You’ve got a headache, muscular aches and pains and blurred vision, you’re feeling nauseous and you’re acutely sensitive to bright light and loud noises. Are these the symptoms of a serious illness? They could be, but it could simply be that you had too much to drink last night. But do you know your hangover facts from your hangover fantasy? Here are nine common myths about the morning after.
1 – Some people just don’t get hangovers.
If you’ve ever been annoyed by the friend who laughingly tells you that she never gets a hangover, take comfort. Around 77% of people who drink alcohol will get a hangover, but it’s not always the same 23% who don’t. In fact, scientists are discovering that hangovers are actually very complex, with a variety of different causes. There’s no evidence that some people have an inbuilt resistance to every effect of alcohol. Your friend just hasn’t had a hangover… yet.
2 – Clear spirits don’t cause hangovers.
Dark-coloured drinks, such as whisky or dark rum, contain chemicals called congeners. There’s evidence to suggest that congeners can make hangovers feel worse and last longer. But that doesn’t mean that drinks without congeners, such as vodka or gin, won’t leave you feeling like death the next day.
3 – A hangover is caused by dehydration.
Have you been told that you should drink a glass of water before you go to bed to prevent a hangover? It’s a good thing to do, but it won’t necessarily stop you feeling dreadful when you wake up. Alcohol has a diuretic effect (it makes you pee more), so you can get dehydrated. But dehydration is a symptom of a hangover, not the cause.
4 – You should take painkillers before you sober up.
This is potentially dangerous advice. Taking painkillers prophylactically (that is, to try and prevent pain rather than ease it) can cause more problems than it solves. The side effects of some common painkillers are made worse by alcohol. Paracetamol can damage your liver, and aspirin irritates your stomach lining. Besides, if you take them before you fall asleep, they’ll already have worn off by the time you wake up.
5 – Hangovers get worse as you get older.
There’s some evidence that young people can tolerate hangovers better than older folks – but there are other studies that suggest the opposite. The effects of alcohol are worse if you’re tired or in poor health, so the impression that hangovers are worse in your forties than in your teens might simply mean you’re not as fit as you used to be.
6 – “Hair of the dog” will cure you.
Drinking more alcohol won’t stop you getting a hangover. It will delay the symptoms, but the chances are they’ll be even worse when you finally do sober up. And drinking alcohol first thing in the morning is rarely a good idea, hungover or not.
7 – Eating before you start drinking will prevent a hangover
Having food in your stomach will slow down the rate at which alcohol gets absorbed into your bloodstream. This means you won’t get drunk as quickly as on an empty stomach, but the same amount of alcohol will have exactly the same effect, whether it happens quickly or slowly. And because alcohol also slows down the rate food passes through your stomach, it’s more likely you’ll still be over the limit the next morning – which could be bad news if you need to drive anywhere.
8 – You need to drink lots of strong black coffee.
Alcohol is a depressant, and caffeine is a stimulant, so one cancels out the other, right? Wrong. The tiredness and lethargy you’re feeling after too many drinks isn’t because there’s still lots of sleep-inducing alcohol in your system. It’s because your body has been damaged, and needs to rest and repair itself. A shot of caffeine might give you a kick, but it doesn’t address the cause – and it can make an irritated stomach even worse.
9 – A hangover is a mild case of alcohol poisoning
Alcohol poisoning is a serious medical condition, and can kill. If someone is pale, breathing shallowly or very slowly, or if they have uncontrollable tremor or vomiting, they need to see a doctor immediately. Alcohol poisoning occurs when the body is simply unable to process all the alcohol that’s been taken in. A hangover happens when that alcohol has been already been processed, but you’re still feeling the after-effects.
Now you know the facts about the morning after. Of course, there’s only one thing that’s certain about a hangover: you won’t get one if you don’t drink too much in the first place!