Alcohol, Headaches and Hangovers

In a recent study of college students, participants on average experienced five of 13 symptoms, with headache, extreme thirst and dehydration, and fatigue being the most common. A family history of alcohol abuse made the study participants more vulnerable to the most severe effects. Curiously, women generally had higher hangover scores than men did.

What You Can Do

Best advice -- don't drink.

Second best advice -- do the following:

   Before drinking, hydrate with both clear water and sports drinks that contain sugar and important minerals and salts. Avoid too much plain water.

   Before drinking, eat fat-containing foods and those with high carbohydrate content. These ingredients slow absorption of alcohol and other ingredients from the stomach.

   Avoid sugar supplements that increase the speed of alcohol absorption.

   Drink slowly, sipping the drink, and minimize the amount of total intake.

   For those who have the soon-after headaches, drink "headache-safe" beverages, such as white wine and crystal-clear, light liquor.

   To prevent the effects of the hangover, if you can do so safely, take anti-inflammation agents, such as ibuprofen, naproxen or mefenamic acid before drinking.

If soon-after or hangover headaches do occur, treat them with anti-inflammatory agents (you must wait several hours if you took such an agent in advance of drinking) or an anti-migraine agent if you have them available.

Rehydrate with water and sports drinks. You must avoid narcotic-containing painkillers or any ingredient containing acetaminophen, most commonly known as Tylenol. Alcohol can make those drugs deadly.

Also, acetaminophen-containing products may cause serious liver damage when mixed with alcohol, reactions that are sometimes fatal.

These steps can help. Enjoy the holidays, but be smart and be careful.

Joel R. Saper, M.D., a board-certified neurologist, is founder and director of the Michigan Head-Pain and Neurological Institute in Ann Arbor, Mich., a private, international treatment and research center.

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