This time of year is party season and the time to let loose.
Forget work for a while and take advantage of everyone's willingness to deck the halls - meaning, an excuse to booze. Alcohol sales the world over are hitting their year-end high.
Having some drinks is fine but you may end up paying for the excess via that old devil, the hangover. While the best advice is to keep to your limits, here's how a hangover happens.
How hangovers work
When you consume alcohol, it enters the blood stream. Aside from the mild euphoria it induces, the brain's pituitary gland starts to block the creation of the hormone vasopressin. This hormone helps the kidneys to re-absorb water.
When it's blocked, kidneys send water straight to the bladder. This is the reason toilets are so important in a bar.
Studies have found that for every 250ml of alcoholic beverages, 800 - 1,000ml of water is expelled from the body.
The alcohol is absorbed directly through the stomach and can irritate the cells lining it. Alcohol also promotes secretion of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, eventually making the nerves tell the brain that the stomach's contents are hurting the body and must be expelled. And that's when you talk to the great white telephone.
It's not just water you're losing. The frequent urination (and possible vomiting) expels salts and potassium. Lose those, and you may feel nausea and fatigue.
The alcohol can also cause glucose to be expelled from the body. The loss of energy-giving glucose is the reason you'll wake up weak as a kitten the next day.
The morning after, the mouth that feels like it's been coated with sandpaper is the body's way of telling you that it's dehydrated and needs water NOW! The sooner you re-hydrate, the quicker that headache will disappear.
Prevention is better than cure
1. Eat before going out. Fatty foods and carbohydrates will slow the absorption of alcohol, giving your body an easier time processing it.
2. Watch your congeners. Congener is the scientific term for impurities in alcoholic drinks. The darker the drink - red wine, beer - the more congeners, and the more likely you'll get a hangover from them.
3. Drink a pint of water before bed. Above all, stay hydrated.
Beware the binge
The Health Promotion Board puts the number of standard drinks in one session that constiutes binge drinking is 5+ for men, 4+ for women.
Drinking should be done in moderation. Continued binge drinking can have serious effects on your health, increasing risk of stroke, liver and kidney disease, high-blood pressure, alcohol poisoning, ulcers, heart disorders, depressions and skeletal muscle damage.
This article was first published in The New Paper.