Via Sullivan yesterday evening—and for no other reason—I'm passing on an old Baffler article about the morning after:
There’s certainly nothing pious or heroic in a hangover. But, trapped in its clutches, you can begin to see it as a wonderful counterbalance, an essential link in the rhythm of life, a stern ebb to an indecorous flow. The hangover is what prompts you to vow, as you fester with your cellmates in that island sanitarium of the demetabolized, “I will never drink again.” Without its vengeful wrath, only guilt would be left to direct us to moderation. For Jack Kerouac, Dylan Thomas, and countless others whose lives met premature and tragic closures, the end may have come even sooner had they never had to cruise the ghastly straits of detoxification. And what of the proud, local folklore of the hangover remedy, or the pathetic morning embrace of the “hair of the dog?” Would the word that has been used so aptly to describe the aftereffects of sprees like Laffer’s 1980s slowly lose its resonance and vanish?
[Kingsley] Amis, the poet laureate of the hangover, was one of the few to fathom its intricacies and divine its transcendent qualities—to find, if you will, the spiritual in the spirits. The hangover, he wrote once, is no mere physical affliction, but a “unique route to self-knowledge and self-realization.” This is usually lost on sufferers of the “physical hangover,” obsessed as they are with feeling fresh again. But as they spend the morning shuffling through the Sunday supplements, unable to finish the simplest articles, drinking tomato juice as the sunlight stalks the living room floor, on come those colossal feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and shame—the metaphysical hangover. The best, and really the only, cure for this condition is to simply acknowledge your physical hangover for what it is, rather than attributing these unsettling thoughts to your job or to your relationship. As Amis puts it, “He who truly believes he has a hangover has no hangover.”
More seriously, it's interesting that medicine still doesn't understand the physiology of hangovers. The best guess is that alcohol (ethanol) metabolizes into acetaldehyde, which affects the way the body uses glucose and water. Drinks also contain varying amounts of methanol, which breaks down into formaldehyde, something you really don't want in your bloodstream.
Preventing hangovers is simple: limit drinking. Water, NSAIDs, and caffeine can reduce hangover symptoms, and there seems to be some truth in the notion that fatty foods can prevent ethanlo absorption in the first place. Otherwise, as ever, moderation works.