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Some thoughts on why bad hangovers happen to good people



New Year’s Day.

The old calendar, a mix of good days and bad days, gets thrown into the fire. The new calendar is a blank slate with 365 empty spaces waiting to be filled. It’s an ending, a beginning, and the perfect opportunity to take stock of your life, make changes, and become the kind of person you always wanted to be.

Although there was nothing stopping you from making lasting resolutions in Mid-July, there is a symbolism and sentimentality to New Year’s that somehow makes those changes more meaningful.

Too bad you got off to the New Year on the wrong foot. Like millions of other Canadians, you will probably start the New Year with a hangover – a tongue you could sandpaper the floors with, breath that could set fire to your sheets, and a head pounding like those marching hammers from Pink Floyd’s The Wall .

Dying is not an option, and neither is going back in time to one in the morning and knocking the glass out of your hand. The only thing you can do is to take care of the symptoms and wait it out.

Before you reach for the ice pack, however, it’s important to understand just what a hangover is, how you got it, and why one cure may work better than another.

According to Whistler’s Dr. Tom DeMarco, a hangover is not a specific symptom, but a variety of different symptoms. Alcohol affects a number of different systems, most of which are part of your greater central nervous system. Alcohol also dehydrates you, and loads up your internal organs with toxins. Since a hangover is actually a combination of symptoms, it has to be treated by a combination of cures.

The important thing to realize is that alcohol is a powerful drug, as evidenced by that impromptu break dance session on the coffee table and the phone call to your ex-girlfriend at four in the morning. Like all powerful drugs, there are going to be withdrawal effects when you come down. That leads to the shakes, an inability to concentrate, and a high degree of irritability.

One way to treat this symptom is to take a small dose of alcohol, thereby easing yourself off the drug. There are a whole slew of so called "breakfast drinks" or "Hair of the Dog" remedies that were created with this in mind, such as the Redeye and the Greyhound.

Since alcohol is an inhibitor of inhibitions, dulling your senses and sensibilities as the evening progresses, a hangover sufferer experience a rebound effect where lights are brighter, sounds are louder, and smells are damn near overpowering.

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