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The Essential Guide to Hangover Management

James Riches

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

shutterstock_391005625.jpgHangovers. If you’re planning on drinking while at the weekend, you’ve probably already resigned yourself to them.

We don’t need to tell you to drink responsibly, while you’re probably well aware of the dangers of binge drinking. However, 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 pub, read on.

What causes the symptoms?

In order to manage the symptoms of a hangover, you need to know what’s causing them in the first place. There’s been plenty of studies done on the science of a hangover, so we’ve got a pretty good idea as to what causes the feelings we all know and resent.


This one’s all down to dehydration. You’re probably familiar with what happens after you ‘break the seal’, and these frequent trips to the toilet mean your organs will grab water from wherever they can the next day.

Sadly, the brain usually loses this particular battle, causing it to shrink and tug on the surrounding meninges tissue, which is what’s connecting your brain to your skull. That’s what’s causing your thumping headache.

Nausea and vomiting

Alcohol irritates your stomach lining and increases the amount of acid it produces. Both of these things can leave you feeling a little fragile the morning after, and signal to your brain that something needs to be done about the contents of your stomach.


shutterstock_287301788.jpgEven if you give yourself a nice ten or twelve hours in bed to recover, you’ll probably still feel shattered when you finally decide to surface.

That’s because the quality of your sleep is affected by alcohol. You need to fall into a deep sleep in order to fully refresh yourself, but alcohol makes this less likely to happen. Instead, you’ll spend longer than you normally would in the much less effective state of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.

Fuzzy memory

This is probably due to the pace of your drinking. Taking in too much alcohol too quickly is likely to result in an alcoholic blackout. You’ll still be able to walk and talk, but your brain won’t be able to remember. You might be able to piece together a few little moments, but by and large you’ll be relying on friends to tell you what you got up to.

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

Why don’t 'cures' work?

‘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 slow down your body’s absorption of alcohol, but this strategy will only work before a session, not the next day.

Also, while you might get a lovely sense of camaraderie as you and your squad bravely tackle a full English, the high fat content could upset your already fragile stomach.

Scientists have long been investigating 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.

Somewhat confusingly, a bacon sandwich also appears to be effective. Let’s face it, most of us would be delighted if this did prove to be the best solution.

Sweating it out

Your body only 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, in your dehydrated state it’s very important to have some water handy and not over-exert yourself.


Ah, coffee. It helps you wake up in the morning and keeps you nice and alert throughout the day. Unfortunately, it’s also a diuretic, which means it’s not going to help you in your quest 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. This has the potential to lead to some pretty poor decisions.

What can you actually do?

shutterstock_238803613.jpgNow, we don’t want to be a buzzkill here, but you probably already know the most effective answer here, so let’s get that over with and move on to some other possible solutions.

Drink less

This is the one surefire way to avoid a hangover. As unlikely a proposition as this can seem midway through Freshers Week, it’s worth remembering that it’s not 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 you out with this too - earlier this year, 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 very good idea, as the concept of ‘lining your stomach’ holds true in this case. It’ll help your body absorb alcohol more slowly, which 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 start normalising. 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.

We’ve already seen how a little food and exercise could help your recovery, and that drinking more alcohol is just a really silly idea. Instead, the key is hydration. If you failed to drink any water while you were out enjoying yourself 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, many scientists will tell you that aspirin isn’t a good option as it’ll 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 STDS, or simply a place where you can quickly get the same treatment and medication you’d get at home, our doctors are here to help.

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 and your first appointment’s only £1.

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Topics: Health