Hangover-Free Holiday Season (cont.)

A breakthrough study this year by Irish researchers Adele McKinney and Kieran Coyle showed that memory and psychomotor (fine motor) performance remain impaired the morning after heavy drinking, even when blood alcohol levels have dropped to zero or near zero.

Other studies have also shown that alcohol can interfere with normal 24-hour rhythms -- such as normal variations in heart rate and blood pressure seen at night. A racing heart can in extreme cases lead to a heart attack. Increased blood pressure and heart rate during a severe hangover can double the risk of a heart attack, reports Jeffrey Weise, associate professor of medicine at Tulane Health Sciences Center in New Orleans.

Who Is Susceptible to Hangovers?

Those two glasses of wine you had last night seemed innocent enough, or was it four? Most people who get hangovers have no intention of drinking too much. In fact, light to moderate drinkers are 70% more likely to get hangovers than heavy drinkers, according to Wiese.

Women bear a disproportionate burden of hangovers. "Alcohol produces a higher blood alcohol content in females than in males, due to several factors: weight, distribution of body fat, and the way our bodies metabolize alcohol," Hetzler tells WebMD.

Personality may also play a role in a hangover's severity. Recent research indicates that increased hangover symptoms occur more often in people who are neurotic, angry, and defensive.

But let's not fool ourselves. While certain characteristics may increase the risk of a hangover or worsen its effects, anyone who drinks to excess can incur the dreaded next-day menace.

Prevention

Before the hangover hits, you can do some damage control. Here are some of the old-fashioned remedies you may have heard of that really work.


"It's a myth that one type of food is better than another [at preventing hangovers]."

  • Choose your beverage of choice wisely. "A couple of studies show that alcoholic beverages that are mainly just alcohol and water, like vodka and gin, produce less severe hangovers, while other compounds that contain congeners -- brandy, whisky, red wine, to name a few -- tend to produce more severe hangovers," Hetzler tells WebMD. What if you're a beer lover? "Beer has a relatively low congener level, although the heavier the beer, the more congener it contains," Hetzler says.
  • Eat before you drink. "The alcohol is absorbed more slowly when you have food in your stomach," White tells WebMD. Exactly what should you eat? Whatever you want. "It's a myth that one type of food is better than another," he says.
  • Pace yourself. White suggests having a nonalcoholic drink between each alcoholic beverage, which helps to maintain a low blood alcohol level, and keeps you hydrated.
  • Replenish lost fluids. Before you put your head on the pillow, guzzle some water or other nonalcoholic drink, but avoid caffeine. Like alcohol, it has a diuretic effect and may contribute to hangover symptoms.
  • Take over-the-counter pain relief before the headache hits. Experts warn, however, to avoid acetaminophen (Tylenol), a common aspirin alternative. "Too much acetaminophen is toxic to the liver. Alcohol can disrupt the metabolism of acetaminophen, making it even more toxic to the liver," White says. Although the risk of liver damage from the combination is minimal, it's possible, he explains.