Turning 21 is a rite of passage for Americans: It symbolizes the acquisition of the last major legal right — the license to legally consume alcohol.
Naturally, it’s well within one’s rights to knock back a few drinks with friends on this special day, but, like many other good things, it’s easy to get carried away. If, and when, this happens, you’re going to wake up feeling terrible. In other words, you’ll have a hangover.
Now, the science behind hangovers is fuzzy at best. We do know that alcohol inhibits the antidiuretic hormone which tells your kidneys when you need to use the bathroom, hence the excessive urination during alcohol consumption. This dries out your body, resulting in constricted brain cells and therefore a horrible headache in the morning. Other symptoms to look forward to include nausea, sensitivity to light and sound, diarrhea and a bad mood. Luckily, there are a few simple remedies that will alleviate your self-induced pain.
First, there are some definite don’ts when it comes to hangover relief. The phrase “the hair of the dog that bit you” refers to drinking more alcohol when you wake up. While this might numb the pain and provide temporary relief, it is definitely the first step towards alcoholism. A morning cup of coffee is tempting to shake the initial drowsiness, but caffeine is known to further dehydrate you, making the headache and nausea that much worse. Thought about over-the-counter miracle drugs? Don’t bother. They’re glorified vitamin and sugar pills that are exponentially less helpful than the glass of water you have to take them with. Tempted to take a cold shower? Many say that the combination of alcohol and hypothermia increase the likelihood of heart arrhythmia. Also, it doesn’t really remedy anything anyway.
If you favor less-traditional methods, there are a few that have been speculated to help. For example, if you go to an oxygen bar, it’s thought that the pure oxygen entering your blood stream helps to speed up metabolic processes and break down the alcohol. Hot spices help in a similar way, also working to speed up metabolism. Alternately, you could do as the Polish do and down a jar of pickle juice — the salinity of the mixture helps restore some essential minerals that the body needs after a long night.
An oppressing headache cries out for relief, which in turn calls for particular methods. The first one is easy: water. Your body needs it all the time, especially after excessive alcohol consumption. Your best bet is to drink a glass before passing out and then right after waking up to avoid the most severe headaches. If you aren’t a fan of plain water, sports drinks are even better, providing the salinity and electrolytes your body could really use. Going a step farther, consuming vitamin-rich fruits — especially those with Vitamin C — helps get your body get back in sync. Of course, there’s always the hung-over trip to the local fast food restaurant where you can indulge in alcohol-absorbing greasy foods that are sure to help out a struggling liver.
Do be careful with painkillers in the morning. The combination of alcohol and the acetaminophen in many over-the-counter drugs can kill you. Your best bet is a glass of water and a low dose of ibuprofen.
The most surefire way to avoid a hangover? Don’t drink. Volunteer to be the designated driver or do something that doesn’t involve alcohol. It’s safer and your body will thank you for it. But if you are going to drink, the key is to rehydrate and, if you can, get lots of sleep. You’ll be glad you did.