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18. Hangovers

By Ben Greene

“I am told by those who know that there are six varieties of hangover — the Broken Compass, the Sewing Machine, the Comet, the Atomic, the Cement Mixer and the Gremlin Boogie, and his manner suggested that he had got them all.” - P.G. Wodehouse, The Mating Season

For the hangover sufferer, the world is full of well-wishers anxious to persuade them that Jack Daniels and milk, or some similarly unlikely combination, “really does the trick.”

As a well-qualified student of the hangover, I feel confident enough to state that, aside from the ludicrously unhelpful suggestion to abstain, there is no cure for a hangover. Eventually you will get better anyway, so why waste the little effort available to you on spurious remedies?

Having said that, of course, there are certain things that help to speed up the recovery process. These are all pretty well-known so let’s get through them quickly:

  • Sleep
  • Water
  • Food
  • More alcohol

All undoubtedly useful in suppressing the symptoms of a hangover, but there is always the possibility that they may backfire in some way.

Essentially, then, once you have a hangover you are involved in a damage limitation exercise. But what about prevention? There are a few oft-cited theories that are here worth examining.

Don’t mix your drinks

In 'Everyday Drinking' Kingsley Amis dismisses this argument pretty convincingly. His point is that the evening when you mix your drinks will also be the evening when you have drunk a large quantity of alcohol: “After three dry martinis, two sherries, two glasses of hock, four of burgundy, one of Sauternes, two of claret and three of port, two brandies, three whiskies-and-soda and a beer, most men will be very drunk and will have a very bad hangover”, as he puts it. It's not so much the mixture as the quantity that is the problem, and the opposite view is, sadly, just a poor excuse.

Take an aspirin / drink a large amount of water before going to bed

Once again, Kingsley Amis deals with this admirably by pointing out that “although the advice is perfectly sound, you will find the next morning that you have not followed it. Alternatively, anyone who can summon the will, the energy and the powers of reflection called for has not reached the state in which he really needs the treatment.”

Drink expensive wine

While it is true that cheaper wines (and certain kinds of drink) contain more congeners than their expensive cousins, and that these partly cause hangovers, it remains the case that any kind of alcohol taken in sufficient quantity will result in a hangover. Fortunately, there are many other good reasons for drinking expensive wine anyway.

All of the above may sound rather defeatist. But what I would like to suggest is that instead of fighting against the hangover you should make the effort to work with it. Although you may find it difficult to actually enjoy yourself when your head has been replaced by a balloon full of hot wax, if you accept what is happening you will soon find the more severe symptoms pass and you can settle down to really revelling in your debilitated state. And remember the advice of Clement Freud in his Book of Hangovers: “While I have discussed the wisdom of practicing moderation in all things, it is not what I preach. Half a sixpence may be better than no money at all. Half a hangover merely wrecks the night before as well as the morning after.”

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