How to Handle (or Avoid) a Hangover

Chances are you've experienced it at least once -- studies say 75 percent of adults have. Veisalgia, or what we more commonly call a hangover, is one of the more persuasive negative side-effects of overindulging. The French have my favorite term for it, "Gueule de bois," which translates loosely to "wood face."

Most adults can handle between one and three drinks a night -- depending on their age, weight, and sex -- without feeling the nasty morning-after effect. Those who do overindulge though, as is very common around the holidays (especially the upcoming New Year's Eve, aka "amateur night"), are likely to experience dehydration, nausea, headache or worse. This is due mostly to alcohol's ability to inhibit the pituitary gland from causing the production of vasopressin, an antidiuretic hormone. Without this chemical, your kidneys tend to pass water directly to the bladder instead of absorbing it into the body, thus the dehydration. This also causes you to lose sodium, potassium and glycogen, which is what brings on the nausea, the weakness and the headaches. Those headaches are helped along by alcohol's ability to enlarge blood vessels.

The exhaustion often is the result of something called a "glutamine rebound." Alcohol inhibits the body's production of this natural stimulant, then after you stop drinking and go to bed, the body tries to make up for the loss, producing a stimulant while you try to sleep, thus keeping you from reaching the deepest and most helpful stages of sleep.

Certain types of alcohol can cause worse symptoms. Generally speaking, the darker drinks -- red wine, brown liquor, dark beer -- have more of something called "cogeners" that can accentuate hangover symptoms. And although it's not true that clear liquor has fewer calories than brown, they do have fewer cogeners. Bubbles can have an effect, too: The carbonation in beer and sparkling wine speeds alcohol absorbtion.

So what to do if this happens to you? Well, first a few things that don't work: over-the-counter anti-hangover pills, black coffee, burnt toast and "hair of the dog." Those sketchy-looking pill packs on the impulse-buy racks in the convenience store, to the extent that they work at all, work only because they get you to drink a lot more water, which is in fact helpful. The caffeine in coffee might help the headache a little, but it also is a diuretic, adding to the dehydration problem. And hair of the dog? Well, it should be plain that more of what got you sick will only make you sicker.

The best thing to do, besides avoiding getting drunk in the first place, is to eat a large, fatty meal beforehand, drink plenty of water during your escapades (a large glass after every alcoholic drink should do it), and eat right the next morning. Eggs are truly helpful because they have something called "cysteine," a substance that can break down the hangover-causing toxin acetaldehyde in the liver. Also, bananas and kiwi fruit are high in potassium, something your body is screaming for when you have "wood face."

I wouldn't feel right about giving you a recipe for a banana omlette, so let's go the other way. In New Orleans, where many still believe in the idea of the hair of the dog, they've concocted a whole class of cocktails for the purpose, called "Corpse Revivers."

Here's my favorite, and Happy New Year!

Corpse Reviver

¾ oz. Plymouth Gin
¾ oz. Cointreau
¾ oz. Lillet Blanc
¾ oz. Lemon juice
Absinthe (Herbsaint)

Shake all the ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled coupe or Martini glass rinsed with the absinthe.