While drinking and partying can be a lot of fun at the time, most of us who are familiar with the laws of inebriation know what follows the morning after – a hangover. When you wake up the next morning, you have a really bad headache, you feel nauseated, achy, can’t stay away from the toilet and you wince at the thought of light. Even worse, you have a pain in your head that feels like someone is running a jackhammer through your skull.
For those of you who have never experienced this malaise – welcome to the world of the hangover. It is this collection of bad feeling that has caused party animal to wonder if the fun was worth the results and vow to never party that hard again.
Why Alcohol Causes Hangover Headaches
Why does over consumption of alcohol almost always result in hangover headaches? The majority of the blame for a hangover lies in ethanol, a liquid that results from the process of fermenting the sugar and starch found in grains. While ethanol is mostly used to make alcohol, it is also used to produce fuel for your car (that’s how strong and toxic it is).
There are several ways that ethanol can cause a post alcohol headache. First, ethanol is the direct cause of vasodilatation, a condition in which the blood vessels expand, resulting in a pounding head. Also, ethanol is a natural diuretic, which makes your body lose water, vitamins, minerals and salt. When your body realizes it is becoming dehydrated and losing needed nutrients, it diverts the blood supply that would normally feed your limbs and skin to the major organs like your heart and brain. This is actually a survival mechanism on the part of your body in an attempt to prevent death. However, the resulting unusually large supply of blood in the vessels in your brain causes these vessels to enlarge and dilate. The end result of this survival mechanism is a headache.
There’s also the chance that last night’s drink didn’t contain just alcohol, but other chemicals called congeners, which are impurities that occur during fermentation and give the alcohol its color and taste. These can also cause headaches and drinking too much of them will give you a hangover. It’s always good to remember that the darker the drink, the more congeners it has, unless it happens to be moonshine, which is 70% alcohol, in which case you’re in a lot of trouble.
Ways to Avoid the After-Alcohol Headache
There is one fool-proof way to avoid a hangover headache — do not drink alcohol. Prevention is always better than cure, remember? Some people, however, promise to never drink again while in the middle of a hangover, but then they quickly forget and start drinking again as soon as the hangover headache is gone.
If you must over-indulge in alcohol, you can choose to treat the main cause of the resulting hangover. Since most of the pain of a hangover is caused by dehydration, your best bet is to drink plenty of fluid. However, it is not a good idea to drink the same beverage that gave you the hangover, this can result in a bad habit know as alcoholism. Your best choices are either plain water or sports drinks (which contain electrolytes that will help your body restore the minerals) vitamins and salts that were depleted by the alcohol.
Meanwhile, scientists have recently discovered a gene that helps fruit flies develop a tolerance for alcohol. Appropriately named “hangover”, this gene might someday make human hangovers a thing of the past. Even while this hangover cure might by on the horizon, however, remember it is not here yet. The best way to avoid hangover is still not to get one to start with.