As reported by the Danbury News-Times, December 26, 2008.

Hung Over, Again?

By Robert Miller

"A real hangover is nothing to try out family remedies on. The only cure for a real hangover is death.''

-- American humorist Robert Benchley

New Year's Eve is upon us, the time for a real whopper -- beer by the keg, wine by the cask, champagne by the magnum. There's no question about that, right?

Unless, of course, you contemplate beforehand what you will feel like the next day, when you wake with a groggy, brutal headache, with a body that can only move in slow motion, and a mind that cannot concentrate on anything -- words, music, the entreaties of loved ones about getting up sometime before noon -- without whimpering or snarling or both.

There's an easy solution to this.

"If you don't drink, you won't get a hangover,'' said Dr. Peter Rostenberg, a New Fairfield internal medicine physician who specializes in addiction medicine. "If you don't drink fast, you won't get a hangover."

"If you do drink, don't drink a lot,'' said Dr. Henry Kranzler, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine in Farmington, and the associate director of its Alcohol Research Center.

This is useless advice to people intent on a New Year's Eve binge. If you are young and foolish -- or middle-aged and foolish, or a really foolish senior citizen -- your answer to the doctors will probably be, "Look. It's only a hangover.''

And to some extent, you may be right.

"There hasn't been a lot of research done on hangovers, partly because they are self-limiting," Kranzler said. "A hangover is like the common cold. It's discomforting, but it's not that big of a deal."

That's because hangovers don't hurt anyone but the person suffering from one. It's when people are drunk that they start fights and crash cars.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 54 people died in traffic accidents between 6 p.m. on New Year's Eve 2006 and 5:59 the following morning. Over the same 12-hour period two weeks later, there were 20 deaths.

"Accidents are far more concerning than hangovers," Kranzler said.

Likewise, long-term excess truly does damage the body and the brain.

"Chronic heavy drinking is associated with the loss of both brain structure and brain function," Kranzler said. "Alcohol can be toxic."

The short-term symptoms of a hangover may be due to those toxic effects. Kranzler said enzymes in the digestive system break alcohol into a substance known as acetaldehyde before converting it to acetic acid and calories. Acetaldehyde is toxic, so having more of it in your body may make you feel ill.

Kranzler said that's how the drug Antabuse, used to help treat alcoholism, works. It blocks the conversion of acetaldehyde into amino acids, which causes flushing, nausea, sweating and discomfort. Some people lack the gene that produces those enzymes, and they cannot stomach alcohol, he said.

Alcohol may also disrupt the digestive process in the liver, slowing the delivery of glucose. Because glucose is the body's source of energy, that may explain why you feel so beat after a big party.

Kranzler said alcohol disturbs the sleep cycle. That may be another reason you wake feeling so tired after serious drinking -- that, and staying up to 3 a.m.

Alcohol also brings dehydration. It causes the kidneys to stop reabsorbing water. At a certain point, that dehydration begins to reach your brain, causing it to shrink and pull away from the walls of your skull. This may explain the killer headaches people experience when they wake up after getting drunk.

Alcohol can also irritate the lining of the stomach. Because it's a depressant, it may influence your mood while you are drinking and the day after, while that depressant leaves your system.

And finally, alcohol contains substances called congeners that create its taste and aroma. Red wine has more congeners than white wine. Bourbon or Scotch have more than vodka. These congeners may also contribute to a hangover.

The ways to prevent a hangover may be as simple as drinking in moderation, if at all, and pacing yourself.

It may be useful to hang out with people who do the same.

Rostenberg, of New Fairfield, points to a piece written by Susan Cheever about how environment -- where and with whom you drink -- matters.

"Maybe environment is the elephant in the room," Cheever wrote. "In an environment where it is not attractive to get drunk, no one gets drunk."

"Maybe it depends on how old you are," Rostenberg said. "If you're with a party with people who are 50 years old and only one person gets drunk, it's that person who will make a fool of himself."