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Why Hangovers Feel Terrible, And A Few Personal Hangover Hacks

Posted on 29 Jan 2018
Dr Ethan
Singapore
Consult Doctor
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Dr Ethan
Singapore
Posted on 29 Jan 2018
Consult Doctor

It's Saturday morning - You went all out with the champagne last night at Zouk/Bang Bang and didn't bother with any of the 8 hangover prevention steps I covered in my previous post. Every time you try to get out of bed and do something useful, the world looks like this:

I was in the exact situation once while travelling solo in Seoul. 4 bottles of Soju the previous night gave rise to the worst hangover ever the following morning, and I stumbled out of my hostel in flip flops (deep in winter) to the closest pharmacy.

Below I talk about why hangovers feel so bad, as well as a couple of hangover cures that can help you feel a bit better, all based on my own anecdotal experience of dealing with the aftermath. Most of the medications I mention can be obtained OTC at the pharmacist.

Hangover Cure 1: Water parade away

Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it makes you pee more and can cause you to become dehydrated. Approximately 3 shots will cause you to lose 1.5 - 2 pints of water in the next hour or so.

Drinking water helps to dilute the acetaldehydre (a toxic alcohol byproduct) floating around in your blood, and let's your kidneys flush out all the toxins.

Hangover Cure 2: Omeprazole/Gaviscon (Anti-stomach acid pill) 

Can't stop puking, even if you're only sipping water? During a hangover, your stomach's acid production centre goes into overdrive. Low alcohol content drinks like beer stimulate stomach acid production, while hard liquor irritates your stomach lining. This results in inflammation of your stomach, or a condition known as gastritis.

Settling your irritated stomach is key to reducing your nausea and vomiting.

The first thing I asked the pharmacist for was Omeprazole, a drug commonly used by patients with bad acid reflux. It works to reduce the amount of acid production. Gaviscon, which is a liquid that coats and protects your stomach lining, will also help.

Hangover Cure 3: Ondansetron/Metoclopramide/Ginger pills (Anti-nausea pill)

Ondansetron and metoclopramide are well-known anti-emetic drugs used in severe nausea and vomiting. They temporarily switch off the nausea centre in your brain.

Ginger pills work pretty well for this too (it's my motion sickness hack when I'm on choppy waters).

Hangover Cure 4: Good 'ol Panadol

Still got a spliting headache? Alcohol causes blood vessels in your head to dilate, which triggers that severe headache. Just try popping 2 paracetamols (Panadols) when you wake up in the morning.

Go cautious with Panadol - paracetamol (the active ingredient of Panadol) is broken down by your liver too. I've seen patients end up in hospital having overdosed on Panadol with alcohol - sticking to just 2 Panadols the morning after (minus any more alcohol drinking) is fine.

Hangover Cure 5: Head to your nearest hawker centre, or make yourself a cup noodle

It's no coincidence that you feel especially weak during a hangover, as on top of all the nausea and vomiting, alcohol also causes low blood sugars in your body.

Because glucose is the primary energy source of the brain, hypoglycemia can contribute to hangover symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, and mood disturbances.

Hangover Cure 6: Find a good excuse to sleep in all day

Alcohol disrupts your normal sleep pattern, decreasing the time spent in restorative REM sleep. The severity of your hangover is often directly related to sleep duration and quality.

In addition, alcohol also relaxes your throat muscles, resulting in increased snoring and, possibly, periodic cessation of breathing (sleep apnea in medical speak, normally the domain of obese people).


The effects of most hangovers subside after 8 to 24 hours, so time is really the most effective remedy for alcohol hangover symptoms.

But as my mom constantly reminds me - medication bad, alcohol badder; so it's always a good idea to prevent over-drinking yourself into a state, rather than having to nurse the terrible hangover afterwards.

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