“I have always lived violently, drunk hugely, eaten too much or not at all, slept around the clock or missed two nights of sleeping, worked too hard and too long in glory, or slobbed for a time in utter laziness. I’ve lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not as a punishment.” —John Steinbeck from Travels With Charley
These words are the most honest assessment I’ve seen of the perils and pleasures of what I call The Life Gigantic. And that last bit—about hangovers being a consequence rather than a punishment—has helped sustain me through many a morning curled up next to the toilet on a cold bathroom floor, shaking, sweating and swearing to all that is good and holy that I would never. Ever. Drink. Again.
After several many years of indulging in the adult beverages that provide my livelihood I’ve come to understand that while you are suffering the ill effects of over-consumption, the urge to promise yourself you’ll never drink again is often overwhelming. But for incorrigible louts and pleasure-seekers like myself, “I’m done with booze” is to drinking what “just the tip” is to one-night stands—a lie, and one that should be dispensed with, provided everyone in the room is prepared to act like an adult. Which is to say, admit that they like to drink and fuck far too much to stop anytime soon.
Of course, there’s more to surviving a wicked hangover than resisting false promises and memorizing passages from lesser-known Steinbeck novels. For instance, anyone who regularly awakens with five angry midgets playing grabass behind their eyeballs is familiar with the following checklist: Wallet, cellphone, car keys, hat, pants, outgoing cellphone call log. But after you’ve secured the basics, it’s time to do something about the midgets—sorry, little people—and their horrible, horrible games.
In other words, you need to learn how to effectively counteract the unpleasant physiological effects of acetaldehyde, the hangover-inducing substance that alcohol becomes after holding court in your liver for a while. For the sake of argument, we’re going to ignore the fact that it’s in the practicing imbiber’s best interest to prevent a hangover from occurring in the first place by taking common-sense steps such as avoiding brown liquors and sweet booze (let alone mixing browns or sweets), downing a glass of water after every other alcoholic beverage, eating greasy food prior to drinking (to slow down the rate of alcohol absorption) and—yawn—moderation.
For the sake or reality we’re also going to acknowledge that when strong drink is involved, you using hangover-prevention measures is about as likely as you remembering you’re married. But believe me, I’m the last person to judge you when your stomach feels like the bathrooms in Grand Central Station. As far as I’m concerned, any tut-tutting just means the little people have won. Fear not. I have hard-earned, lab-tested solutions for you. Here is what you must do.
1. Don’t Panic
When in the throes of a particularly acute hangover—say, one precipitated by excessive consumption of Jägermeister—it’s possible that some parts of your body may claim temporary independence. The key is to remain calm and ride it out. Remind yourself that your right eye has its reasons for not opening, and that your left hand will almost certainly be able to grasp things again tomorrow. In rare instances your bowels may go rogue. If that happens then you’re beyond my help. Pray to god you’re in a hotel room with enough cash in your wallet for a hail mary tip and chalk it up as fodder for a future biopic.
2. Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em (and have nothing else to do that day)
If legendary stoner Jeff Spicoli taught us anything in that memorable scene from Fast Times at Ridgemont High — in which he gleefully whacks himself in the skull with a checkered Vans shoe—it’s that getting baked makes you virtually invulnerable to head trauma. I mean, seriously, if cancer patients use the sticky icky to mitigate the ill effects of chemotherapy, what chance does a hangover have?
There are many theories regarding the origin of the phrase “hair of the dog” as a metaphor for a hangover treatment, but they all amount to the same thing. You’re going to get drunk again so you can avoid feeling the after-effects of getting drunk. A wonderful long-term strategy. See you at Betty Ford. But the dirty secret of this method is that it works. Just bear in mind that the trick is to drink enough to cure the hangover, but not get hangover-worthy again. You’re aiming for nap-worthy here. Get really drunk and you will experience the Double Hangover. And friends, I know the Double Hangover. I work with the Double Hangover. You do not want the Double Hangover.
Disclaimers aside, though, those with an uncommonly well-stocked bar should go for a curative shot of the bitter digestif Fernet-Branca. Best tool for the job by a mile. For those who prefer the classics, there’s always the mother of all morning-after drinks, The Bloody Mary. This libation was invented almost 80 years ago at New York City’s St. Regis Hotel, and the good folks at the St. Regis’s King Cole bar were kind enough to provide us with their original recipe for the “Red Snapper” they still serve there. To wit:
1 oz. vodka
2 oz. tomato juice
1 dash lemon juice
2 dashes salt
2 dashes black pepper
2 dashes cayenne pepper
3 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously. Strain over ice cubes. Garnish with a lemon wedge.
Now, the proportions here are dainty (double ’em), and we prefer a celery stalk (and celery salt and Tabasco if you’re asking). That said, we completely understand if all you have in your fridge is Cheese Whiz and mustard. Basically, if it’s booze and you can keep it down, drink it. If that means 3 parts vodka, 1 part prayer, shaken over ice, I’m not going to call the cocktail police on you.
Water will grab the bad stuff out of your bloodstream, allowing you to pee out the poison. So drink tons of liquids, maybe pop a few analgesic tablets for good measure. Then, poste-haste, you should…
5. Have Sex
Ideally with someone besides yourself. It won’t be the best lay of your life, but it’ll get the blood pumping and increase the amount of pain-killing oxygen in the body. In lieu of a willing partner, you can always take matters into your own hand. Now wash up and follow it up with a heaping plate of…
6. Bacon, Eggs and Toast
First off, yum. Second off, bacon and eggs are full of protein, which breaks down into amino acids. You need those. Third off, bacon has grease. Your stomach wants a little greasy love right now. Fourth off, toast is starch, and your stomach wants something to soak its horribleness into. And if you’re having all that, you should probably toss in a little…
The magical caffeine inside it will constrict the blood vessels in your brain, making them hurt less. I don’t know why this works, but it does. And on the same principle that makes me recommend a…
8. Cold Shower
Cold also constricts your blood vessels, but without drugs. Thanks cold!
If you’ve had coffee, pot, booze, water, sex, bacon and a cold shower and are still hungover, it’s time to kick something really hard. Turns out that if you break your pinky toe, the pain in your foot will make the headache and nausea seem like a walk in the park. Then again, actually walking in the park will be problematic for a little while. But walking is overrated. And not walking leaves more time for drinking. Which, I might remind you, is how I get paid. It’s consequence, not punishment. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.
Dan Dunn’s book Living Loaded: Tales of Sex, Salvation and the Pursuit of the Never-Ending Happy Hour is now available. Follow Dan on Twitter and Facebook, and hear him on The Imbiber Show podcast.