Benign Boozing


Clearly, the title of this blogpost is somewhat of a misnomer. Alcohol, at least in the quantities usually downed at this time of year, is anything but benign and won’t do much to enhance your overall health. That said, if you’re anything like me, you may have indulged a little too much in the demon drink during the festive period so far. With Christmas Day only a glass of mulled wine or two away, you might welcome a few tips on how to avoid horrendous hangovers.

Yes, we are all fully aware of the fact that the best way to avoid a hangover is to ‘drink in moderation’ – but the party season doesn’t really lend itself to reigning oneself in, does it? You start the evening full of steely resolve to have ‘just a few’ and end it dishevelled and dissolute. Not surprising really – one of the key effects of the alcohol is to weaken your self-discipline. So first and foremost, manage your expectations and accept the fact that you are probably going to overdo it at some point (or several) during the festive period. Look at your diary and pick your battles. Choose a few engagements where you will take the temperance straitjacket off and then attempt to take a more virtuous stance on the remaining occasions. Whether your achieve your planned hangover-to-halo ratio is not as important as keeping the following points in mind:

It really does pay to ‘line your stomach’; food slows down alcohol metabolism. This doesn’t mean that you won’t feel the effects of alcohol, but they will kick in more slowly than they otherwise would. The best pre-festivity food is a combination of protein and fat. A good example would be a salad, dressed with olive oil, and topped with a generous portion of smoked or cooked salmon and avocado. If you’re not at home and need to grab something on the go then you could pick up some sashimi and a bag of nuts. Once you’ve eaten, drink a large glass of water – hydration is anathema to hangovers.

So now it’s time for a tipple, and it can be done in a relatively damage-limiting way. Your first weapon is picking your drinks wisely – the ‘cleanest’ drink would be a clear spirit, ideally a single measure, mixed with soda water or sparkling mineral water. A personal favourite of mine is vodka with sparkling water and a generous splash of freshly-squeezed lime over ice. If I make this my drink of choice for the night then I rarely pay a heavy price the next day. If you’re not a fan of the vodka / water combo then the next best choice would be wine, but if you go down this route then stick to wine throughout the evening. Copious amounts of wine along with other drinks seem to intensify hangovers. Cocktails, which are invariably sugar-laden, are my least favourite option but whatever you go for, order a glass of water along with every drink and be sure to drink it before the next round comes your way.

Be merry
If there’s a dance-floor, hit it. The Devil makes work for idle hands and if those hands are engaged in helping you to showcase your fancy footwork then there will be less opportunity to grasp glass after glass of the hard stuff. If dancing opportunities are lacking, make an effort to chat to new people. Hopefully the conversation will be so entertaining that you won’t be seeking constant refills. Don’t avoid the canapés if there are any going around either.

Go home
In my experience, there is a witching hour when it comes to drinking at parties. This is the point when you could easily go home – you’ve had a good innings, you’re merry, even quite drunk, but still in possession of your faculties. Go home! Staying beyond this point often means that you will stay until the bitter end, and ignominy and a hellish headache the morning after are the usual outcomes. Once indoors, drink a generous glass of water before going to bed.

Breakfast like a king
Have a substantial breakfast the morning after. Breakfast like a king – a king who likes eggs. Eggs are a great anti-hangover food because they contain cysteine which breaks down acetaldehyde, a toxic by-product of alcohol consumption. A protein and fat-rich meal including eggs should stand you in good stead until lunchtime.

Get outside
It’s tempting to keep your sore head spot-welded to your pillow, draw your duvet up around your shoulders and wait for the booze revenge to subside. Don’t – get outside and walk, even if it’s for a few minutes. Breathing deeply in fresh air will help oxygen get to your cells and raise your energy levels. The exercise from walking will help to stabilise your blood sugar, which might have gone a little haywire because of the previous night’s alcoholic onslaught.

At-home festivities
Much of the above holds equally true if the revelry is home-based, as it tends to be on Christmas Day. Skip the breakfast Bucks Fizz and start on the alcohol no earlier than Christmas Lunch. Once you’ve broken the seal, as it were, try to be diligent about pacing yourself. You can down a lot more alcohol sitting indoors from early afternoon until the small hours than you can at an office party kicking off at around 7pm and ending at midnight. Keep punctuating your drinkfest with lots of water, drag the relatives out for a bracing stroll at some point during proceedings despite their protestations, and don’t beat yourself up if it all ends with the room spinning and blurry reality mocking your good intentions. Just languish in a soft-focus, alcohol-induced haze and resolve to drink more sensibly next year, knowing full well that you almost certainly won’t.

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