That second glass of wine always seems like such a great idea. I’m happy and relaxed, the conversation is just picking up steam, and everyone is laughing and enjoying the evening. Why not keep the party going?
Well, for starters, the second glass doesn’t do what the first one did — at least not any more. Instead of maintaining that happy, glowing buzz all night long, more than one drink pretty well knocks me into slumber-ready mode these days.
And the next day? Oy. My eyeballs creak around in my head as if my retinas had turned to cotton. I can’t tell whether I’m hungry or nauseated, and I wake up weirdly early, even though all I want to do is lie down and pray for more sleep.
Up a Lazy Liver
Although I feel pretty spry, it turns out that after almost 40 years of service, my liver (and yours, too) would like to slow things down for the duration. And that’s too bad, because it’s the liver’s job to break down alcohol into something that’s not going to poison you.
Breaking down alcohol is a two-step process. During the first step, your liver produces acetaldehyde, which is actually way more toxic than the alcohol ever was. When your liver can’t keep up with the amount of alcohol you drink, that particular poison spends more time in your blood stream, causing fun side effects like nausea, dizziness and headaches.
If you feel like you’re being poisoned, it’s because you are — and your slow, old-lady liver can’t come up with the antidote quickly enough.
A Few Inflammatory Remarks
As if it weren’t enough that the toxic acetaldehyde lingers in your system for longer than it used to, your body’s own immune system is letting you down when you have that extra drink. Well, to be fair, the inflammatory response of your immune system is an effort at fighting off the poison you just cheerfully drank, but it makes you feel like crap in the process: If all that achiness and fatigue remind you of the last time you had the flu, it’s because your body is having the same reaction during your hangover as it does when trying to fight off a virus.
Ready for more bad news? The older you get, the worse your inflammatory response is, and the slower you heal from injury and inflammation. All this adds up to a soul-crushing hangover that lingers for so much longer than it used to.
Is There a Cure?
Nope. You’re just going to get older and frailer while your hangovers pick up steam. It looks like the best an almost-40-something person can do is take some preventive measures before imbibing:
Avoid drinking on an empty stomach, which will slow the absorption of alcohol and protect your stomach from the irritation that will bite you back the next morning.
Avoid dark-colored drinks like bourbon, Guinness or (you may want to sit down for this) red wine. These all have higher levels of congeners — chemicals linked to brutal hangovers.
Get a good night’s sleep. There’s a reason for the long tradition of weekend drinking: rest will help you recover.
Take two Ibuprofen and call me in the morning, but only after you’ve choked down some food. NSAIDs will reduce inflammation but shouldn’t be taken on an empty stomach.
As for me, I’m not ready to give up the pleasure of a glass of red any time soon — but you’d better believe there’s an industrial-sized bottle of Advil in my medicine cabinet at the ready.
Elizabeth Trach is a teacher and writer living in Newburyport, MA. She earned her M.A. in Creative Writing at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. She also sings in a band, grows almost all her own food, and occasionally even cooks it.