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Need hangover help?

7 proven hangover cures and first aid for alcohol poisoning from Emma Hammett of  First Aid for Life.

Hangovers make you feel rotten. Symptoms can include exhaustion, a pounding headache, nausea, dizziness, thirst and sensitivity to light or sound. There are however ways you can avoid the dreaded hangover with our proven prevention and cure tips.

1. Limit Your Alcohol Intake

The easiest way to reduce hangover symptoms is to reduce your alcohol intake. Both the severity and incidence of hangover symptoms increase in line with the amount of alcohol you consume.

Alcohol can affect you in many ways, and it’s different for everyone. You might expect that your body weight would be a factor but did you know your muscle to fat ratio can also affect how your body metabolises alcohol? Your gender, when you last ate, what type of alcohol you consume and over what period of time can all affect the concentration of alcohol in your blood.

Studies have found that you must reach a peak blood alcohol concentration of 0.11–0.12% to develop a hangover.

For some, as few as 2-3 drinks will leave them feeling under the influence and then lead on to a hangover. On the other end of the spectrum, approximately 23% of drinks are resistant to hangovers all together.

2. Drink Plenty of Water

Staying hydrated is key. Alcohol is a diuretic. This means it increases the amount of water lost in urine. Hence, why you pee more when you are drinking. The more you drink, the more fluid you lose, making it much more likely you’ll experience a hangover. Matching glasses of water to each alcoholic drink is one way to counteract this.

Dehydration is the cause of most of the hangover symptoms you experience. If you can prevent this occurring at the start, the extent of your hangover will be dramatically reduced.

Remember vomiting will also contribute to dehydration and so it’s vital to replace any lost fluids.

3. Line Your Stomach

Eating before you drink alcoholic beverages will help ‘line your stomach’ and absorb some of the alcohol. This will reduce the concentration of alcohol within your blood.

Boosting your blood sugar is also helpful in avoiding hangovers.

4. Sleep Well

Sleep deprivation makes it more likely that alcohol intake will affect you adversely. It is common in freshers’ week for students to get seriously unwell with ‘freshers’ flu’. They can then end up in potentially dangerous situations following too much alcohol.

5. Think how you drink: is pre-drinking really a good idea?

Many young people fill up with budget alcohol before going out. They binge drink to have the intoxicated feeling before going out to a club, thereby avoiding paying for more expensive drinks when out.

This is not a sensible way to drink and frequently results in hospital admissions and horrendous hangovers.

Alcohol reduces your inhibitions and ‘encourages’ you to take risks.

According to NHS data, in 2019, 337,870 people were admitted to hospital due to an alcohol related incident. 5,843 people died in alcohol specific deaths.

Alcohol accounts for 10-18% of A&E visits and the majority of these are following head injuries.

6. Think what you are drinking as well as how much

Fermenting of sugars produces alcohol. This process converts sugars into carbon dioxide and ethanol and also forms toxic chemicals called congeners. Congeners tend to be found in larger amounts in dark liquors like brandy, bourbon, red wine and darker beers. There are fewer congeners found in clear liquors, such as gin, rum and lighter beers. Vodka hardly contains any at all.

One congener, methanol, breaks down into formaldehyde and formic acid. It is thought that congeners and the resultant toxin by-products do play a part in the extent of a hangover. However, some congeners may slow alcohol metabolism. This means hangovers could take longer to clear.

7. Could having a drink the following morning help?

Many people swear by ‘hair of the dog’ or having a drink the following day to cure your hangover. Amazingly, there may be some evidence to suggest that having a drink the next morning could lessen hangover symptoms.

However, it’s important to state that this is definitely not recommended. It is not a good treatment for hangovers, as it can lead to an unhealthy relationship with alcohol and alcohol dependence.

Alcohol affects the way that methanol (a congener in alcohol) is metabolised by the body. As stated earlier, methanol breaks down into formaldehyde and formic acid, which are both thought to contribute to the severity of hangovers. Drinking alcohol may prevent this breakdown and thus the formation of formaldehyde and formic acid, therefore enabling methanol itself to be safely excreted by the body.

Supplements like Red Ginseng, Siberian Ginseng, borage oil and prickly pear may have benefits in reducing the extent of a hangover.

All the above suggestions and proven options to help with hangovers are all very well and good. However, the only real way to 100% reduce the risk of a hangover is to drink in moderation and keep up your hydration levels.

First aid for someone who has collapsed from excess alcohol

Ensure you have the skills to look after someone who has collapsed following too much alcohol. It is vital that if someone is unconscious and unable to maintain their own airway, that you put them into the recovery position. In addition, someone should stay with them to ensure they do not asphyxiate on their tongue or vomit.

When someone has consumed so much alcohol that they have collapsed, immediately check that they are breathing and then roll them into the recovery position. This will ensure their airway remains clear. If someone is drunk, it becomes harder for them to maintain their body temperature making them susceptible to hypothermia. If they are outside, bring them in. Alternatively, if you are unable to move them, insulate them from the ground and cover them with a coat or blanket. Keep checking they are breathing and that their airway remains clear, especially if they are vomiting.

The effects of alcohol can also make it harder to assess serious signs and symptoms.

When someone who is drunk bumps their head, they should always be checked by a medical professional. Anyone who has sustained a serious head injury needs to be monitored for at least the next 48 hours to check for any signs of brain injury. This is even more important if they have been drinking or have taken any other substances.

Emma Hammett
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