The dreaded New Year's Eve hangover, and how to handle it

For some, New Year's Eve includes champagne and other cocktails, which could lead to a nasty hangover. But can you avoid that suffering?

'Drink slower, and drink less,' advises Edmonton AM columnist Dr. Raj Bhardwaj

There are some things that can be done to help the dreaded aftermath of a night of drinking but Dr. Raj Bhardwaj warns, there is no single hangover cure. (Eric Risberg/Associated Press)

The holidays tend to be a time for indulging in tasty food and treats and for some of us, alcohol. As you celebrate New Year's Eve, keep in mind that having a few too many drinks could leave you with a nasty hangover.

Hangovers are caused by four things: dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, impurities in alcohol and acetaldehyde, said Dr. Raj Bhardwaj, an urgent care physician and columnist on  CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"We used to think it was mostly dehydration," Bhardwaj told Edmonton AM on Tuesday. "Alcohol is a diuretic that makes you pee more than you drink … so you're losing electrolytes like sodium and potassium."

When the body breaks down alcohol it turns it into acetaldehyde, which is between 10 to 30 times more toxic than ethanol. That buildup of "poison" in your system causes inflammation which the body tries to fights, Bhardwaj said.

The fourth problem is that alcohol has impurities. Red wine has tannins while other alcohol contains sulfites, methanol or histamines, Bhardwaj said.

When you combine those four factors, hangovers result — but not all hangovers are equal.

The amount of alcohol consumed, how quickly you drink, and whether you've eaten before drinking are just a few of the variables that can affect whether you get a hangover.

As well, Bhardwaj said, "Each person's hangover is going to be different because my liver enzymes are different genetically than yours."

Alberta physician Dr. Raj Bhardwaj says every person's hangover is going to be different. (Raj Bhardwaj)

You can take some steps to help alleviate the aftermath of a night of drinking, but Bhardwaj warns there is no single hangover cure.

Coffee will make you feel more alert, but it can also make you more dehydrated. As for eating a big greasy breakfast, the salt can help slow down how quickly the alcohol is absorbed.

Anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen might make sense, but are hard on your stomach and kidneys, which could lead to internal bleeding, Bhardwaj said.

"I would use those cautiously, if at all."

There's no benefit to taking other pills, like vitamins or supplements, because there's "no good evidence that they work," he said.

"There is some research happening right now in mice to develop liver enzymes in a pill, which looks promising if you're a drunk mouse. But it's still years away from even starting human trials."

To combat the acetaldehyde buildup, Bhardwaj suggests drinking weaker alcohol, sticking to no more than one standard drink per hour, eat before drinking, and stay away from mixed carbonated drinks — which speed up the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream.

His best advice? 

"Mostly it's just drink slower, and drink less."


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