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How to get rid of a hangover: A student guide

Hangovers. If you’re planning on drinking at university, you’ve probably already resigned yourself to them. But is there anything you can do to ease the pain?

A pint of beer on a table.Hangovers. If you’re planning on drinking at university, you’ve probably already resigned yourself to them.

We don’t need to tell you to drink responsibly, You already know that.

What you may not know is how your pre-pub prep could help you avoid waking up with a sore head the next day.

If you’re keen to make sure you’re still as fresh as a daisy after a night in the student union bar, our hangover management guide will help you.

What causes hangover symptoms?

To manage a hangover, you need to know what causes it in the first place. There have been plenty of studies into the science of a hangover, so we have a pretty good idea of what causes the feelings many students can become all too familiar with at university.

Headache

This one’s all down to dehydration. Once you ‘break the seal’, your frequent toilet trips mean your organs have to grab water from wherever they can the next day.

Sadly, the brain often loses this particular battle, causing it to shrink and tug on the surrounding tissue that connects your brain to your skull. That’s why you have a thumping headache.

Nausea and vomiting

Alcohol irritates your stomach lining and increases the amount of acid it produces. This can leave you feeling a little fragile the morning after, and tells your brain that all is not well with the contents of your stomach.

Tiredness

A woman feeling tired after a hangover.Even if you decide to give your 9am lecture a miss, you’ll probably still feel shattered when you finally decide to surface. That’s because alcohol has a negative impact on the quality of your sleep.

You need to fall into a deep sleep to fully refresh yourself, but alcohol causes you to spend longer than normal in the less effective state of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.

Fuzzy memory

This is probably due to the pace of your drinking. Drinking too much alcohol too quickly can cause an 'alcoholic blackout'.

You’ll still be able to walk and talk, but your brain won’t remember. You might be able to piece together a few little moments, but by and large you’ll be relying on friends and housemates to tell you what happened.

All of which is pretty dangerous and ill-advised. At least now you know how to stop it from happening!

Why don’t 'cures' work?

Whether you've heard them from a family member or read about them online, here's why the most popular 'cures' won't help with your hangover.

‘Hair of the dog’

You might as well call this ‘delaying the inevitable’. More alcohol might temporarily postpone the full horror of your hangover by dulling your senses again, but it’ll still be waiting around the corner.

Drinking as soon as you wake up is a slippery slope and not a habit you want to get into.

The fry up

Eating a high-carb meal can help your body absorb alcohol more slowly. Unfortunately, this will only work before you start drinking, not the next morning.

Also, while you and your squad bravely tackle a full English, you should bear in mind that the high fat content could upset your already fragile stomach.

Scientists have investigated more effective ways of getting your blood sugar levels back up. Poached eggs, asparagus and even Sprite have been suggested as a way of speeding up your recovery.

Sweating it out

Your body takes about an hour to process each alcoholic drink, so going for a run the next morning is already too late to ‘sweat it out’ of your system.

While the endorphins released by some gentle exercise could help lift your spirits, if you're dehydrated it’s very important to have some water handy and not over-exert yourself.

Coffee

Ah, coffee. It wakes you up in the morning and keeps you alert throughout the day. Unfortunately, it’s also a diuretic, which means it’ll make you go to the toilet more and make it harder to rehydrate.

One 2009 study also suggested that the temporary blast of alertness might give you the impression that you’re back to normal, when actually you’re still legally drunk. It's not hard to see how this could be dangerous.

What can you actually do?

Drinking water to help a hangover.Drink less

This is the one surefire way to avoid a hangover. As much as you won't want to hear it during Freshers Week, it’s worth remembering that drinking isn't a race.

No one wants to be the person who takes things too far and spoils it for everyone else, so don’t let others dictate the pace of your drinking.

Science is looking at ways to help students out with this too - the BBC reported on a study where drinkers were given a Chinese herb called kudzu before heading out and drank around 20 per cent less as a result.

Eating isn’t cheating

A hangover is one of those situations where prevention is better than cure. Despite what you might have heard, eating isn’t cheating.

Fuelling up before you head out is actually a great idea, as ‘lining your stomach’ will help your body absorb alcohol more slowly. This will mean its effects come on gradually, rather than all of a sudden.

Alternate alcoholic drinks with water

This is another strategy that we really need to normalise, particularly among students. Simply have a large glass of water in between each alcoholic drink. It helps and it doesn’t cost anything, so why not try it?

What if you didn’t do any of those things?

If you forgot to take any of these preventative measures, there are ways you can help yourself.

The key is hydration. If you didn't drink any water while you were out last night, make sure you get plenty as soon as you wake up.

If you can’t bear the short-term consequences of your actions, painkillers might help you manage your discomfort. However, be very careful about which one you choose. For example, it's thought aspirin could cause further damage to your liver, yet this 2011 study claimed it could actually be the best answer of all.

This really sums up the hangover problem. Whatever you choose to combat or prevent your hangover, chances are there’ll be another study telling you something else. When it comes down to it, moderation really is the best medicine.

Do you need a doctor at university?

Whether it’s advice about alcohol, concerns about sexually transmitted infections, or simply a place where you can quickly get the same treatment and medication you’d get at home, our doctors can students get the help they need.

You can see one of our experienced GPs today for discreet medical advice at a time and place to suit you. You won’t need to go to a walk-in centre or take any time out of your exciting new social life - we’re here from 7am-10pm every day.

Find out more about our student health services

Topics: Student health