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Cocktail 101: How to Survive a Hangover

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[Glass of water photograph: Shutterstock]

Sunday morning coming down. Wake up around 11, stumble into the bathroom for a quick shower. Crawl out the door to the neighborhood diner. Find yourself ordering, yet again, the version of steak and eggs they do where the steak is chicken-fried and so damn good.

The older I get, the less certain the world seems. One thing that I can probably always count on, though, is the morning after, and oh how I suffer.

Another of life's certainties? As long as there are hangovers, some quack will always want to sell you a hangover cure. These days, they're usually pills or powders. Time and method of delivery vary. Sometimes, you take it before bed; other times, you take it upon rising the next morning. Or afternoon. Or evening.

As to their efficacy, I'm a devout skeptic. I don't think a month passes without a public-relations agent sending me an email message to offer me the latest potion, powder, or tincture, all guaranteed to raise the gloom and lift the fog from my eyes.

In some ways, it seems like a cheat.

I prefer to own my hangovers, to adult-up and admit to myself that I deserve to feel this way:

  • I should have left the bar at 2 a.m. instead of at last call.
  • Two Old Fashioneds while watching Mad Men are probably enough—three is too many, and four?
  • I should have had more water before falling into bed.
  • And why did I think it was smart to allow brunch drinks to lead to afternoon dive-bar drinks and those to turn into evening boozing?

(Sometimes I wonder how I survived my 20s. And my 30s, for that matter.)

I've never found a solution that completely erases the feeling of hangover. At best, I can alleviate the symptoms somewhat, but I can't ever make them all go away. And there's a reason for this: alcohol is a toxin, and you've just had a very large amount of it. Your body hates you right now, and the only real cure is time...time to let your body recover from the punishment you threw its way.

Aspirin

First of all, a caveat: I am not a physician, nor do I play one on TV. I keep aspirin around for headaches and minor pain elsewhere, whether I've been drinking or not. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen work as well, but none of them do more than silence the dull ache in my brain. Note, too, that if you take acetaminophen and, to a lesser degree, ibuprofen, hold off until all alcohol has left your system. Acetaminophen, especially, is double-plus-bad when consumed with booze. The risk of liver damage is shockingly high. Wait until the next morning, please.

Also, no matter what you take, it's best when taken with vast quantities of...

Water

No matter how much water I have before bed, when I wake up hungover, I also wake up thirsty. Usually very thirsty. The only thing that helps is water or sometimes juice. Drinking alcohol, as we all know, dehydrates the body and nothing rehydrates better than water. Some people swear by Gatorade and other electrolyte-enhancers, but I'd rather get electrolytes from natural sources than from neon-colored beverages.

Bananas

Often, what plagues me most isn't the hangover itself, but the nasty leg spasms I get while sleeping off the boozing. I've been known to awaken sleeping companions by yelling in the middle of the night when my leg suddenly Charley-horses. If I have the presence of mind to do so, and if I can actually keep any food down, I like to have a banana before bed. Muscle spasms are the result of dehydration and depletion of potassium and other electrolytes.

Coconut Water

Another natural source for electrolyte replenishment is coconut water, which is high in potassium, minerals, and antioxidants. Coconut water's other health claims (supposedly, it prevents cancer and possibly also bubonic plague) may be overblown, but it'll definitely help perk you up after a bender. Provided you like the taste, that is. Not everyone does.

Ironically, perhaps, the first time I ever tried coconut water, it was blended with gin and lime juice, in a revival of a "lost" cocktail called the Green Isaacs Special, devised by Ernest Hemingway during his time in the Bahamas, and first described in his posthumous novel Islands in the Stream. It's a decent enough drink, but it may not actually help you with a hangover, unless you're a fan of hair-of-the-dog remedies.

Bloody Mary

Speaking of hairs of the dog, the Bloody Mary has got to be the queen of them all. Unless you don't like savory drinks, what's not to love? You get nutritious tomato juice, lemon or lime, salt, pepper, celery—it's a salad in a glass, restorative and healthy! (Looking for a recipe? Try this one.)

I'll have mine with gin, though, please, or aquavit.

Corpse Revivers, Fog Cutters, Painkillers, and Other Hangover Cocktails

An entire category of cocktail arose in the 19th and 20th centuries, just for the purpose of hangover alleviation. Hangover cocktails have certain things in common: they're usually relatively low in alcohol and full of good things like fresh fruit juices and sometimes raw egg. The idea isn't necessarily to get drunk again; it's to have just enough booze that you no longer care about your hangover.

Greasy Food and More Greasy Food

My personal favorite, actually. On a typical morning-after, I like to find a good brunch spot and order a plateful of bacon and/or sausage, eggs over-easy, and fried potatoes. Now, I won't argue that a plate of fried food makes me feel any better physically. What I think it does, though, is hit at the psychological aspects of a hangover, what Kingsley Amis called the "metaphysical hangover," the feeling that you are utterly alone in the universe, suck terribly at life, and will probably die soon and painfully. Having a delicious brunch to focus your attention on can turn that philosophic dread around pretty quickly.

How about you; what's your favorite hangover remedy?

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