drunkenness. (It’s entirely too easy to imagine Ben in the modern age, with his own YouTube channel and a fondness for adding listings to the Urban Dictionary.)  

But while that’s all quite fascinating, most of us are more interested in what causes our hangover, and even more importantly, how to get rid of it. Of course, in its simplest terms, it’s a no-brainer. A hangover is caused by the consumption of alcohol. But why does something that was so much fun on Saturday evening make us feel so miserable on Sunday morning?

Physiologically, alcohol doesn’t really belong in the human body, and drinking is just an enjoyable way of introducing a toxin into the system. It makes you feel relaxed and euphoric, and sometimes even makes you think that singing karaoke is a good idea, but while your mind is having a nice vacation, your body is on high alert. It produces enzymes to protect itself, but if the toxin level is too high, the body can’t metabolize them efficiently. Those excess toxins are to blame for that anvil chorus playing in your head the morning after.

To compound the misery, alcohol is a diuretic, which helps explain why there’s always a line in the bathroom at the bar. The kidneys and liver demand water to dilute and flush the toxins away. If there’s not enough fluid coming in – and no, more beer doesn’t count – the body will pull fluid from other places to send into the battle. The result? Dehydration, which causes headache, irritability, dry mouth, tiredness…sound familiar?

It would be nice to say that there’s a quick cure for a hangover, but unfortunately the only real cure is time. Never fear. While you’re waiting for time to pass, there are plenty of home remedies that might help ease some of the symptoms.

One of the oldest cures known is the notion that after an evening of over-indulgence, another drink is just the ticket. Oddly enough, there may be some validity to the notion. Withdrawal from alcohol may be the cause of part of the misery, so it’s reasonable that consuming a small amount of alcohol would ease the pain. On the down side, having another drink may be only putting off the hangover until later.

One of the most famous morning-after cocktails is the Bloody Mary, and again, there may be some validity to the concept, even outside the ‘hair of the dog.’ Vitamin C is proven to help (not cure) a hangover, since it helps the liver to clear toxins, and the Bloody Mary’s tomato juice is rich in Vitamin C. Orange juice and sauerkraut are also packed with this miracle vitamin, which explains why some drinkers swear by them.

There are a few other tips that may help you ease the pain. Juices can work faster than water to re-hydrate the body and replenish lost nutrients, so they may be a better choice than just washing down a vitamin pill. Milk thistle aids liver function, and may give a boost to the toxin-clearing process, while ginger is traditionally used to ease nausea, so think ginger tea or ginger ale. Mint is also good for nausea. Just remember, there is one thing that almost all hangover cures have in common. They might help along the process or make you slightly less miserable, but they don’t really cure a hangover. When it comes right down to it, the only true cure for a hangover is time.

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