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The Science of a Hangover: How to Minimize That New Year’s Day Headache

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CBS St. Louis (con't)

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We’ve all been there. The ball drops and we get a little carried away with the festivities. If this sounds like you read on…

CBS News medical contributor Dr. David Agus discussed the science behind hangovers and how to ease the pain on “CBS This Morning”.

Agus explained that a hangover is not a singular reaction to alcohol, but is instead caused by multiple processes happening in your body at once.

“When you drink alcohol, your body metabolizes the acetaldehyde (a chemical created when alcohol is broken down by the liver) and that builds up in the body and doesn’t make you feel good,” he said.

Ways to reduce your risk

Some liquors are worse than others: “Congeners are something that’s in liquors — especially the colored ones,” he said. “So, you have more of a chance of a hangover with the colored liquors. For example, bourbon and scotch are worse than vodka. Red wine, a little bit worse than white.”

Watch what you drink and how much you drink: Agus said you need to drink “lots of fluids” beforehand to prevent a hangover. He suggested sports drinks, coconut water and regular water as the best types of fluids. “Alcohol is a diuretic, so every glass of alcohol you drink, you pee out three to four times that much, so you dehydrate yourself.”

Pain relievers are OK: “Maybe take some aspirin or some ibuprofen, both of which can block the inflammatory components of what happens when you drink alcohol,” he said. “You may want to avoid Tylenol, because alcohol and Tylenol are double whammy on the liver.”

Alcohol is a depressant: so drinking the beverage will make you tired. But when you fall asleep you’ll eventually get a rebound in energy from a hormone called epinephrine (adrenaline), which he says, “will screw up your sleep.”

Unfortunately for older folks hangovers are worse, as is the impact of liquor on the body.

“As we all get older, we don’t metabolize alcohol as much and also, we take a lot of other medicines as we get older and alcohol can interfere with those medicines,” he said. “Alcohol can also have an effect on the heart, so as you get older, we want to drink a little bit less and try to avoid those binges that can cause a hangover.”

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