How to stave off a festive hangover

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IN this season of general jollity your average partygoer will almost certainly be drinking a bit, or a lot, more than usual.

And then facing the inevitable truth that the morning after the night before is no fun at all, writes Lisa Salmon.

Recent research by food intolerance company Yorktest found people endure post-party headaches and nausea for a total of around 24 days a year, or 1,452 days in a lifetime.

And with a good chunk of those days popping up over the Christmas period, there could be a Santa sackload of misery on its way for many during the next few weeks.

Of course the best solution is to stay off the booze completely. But if that’s not an option, then understanding why alcohol causes hangovers - and what can be done to reduce their impact - is a sensible way to ease those symptoms.

All too many of us will have experienced a headache, dry mouth, nausea, tiredness, dizziness - and even depression - the morning after.

GP Dr Roger Henderson explains that this, put simply, is because alcohol is toxic. “The body really doesn’t like it, it’s a big poison, which is why you can get alcohol poisoning,” he says.

Henderson points out that the driving factor behind hangover symptoms is dehydration. Alcohol acts as a diuretic, making you urinate more and thus lose water.

Even the brain loses some of its water, and the lining of the brain becomes inflamed, resulting in a pounding headache. This lack of water is also why you have a dry mouth and feel thirsty the morning after a big night.

“Try and alternate your alcoholic drinks with a non-alcoholic drink,” advises Henderson.

“Ideally that’d be water, but any non-alcoholic drink is OK. If you’re embarrassed about not being seen to keep up with the drinking, have a tonic water with ice and lemon, because that looks like you’re having a gin and tonic.”

Alcohol can lead to alterations in the metabolic state of the liver, resulting in low blood sugar, according to Henderson. This can cause symptoms including feeling faint, tired, dizzy and wobbly the next morning.

Alcohol expert Professor Jonathan Chick, a consultant psychiatrist at Royal Edinburgh Hospital and author of Alcohol and Drinking Problems (Family Doctor Books, £4.95), says people can feel more energised while drinking, due to their blood alcohol levels going up.

However, by the following morning, in its absence, low blood-sugar levels caused by drinking will make individuals feel lethargic.

“You get a rebound,” says Chick. “A feeling of tiredness, and sometimes of depression, which is what happens on the down slope of the alcohol curve. It’s a sort of withdrawal symptom.”

Making sure you eat before and during the consumption of alcohol will help reduce hangover symptoms, and also mean you’re less likely to be sick.

Chick explains that a lack of food when drinking can lead to vomiting. “Alcohol poisons cells throughout the body, and the first cells it hits are in the stomach lining,” he says. So if there’s no food in the stomach the poison will have direct access.

“It causes them to be reddened and inflamed, and some people even vomit blood during the night or the next morning because their stomach lining’s so inflamed,” he says.

“When food is taken, the alcohol’s absorbed more slowly so high peaks aren’t achieved and the body copes with breaking it down more easily.”

Dealing with a hangover depends on the symptoms, says Chick, but paracetamol or ibuprofen can help if you have a headache, and caffeine in coffee can give an energy boost if you’re tired.

Eating will also make you feel better.