Everyone rues last night’s merry time when they get up with an incessantly pounding head, queasy stomach and fuzzy brain. The truth is, excessive drinking and hangovers coexist. So how does one get around this?

It’s not that scientists are not trying. British neuropsychopharmacologist David Nutt and his team at Imperial College London, UK, are developing a drug that mimics the effect of alcohol without resulting in a hangover, reported The Independent in November. The alcohol surrogate will target neurotransmitters in the brain directly, giving the user all the pleasures of drinking without the risk of poor behaviour, hangover and addiction. And as it acts directly, it can also be blocked immediately by taking an antidote, so that if need be people can drive or go back to work right away, according to Nutt.

But all this is still at the research stage.

If you don’t want to feel groggy and downright miserable on the first day of the year, get smart about handling your hangover.

The age factor

While alcohol affects the body at all ages and too much is dangerous for anyone, the damage is greater with age. Our age has something to do with how bad our hangover will be. “Our body composition changes as we get older. The changes begin as early as in our 30s—muscle mass goes down, fat content increases and the body’s water content decreases, thus worsening the hangover," says Amol Manerkar, a general physician at Kohinoor Hospital in Mumbai. “The fat tissue does not absorb alcohol as rapidly as muscle does, so there will be more alcohol circulating in the bloodstream as you get older. Similarly, less body water increases the dehydration," explains Rommel Tickoo, consultant, internal medicine, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Delhi. “With age our livers too tend to get less efficient and detoxification levels of certain enzymes dip, including alcohol dehydrogenase, thus slowing alcohol breakdown in the body," he adds.

Also, as we get older, we might need to take medicines regularly to manage some disorder. These may interfere with alcohol metabolism. “Medications like warfarin and barbiturates (anti-epileptic medications) enhance the effects of alcohol (as they are metabolized by the same enzymes in the liver) and antihistamines and sedatives tend to add on dizziness. Similarly, the oral hypoglycaemic agents taken by diabetics increase the risk for hypoglycaemia, or low blood sugar (thus leading to fatigue and crankiness)," says Dr Tickoo.

He says women tend to be at a disadvantage as they have less body water, more body fat (than muscle) and less of the metabolizing enzyme.

Pick your drink

Choose your alcohol carefully. The presence and severity of a hangover is influenced by the presence of congeners (substances produced during fermentation) in alcoholic beverages. A 2006 study published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical And Experimental Research showed that it takes fewer high-congener drinks to get a hangover, and that the severity of these hangovers is more pronounced. “Dark spirits like brandy, whisky and red wine contain more congeners than lighter spirits like vodka and white wine. Similarly, cheaper spirits have had fewer of these impurities removed through filtration and are more likely to contain more congeners and thus cause a bad hangover," says Jyothi Setlur, a Bangalore-based consultant nutritionist.

“Drink slowly, ideally at the rate of a drink an hour. Don’t participate in ‘glugging contests’ or other drinking games," suggests Dr Manerkar. Avoid mixing alcohol with fizzy drinks and don’t mix dark spirits with beer and champagne as it leads to faster absorption of alcohol in the body.

“Keep energy drinks away too as they tend to be high in caffeine and will worsen the dehydration," adds Setlur. “Try to avoid cocktails too, as the sweet in them masks the taste of alcohol and one ends up imbibing more than intended," adds Dr Tickoo. Avoid smoking as you drink; nicotine worsens the hangover.

Have a vitamin B-complex supplement before you sleep; it helps metabolize the alcohol better.

“Next day, in the morning, drink fresh juice for replenishing electrolytes (lost last night). Add some ginger juice to it (it’s an effective nausea antidote). Avoid citrus juices. Coconut water is a good idea," says Setlur. Eat as soon as you can bring yourself to face food. “A hearty breakfast of proteins and carbohydrates will help ward off faintness-inducing, dizziness-causing hypoglycaemia. Have a banana to help replenish the lost potassium," she adds.

If you have a hangover, avoid headache medicines (Acetaminophen, Ibuprofen and Aspirin) as they worsen the gastritis (and thus nausea) and could also damage your liver.

The bottom line is that drinking responsibly is the only way to get smarter than your hangover—and to make the toxic suffering of the morning after a thing of the past.

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