I don’t want to offend you. I won’t make assumptions about your behaviour; you may be reading this after hot yoga, while eating a bowl of yogurt, berries and toasted flax seeds. If so, I salute your self-control and energy, if not your appalling taste in breakfasts.
I, however, know exactly where I’ll be for most of December. I’ll be slumped on the sofa, surrounded by empty packets of milk thistle and Alka-Seltzer, pleading for tea, bacon, full-fat Coke and chocolate. Preferably all blitzed up in the Nutribullet (finally, a use for it!), and administered directly into my bloodstream via an intravenous drip.
‘Why?’ you may ask. ‘Why are you in this pathetic state, Tony? Lying there watching Come Dine With Me repeats.’ Well, because it’s the Christmas and New Year party season and, inevitably, I’ll have over-indulged. I’ll have made merry with my old mates Bacchus and Silenus (the god of beer), and, ignoring my own safe-drinking rules, I’ll have roared headlong into a killer hangover.
But, please, take heed of my stupidity. Learn from my mistakes, as I share with you my (Usually) Golden Rules of (Potentially) Hangover-Free Drinking.
Don’t drink stressed
I’ve no peer-reviewed scientific evidence for this, but I have undertaken years of empirical research by rushing to the pub on a Friday evening after a manic day at work, downing the first two drinks super-quick in order to catch up with my friends, and waking up the next morning feeling like an ice-pick has been driven through my skull. Drink stressed and, I’m convinced, you’ll cultivate the mother of all pseudo-migraines.
Fail to prepare and prepare to fail
Water, milk thistle, multivitamins, a small but carb-heavy meal mid-afternoon, these are all essential to warding off a Walking Dead hangover. For me, at least. Some of that has a scientific basis (the carbs), but I imagine the placebo effect is important, too. I’ve done all I can to look after myself. Now it’s in the lap of the gods.
Step away from the cocktail shaker
Pre-dinner cosmos and martinis are lethal, particularly if eating at home with friends, where the free-poured measures could stun an ox. Prior to an evening’s eating and drinking do you really need that initial, distilled grain power-surge? I don’t want to use an ugly phrase, but, essentially, you’re pre-loading. Like 18-year-old clubbers. Only with much nicer glassware.
A small mix up
‘Beer on wine, feel fine/ wine on beer, feel the fear,’ is an article of faith that has no basis in scientific fact. The toxicity of ethanol and its immediate by-product acetaldehyde is the primary cause of a hangover, not the order or combination of your drinks. But, still, I can’t help but think that it’s best to not mix your drinks. For a start, there are certain drinks that, simply, don’t agree with you (see below). Moreover, there’s some evidence that mixing the congeners (chemical compounds that give alcoholic drinks their colour and flavour; usually more prevalent in darker drinks), may intensify your hangover, particularly symptoms such as an upset stomach. My advice? Find your least-worst poison and stick to it.
My body is a (ruined) temple…
I love a glass of dry, flinty chablis, but increasingly, I avoid all white wine. Why? Because, occasionally, even after a couple of small glasses, I experience a peculiar kind of tension, giddiness, heart palpitations even, that can morph, next day, into a mortal, sleep-deprived hangover. I have no idea why. It can’t be the sulphites (the preservatives in white wine frequently blamed for allergic headaches and asthma-like symptoms), because I only have that reaction to a minority of white wines, but, nonetheless, certain wines do something to me. We all have our alcoholic Achilles heel. Avoid yours.
Don’t drink absinthe…
Supposedly, the Green Fairy was the downfall of fin de siècle Paris due to the hallucinatory qualities of thujone, an active compound in the ingredient wormwood. This is actually cobblers – or les cobblers, as they say in France – as the thujone levels in absinthe have always been negligibly low. But at around 70% proof, it’s still loony juice. I once saw a friend of mine, a normally taciturn bloke, allow a girl to ‘paint’ his fingernails with a biro, in a bar, after two glasses of absinthe. You’ve been warned.
Shot in the dark
If you’re ever in a situation where someone yells, ‘Right! Let’s get the shots in!’, it’s time to go home. You’d only consider downing liquids as vile as sambuca or Jägermeister if you were already very drunk. Remember that, grab your coat. Save yourself.
Think of this as the home-bird’s upmarket version of shots. It’s late, all the mainstream alcohol is finished, and so, desperate to extend the party, you start emptying the cupboards of all those exotic foreign spirits accumulated over various holidays (ouzo, limoncello, a dusty bottle of Benedictine, that 80% Austrian Stroh that you once drank for a bet).
Suddenly, it’s a competition to see who can stomach Europe’s worst woody, herbal liqueurs. Indeed, the flavours are so bracing that, momentarily, you feel exhilaratingly sober. Trust me, that won’t last.
The espresso martini/ Irish coffee axis of idiocy
The one thing that could make all that alcohol worse, at this late hour? Caffeine.
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