The drunk's tale: Don't fall for so-called "hangover hacks"

Tonight brings that special time of the year when many people head out to some sort of festive celebration and welcome in the new year by drinking more than they normally would. As I recently mentioned on twitter, I consider this to be “amateur night” for drinkers and choose to stay home. But since some of you will doubtless be partaking in this tradition, the WaPo published some supposedly helpful information on “bio-hacks” that allegedly allow you to overindulge without paying such a high price the next morning. Oh, and it’s apparently now trendy among younger folks to brag about how bad their hangovers are.

There are 574 results on Amazon if you search “hangover remedy.” Scroll, and certain buzzwords jump out. Milk thistle. Dihydromyricetin and prickly pear. There are capsules and patches and beverages, things aimed at recovery and others at “precovery.” The category has exploded in the past three years, a surprising counterpoint to decreased alcohol consumption among American millennials and Generation Z…

“For older generations, having a hangover was exhibiting a lack of control, something that got away from you,” [Brenna Haysom, founder of Blowfish] said. “Today on Instagram, people talk about this patinaed image people want to project, but with slacker culture there’s bragging about a hangover, reveling in what a mess I am. Very different from older generations, hangovers have less of a stigma.”

The first thing to keep in mind is that much the same way that abstinence is the only 100% assured method of not getting pregnant, not drinking alcohol is a surefire bet if you want to avoid a hangover. But since some of you will likely partake anyway, so you should at least be prepared.

As the linked article notes, there’s a thriving market out there pushing alleged hangover recovery miracle cures. This is, to borrow a phrase from Joe Biden, largely a bunch of malarkey in my opinion. If you’re going to be doing any serious drinking tonight, you need to focus on hangover planning, mitigation, and restoration. And the key areas you will need to address involve common pharmaceuticals, hydration and recovery time. Let me offer you some useful tips and tricks.

But first, allow me to present my bona fides

Believe it or not, I had my first hangover by the age of 15. (Boy Scout camp. Go figure.) I later enlisted in the military and was thrown out of bars on five continents. (I never made it to Antarctica and managed to behave myself in South America.) Growing older didn’t lessen my appreciation of a well-mixed martini. Trust me… if you need advice on social drinking and hangovers, you’ve come to the right place.

Planning ahead is crucial

First, make sure you arrange a ride, whether it’s Uber, a cab or a teetotaler friend. Whether you run into the police or crash your ride, it’s not going to end well.

You’ll want to prepare some common remedies in advance. If you don’t already have them, pick up some aspirin, vitamin C and B complex. Set them out where you will see them when you get home and before bed, perhaps in the bathroom. (If you’ve had a few too many you can easily forget all your planning when you get back to your place.) Drinking tends to flush important vitamins out of your system so you’ll want to bolster them in advance. And an aspirin taken before the headache begins will make the night go more smoothly.

Make sure to have a couple of bottles of water on your nightstand or headboard. A heavy drinking session, in addition to depleting vitamins from your system, produces the even worse effect of dehydrating you badly. That’s why you feel so terrible in the morning. Keep that water handy.

Finally, the surest cure for a hangover is a sufficient amount of sleep. It’s better to knock off early and go to bed, but since it’s New Year’s Eve, that may not be an option if you plan to stay up and usher in the new year. Make sure you arrange things so you’ll have the chance to sleep late if possible. Your body will be able to tell you when it’s ready to get up.

It’s both what you drink and how you drink

The real killer in terms of exacerbating hangovers is sugar. If you drink beer, try one of the zero calory ones. With mixed drinks, either have them on the rocks, with water as a mixer or, if all else fails, use a sugar-free soda. If you drink wine there’s not much help I can offer.

Returning to the hydration theme, if you can exercise enough self-control to alternate one glass of water between each alcoholic beverage, you will help stave off dehydration and not get as drunk to start with. This will help in beating the hangover beast immensely. If not, just plow ahead and we’ll deal with the consequences later, I suppose.

Returning home

When you get home and get ready for bed, drink that first bottle of water and take an aspirin and the vitamins before you hit the hay. Once you’re tucked in, many people tend to wake up in the middle of the night with what some folks call “the dry horrors.” That’s when you awaken far too early with a dry, terrible taste in your mouth. You don’t want to get out of bed if you don’t have to, so grab another bottle of water off the nightstand and down as much as you can. You’ll thank me in the morning.

The longer you can sleep in, the better you’ll feel. When you do get up, take the second round of aspirin and vitamins immediately. You’ll be back up to (mostly) full speed much faster this way.

Final tips and hints

Watch what you’re eating at the New Years’ party. There’s always a temptation to gorge on appetizers and greasy food. But if you usually don’t drink all that much, a serious session of drinking can lead to an upset stomach and nausea. A bunch of wild food won’t help matters. I don’t think there’s any truth to the old wives’ tale about bread “soaking up alcohol” in your stomach, but bread and crackers tend to be less disruptive to the system.

And finally, don’t be a jerk. Some people are happy, friendly drunks. Others are mean drunks. Remember to monitor your own interactions with others. Don’t be that guy or that gal.

So there you have it. Best of luck to you if you’re heading out to an alcohol-fueled party tonight. As for me, I’ll be in bed by 9:30, trusting that 2020 will arrive on schedule without my supervision.