On hangovers… and how to avoid them


Banksy’s Caveman

Man discovered alcohol thousands of years ago – without doubt as a result of a fortuitous accident with fermenting fruit.  But as sure as God made little red grapes, that man stumbled upon a hangover the following morning. And he’s been looking for a cure ever since…

As lows follow highs, after a night of alcoholic fun and frolics we inescapably suffer the consequences of our indulgences. A throbbing head that feels as if it has just been removed from the freezer..  sand-papery eyes.. a dry mouth with a despicable taste.. and an overall feeling of nausea..  are some of the ways our body warns us that the alcohol has delivered a toxic blow to our body’s key defense systems and to take things easy for a while.

To be technical about it, alcohol is broken down into a toxin which the liver’s enzymes turn into acetate – hence the horrid taste in your mouth. Secondly, alcohol causes serious dehydration, which is largely responsible for the headaches that form part and parcel of every hangover. Lastly (but not leastly) there are additives in alcohol called congeners that deliver the final blow. These congeners can be natural components (like phenols in grapes for instance) or colourings or flavourings.  But they can also be a by-product of the methods used in creating alcohol (like aldehydes which develop during ageing or distilling processes, or sulphites which are added later).  All of these additives however can produce unpleasant after-effects.

a hangover kind-of feeling…

Generally speaking: the fewer the congeners, the lighter the colour, the purer the drink and the milder the hangover.  Thus it is believed that red wine, brandy and port give worse hangovers than vodka.

Whatever the case, when a hangover hits us we need help.  Most of us have with experience developed a more or less successful way of dealing with it – the preferred method staying in bed all day.  Some of us try taking pledges never to get into such a state again but the problem with this cure is that somewhere in the back of our thumping head, a little voice reminds us that that’s exactly what we said the last time..  So what other options are there?

water and more water…

Best of course is to avoid a hangover either by drinking copious amounts of water or by drinking less alcohol at a slower rate – both methods help the body to keep up with metabolising the consumed alcohol (some say at a rate of about one measure an hour).  We can also try reduce alcohol absorption by lining our stomach walls with fats before a binge.  A generous helping of greasy fish and chips is effective but if that doesn’t appeal, try some Mediterranean fare that has been generously drenched in olive oil.  Honey too is good for boosting the ability to metabolise toxins, as is oxygen – preferably in the form of some vigorous exercise before or during the blowout. (I can think of a few exciting workouts besides a few laps around the block).  Don’t however reach for the coffee jar – while many believe that a few cups of the dark brew is not only sobering but also helps to reduce the feared morning-after symptoms – IT DOES NOT.  Coffee is a powerful diuretic and therefore only adds to the dehydration of an already dried-out body – all of which of course will make the hangover worse.

So much for trying to prevent a hangover.  But what to do when, having ignored the above advice, the hangover has struck?  Many experienced party animals swear by the beneficial effects of a sturdy fry-up (with plenty of strong tea), believing that it can soak-up the alcohol after the event.  Others consider a hamburger and chips with a large bottle of Pepsi a decent morning-after fix.  Plenty of citrus juice has its fans too – it does revitalise but if the hangover is targeting your stomach as accurately as your head, you may want to avoid a high-acid attack on an already delicate body part (in which case opt for milder fruit such as a fresh chunk of watermelon, or banana smoothie).

The fry-up

For many carbohydrates usually do the trick – lots of freshly made toast which (to keep the cellulite happy) should be dripping with melting butter and perhaps a lick of honey and marmite (together of course).  Alternatively, in winter, a big bowl of comfort porridge with a good slug of Baileys, might just do the job.  For ideas on more exotic cures Keith Floyd, a ex-veteran hangover-survivor himself, has lovingly compiled an entire book on potent pick-me-ups. It’s called Floyd on Hangovers and favours among others the ‘Corpse Reviver’ (recipe below) and ‘Lactade’ – a rather drastic solution used by vets to reverse the process of dehydration and depletion of salts and sugars in dogs that suffer from parvovirus (a potentially fatal form of dog-gastroenteritis).

Obviously, there are as many hangover cures as there are alcoholic drinks on this earth – many of them as obscure as they are outrageous and many boasting the common denominator that they may not always stand up to rigorous scrutiny.  For who would voluntarily try the Puerto Rican favourite way of dealing with the after effects of alcohol excess – calling for a lengthy rub of a citrus fruit into both armpits?  Argentinian cow-hands apparently like nothing better than a plate of fried bull’s testicles to vanquish the demons after a hard night, whilst some Haitians recommend sticking thirteen black-headed pins into the bottle(s) from which you’ve been drinking (the concentration required to manipulate twenty-six pins if you’ve drunk 2 bottles, may take your mind temporarily off your suffering).  The Fins are perhaps the most determined in their hangover treatment (first a sauna to make the body sweat and thus rid the system of toxins, followed by a roll in the snow to shake off any residual tiredness) while the Russians tend to be the most resigned about their situation – feeling no need to restore themselves to a state of grace – they simply go on drinking..  The Japanese however who show the most scientific approach – they simply top-up on complex vitamin B supplements (the vitamins most depleted after a night of boozy merriment) in the form of calves’ liver – chopped, spooned out of a glass, and exceedingly raw.

The simple truth is that there are thousands of ‘cures’ some more worthy than others and it’s a matter of experimenting to find out what works best for you – being kind to your liver being the essence.  Medical studies have shown over and over again that the herb milk-thistle (available from health shops) efficiently helps your liver to survive an alcohol battering – few drops taken with water before you go to sleep and then again the following morning is probably the soundest method to fix a hangover.  Tea made from dandelion root also helps the liver to recuperate and has been used for centuries in France to treat overdoses of alcohol and rich food.

Having said this, there is still another popular way of dealing with a hangover.  Rather than fighting it, you’re advised to ‘go with it’ (the so-called hair-of-the-dog) – the main objective being to get you back on that horse before you spend too much time reflecting on your early morning pledge.  These will either easy your suffering instantly, or send you back to sleep…

Further Effective Hints to help with Hangovers  


A SENSUAL MASSAGE (neck and temples) may soothe a pounding head, especially if executed with a few drops of aromatherapy oil of lavender, clary sage or rosemary.  Or a few drops of thyme oil in cold water and dab gently on your thumping temples with a face cloth.  Then there’s the old reliable Alka Selzer or Solpadene…

CLARINS’ BEAUTY FLASH BALM – the ultimate miracle worker – can always be relied upon to lift bags that look baggier when you least need it. Use as a 10-minute mask to rejuvenate or under make-up.  Or for morning-after puffy eyes keep a supply of stainless steel teaspoons in the fridge and apply as needed. Alternatively Clinique eye gel is refreshing and ‘de-puffs’.

Make sure you own some CESARIA EVORA music – her sensual Sodade rendition on the Miss Perfumado CD is one of life’s great soothers.

From DIY stores – a total BLACK-OUT BLIND

Tuck a few ready-bought SMOOTHIES into the fridge for emergencies.

First served during the 1920s in Paris at Harry’s Bar, its variations are legion, using anything from clam juice, beef stock, horseradish and garlic, to cumin, celery salt, fresh herbs and even soy sauce. Very popular nowadays to ‘infuse’ the vodka with fresh chillies. I’ve used a stick of celery as a ‘stirrer’ but the McIlhenny family (of Tabasco fame) serve it with Zydeco Green Beans (see recipe below). You may want to adjust the seasoning, depending on your liking of spices.  Just keep tasting!
To make 1 drink you need:

  • 50ml vodka
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • good dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • 2-3 dashes of Tabasco sauce
  • 3-4 dashes of lemon or lime juice
  • 200ml tomato juice
  • pinch of salt

Enough for 6.

  • 300 ml vodka
  • ½ to 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1-2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • ½  tsp Tabasco sauce (or to taste)
  • juice of 1-2 lemons or 3 limes
  • 1.2 litre tomato juice
  • 1 tsp salt

Combine all of the ingredients, stir well and serve in tall, ice-filled glasses. Garnish with a celery stick.

The remedy favoured by P Wodehouse’s butler Jeeves, to revive the young Bertram Wooster after his regular beanos at his club the Drones.  Not for the faint-hearted but the kind of cure you have to try at least once!  For 1.

  •  few drops of olive oil
  • 1 egg yolk
  • large dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • large dash of Tabasco
  • pinch of salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp vinegar

Rinse a cocktail glass with olive oil and without breaking, slide in the egg yolk. Sprinkle on the seasoning and serve. This cocktail is best drunk quickly in one – for obvious reasons! Alternatively, serve it on a large spoon.

Enough for 1 corpse.

  •  25ml brandy
  • 25ml Fernet Branca (or vermouth rosso)
  • 25ml calvados

Shake the ingredients over ice and strain into a frosted martini glass. If you think your corpse will be cheered up by this, garnish with a slice or twist of orange.

For 1.

  •  25ml Fernet Branca
  • 25ml dry white vermouth
  • large dash of crème de menthe
  • sprig of mint

Shake all ingredients over ice and strain into an ice-filled glass. Garnish with a sprig of mint then serve.