An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of hangover cures

What and what not to do after a night of overindulging

Homer Simpson nailed it when he said “To alcohol! The cause of and solution to all of life’s problems.” When you’re pounding ’em back it feels like the latter. The morning after it feels more like the former. Cue the embarrassment regret and solemn vows to never do it again.

But while such half-hearted promises might address what Kingsley Amis called the “metaphysical symptoms” of a hangover they won’t cure the headaches vertigo stomach pain and sweating that follow one (or two or five or a dozen) too many.

So what does? Experts maintain there are no real cures for a hangover: the best remedy is prevention. Some tips on this front include eating beforehand (food will slow alcohol intake); drinking lots of water; and avoiding dark drinks (which contain more congeners chemicals that worsen hangovers).

All sound sensible but pretty useless unless you’re actively seeking not to get smashed — a mindset that seems pretty rare. Google “how to prevent a hangover” and you’ll get a little over 7 million results. Google “how to cure a hangover” and you’ll get over 14 million. ’Nuff said.

Fortunately health authorities recognize we’re only human. Britain’s National Health Service emphasizes prevention but as its website dryly notes: “If you wake up the next morning feeling terrible you probably didn’t follow this advice.”

Well obviously. But after this scolding the NHS goes on to recommend: water since a hangover’s primary cause is dehydration; sugary foods to ease the trembling; and maybe some paracetamol-based painkillers such as naproxen to ease the cramps. (Of course that’s only with your doctor’s permission.) Avoid Tylenol aspirin or ibuprofen since they can cause liver damage when combined with alcohol.

You can’t go wrong with water and if you have the luxury a long nap will take care of many of your symptoms since a hangover dissipates with time. Indeed many experts will say water and sleep are all you really need. But as the millions of Google results suggest hangovers have spanned a cottage industry eager to cash in on gullible guzzlers.

By this token avoid anything labelled a hangover cure. Pills such as Chaser and Blowfish are at best an expensive placebo and if that’s all you’re looking for there’s no shortage of alternatives (pickle juice sausage rolls prairie oysters).

Other touted cures are either similarly bogus though not necessarily harmful or potentially beneficial but unproven. Neither exercise nor sex will “sweat out” the toxins. Energy drinks which can help replenish electrolytes may be better than water and N-acetyl Cysteine a nutritional supplement rich in antioxidants may help your liver process alcohol but there’s no scientific evidence for either.

Some remedies however can hurt more than they help. Caffeine can reduce grogginess but will aggravate dehydration so think twice about coffee or Coke. Or Midol which often comes up as a hangover cure possibly because some types have naproxen but also contains caffeine — though not as many men fear female hormones.

The proverbial “hair of the dog” is another case of short-term gain for long-term pain. The phrase originates from the archaic belief that rubbing some hairs from a rabid dog on its bite would heal the wound based on the principle that “like cures like.” While quaffing more liquor will delay a hangover it’s no more effective at treating one than dog hair is for rabies.

But if there’s no miracle cure for aches and pains caused by binge drinking is there one for the damage it does to your mind? Kingsley Amis thought so.

“When that ineffable compound of depression sadness (these two are not the same) anxiety self-hatred sense of failure and fear for the future begins to steal over you” he wrote “start telling yourself that what you have is a hangover.”