Let’s be honest: a lot of the time, we turn down another drink at the bar not exactly because we’re responsible adults, but because we don’t want to deal with the dreadful discomfort that comes with a hangover.
And according to Dr Lui Hock Foong, a gastroenterologist at Gleneagles Hospital, it’s not just because of our genetic makeups that we get hangovers. There are other factors that play a greater role in why we suffer from those unpleasant effects—and the good news is they’re within our control.
Congeners are toxic chemicals that are produced along with the alcohol during the fermentation process, and examples include methanol and acetone. Our bodies turn their attention to congeners after they have broken down the alcohol.
“This explains why hangover symptoms only occur the day after alcohol is consumed, when all the alcohol has been metabolised and the blood alcohol level is normal.”
He adds that binge drinking and drinking on an empty stomach also increases our odds of suffering from those symptoms as large amounts of alcohol are entering our bodies.
“Alcohol is also a diuretic and can lead to dehydration, which will worsen hangover symptoms such as headache and thirst,” he says.
Here are some of the factors that contribute to your sh*tty hangovers.
Reason #1: You’re drinking dark-coloured alcohol
“Alcohol tolerance has a genetic basis, but the development of hangovers is more dependent on the type of alcohol consumed, and the circumstances surrounding the way it is consumed,” says Dr Lui.
“Consuming dark-coloured alcohol such as whiskey, brandy and tequila is more likely to result in a hangover than consuming clear spirits such as vodka, gin and rum. This is because coloured alcohol contains high amounts of congeners.”
Reason #2: You’re drinking too much (worse if it’s on an empty stomach)
Dr Lui says that, aside from avoiding dark-coloured alcohol, we should drink plenty of water when having alcoholic drinks.
“A good guide is to consume one glass of water between every drink, and to consume a big glass of water before going to sleep,” he says. He also suggests having some food while drinking.
“This prevents the alcohol from being too rapidly absorbed into the body.”
Reason #3: You’re old (sort of)
You may have also heard that the older we get, the more likely we are to suffer from hangovers, and the worse they can be. Although unproven, there might be some truth to these claims.
‘While there is little scientific data to suggest that ageing increases the odds of hangovers, this phenomenon is widely reported,” says Dr Lui. “Some reasons put forth are the increase in body fat, which causes an individual to drink more before feeling the effects of alcohol, and the consumption of concurrent medication.”
How to drink responsibly without feeling like death the next morning
Drinking may be enjoyable, but alcohol in excess is toxic and can damage the liver, brain, heart and nerves. So how much should we be consuming really?
“Although some individuals have higher alcohol tolerance because of their genes, most of us have average alcohol tolerance. As such, everyone is advised to drink within safe limits, which is 14 units of alcohol a week,” says Dr Lui. “This translates to two units or two drinks a day. A drink comprises one glass of wine, one shot of hard liquor or half a pint of beer.”
OK, we may have a couple more drinks on a Friday night—but it’s not like most of us consume alcohol every day anyway. And as long as we make the effort to reduce the unpleasant symptoms that will follow, we’ll be able to wake up the next day without feeling like death.
Hangover cures worth trying
Got a nasty hangover? Dr Lui suggests doing these things to reduce the symptoms.
1. Drink plenty of water to overcome dehydration and to flush the remaining alcohol and congeners out of your system
2. Eat a good breakfast to boost low blood sugar levels
3. Take medications such as paracetamol
4. Consume prickly pear, red ginseng and ginger as there is evidence that these supplements can also diminish symptoms