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Surviving Hangovers After 21: A Quick Guide

January 1, 2023
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Now that the holiday season is in the rear view, and more winter weather is coming, let's take a moment to consider a winter tradition. No, not that one, I mean drinking. Either because there’s not a lot of entertainment when you're stuck inside, or your in-laws haven’t left yet, there are plenty of benefits to this favored pastime… But it’s not without its pitfalls. 

When you were 21 and your liver would process straight jet fuel, the only downside was your account balance getting lower, and the consequences of your behavior giving your friends something to mock you for in the morning. If that’s you, well… Remember that one day, the bill comes due. On the other hand, for those of us that have made their share of mistakes, here are some wisdoms to help with your recovery. 

Drink It Straight, Like the Good Lord Intended

Adorning many bar menus are the usual suspects, your Moscow Mules, Old Fashioned, your Margaritas. If you want to stay in the game for longer or feel less like you spent the night inside a dumpster, stick to the simple recipes. More specifically, avoid the excess sugar. All the fancy sweetened cocktails have two built in traps, like an L-shaped ambush for your gray matter.

The first is the obvious one; sweet drinks can taste better if you don’t have to deal with the sharpness of alcohol. This makes it a fair likelihood that you’ll drink more than you think you are, so you go way past what you’d normally consider your limit. The second is more insidious. Separate from the hangover from liquor, there is also a sugar hangover. Much like the sickness experienced by children eating half their body weight in candy on Halloween night, all the glucose in those fancy umbrella holding cocktails will cause a secondary sugar hangover to go with the first, doubling the feeling of having been landed on by the whole moon. 

Hydrate or Die

As a Marine, we are taught that the water you drink today you spend tomorrow, so it is vital you remain as hydrated as possible. This applies to imbibing as well, but herein lies the secret. 4 to 6 hours prior to drinking, consume an entire bottle of Pedialyte. (It also comes in powder form now for easy storage.) When you get home, another bottle of Pedialyte, which should already be out where you can get it in your pass out spot.

There is also the play through technique. Four years ago, I saw Iron Maiden in concert. The drummer, Nicko McBrain, was 66 years old at the time, and he’s been on that stage since before I was born. Despite that age and the partying that must have gone with it, McBrain crushed that kit for hours. Between sets I saw the cameras on the stage highlighting the drum pit, and there on the small table text to this beast was a large bottle of whiskey, and a bottle of Pedialyte. When he’d swig one, he would follow with the other. If it’s good enough for that champion, it’s good enough for us.


Eating Is a Placebo, Not a Cure

The majority of people I know seem to believe that once your drink of choice has entered your system, a good way to curb the tide is by eating. Popular choices include carb or grease heavy foods, which at least temporarily seem to work. That majority on the other hand doesn’t have a liquor license like the one in my wallet. The reason those foods seem to get the job done is because the stomach holds them by shutting off the door to your intestines. This is to give your stomach acid more time to process the more difficult to break down vittles… But this procedure also traps the alcohol you keep drinking. So once that burger or those pretzels are broken up, you’re going to get a massive hit of the good stuff. Ever wonder why bar snacks and tapas menus are similar items? 

This is also the source of the “breaking the seal” myth. Sitting on that barstool not really feeling it, and then you stand up and it’s go time? You just opened your pyloric valve, flooding all that joy juice into your absorption tube. Best to stay on your feet for the first drink or three so you aren’t lulled into a false sense of security.

Let’s be honest, you’re always going to pay a price when you imbibe, but that’s rarely stopped anyone from doing so. As a final piece of wisdom, I leave you with this. The benefit of not being 21 anymore is you don’t have to give a shit about destroying your liver to keep up with your friends or to blot out the horror of prior life choices. You’re old enough now to just throw that regret onto the pile and say “what’s next?” Drink what you like when you like, just remember that the bill comes due.

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