Congeners are chemicals produced as an unintended consequence of a desired chemical reaction. For example, when fermenting sugars, the desired result may be ethyl alcohol, but along the way other chemicals are inevitably produced as well. These congeners include substances that are, basically, poison, including acetone and acetaldehyde.
Congeners are important because they’re one of the causes of hangover. I say “one of” because hangovers are complicated things, and while you can avoid some of the causes of hangover you can’t avoid all of them, and the hardest to deal with once they’re in your system are the congeners.
The Mayo Clinic, which you’d think would have better things to think about, has published a kind of online guide to hangovers that forms the basis of what’s to follow. No promises, but if you follow this advice tomorrow’s not going to suck as much as it will if you don’t.
Drink white stuff. Remember congeners? Because there’s not a lot you can do about them once they’re in your system, the best strategy is to keep them out. Because of differences in production processes, they’re more prevalent in dark alcoholic beverages than light. Red wine, for example, has more congeners in it than white wine. That should direct your beverage choices. I, personally, advise a good Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine, but you’re safe with vodka, too. Though, to be honest, that’s not as festive as sparkling wine.
Hydrate. Drink not only whatever it is you’re drinking, but water, too. Drink water consistently over the course of the night, and have a nice tumbler before you hit the hay. Dehydration is what causes the dizziness often associated with hangover, and it contributes to the muscle aches, too. By hydrating along the way, you can make the morning after a whole lot better. Also, it might keep you from drinking so much the night before.
Eat. Alcohol irritates the lining of your stomach and lowers your blood sugar, causing — respectively — nausea and a lack of energy. Sound familiar, hangover aficionados? Of course it does; upset stomach and lack of energy are two of the main characteristics of hangover. You can head them off by snacking on bland, carbo-intensive foods as you drink, and topping the night off with a waffle wouldn’t be such a bad idea, either.
Take a pain reliever before you go to bed. Alcohol causes blood vessels to expand which, within the confines of your presumably rigid skull, gives you a headache. Don’t take Tylenol or any other acetaminophen-based pain reliever, because they’re metabolized in the liver and your liver is getting enough of a workout for one night. Advil or aspirin, which are metabolized in the kidneys, are your best bet. Unfortunately, both of those are irritating to the lining of the stomach, which you’ve already irritated by drinking. The solution? Take your recommended dose before you go to sleep, while your stomach is full of those carbs you’ve been munching. The carbs will mitigate the stomach-upsetting aspects of the Advil or aspirin and delay the absorption of the medication into your system so that it’s there in the morning when you really need it.
Sleep. Seriously. It’s in the morning that congeners do their dirty work. While you can hydrate and snack and take aspirin, there’s not really a lot you can do about the generally bad feeling congeners give you. Time is the only cure, so spend as much of that time as you can asleep or close to it. Don’t get up for a cup of coffee, which will stimulate you but wreak havoc with your stomach. Don’t run out for a Grand Slam Breakfast, which will overload your already overloaded system. And for heaven’s sake don’t fall for that “hair of the dog” crap, which is like using fire to cure a burn. Have a glass of water, maybe a slice of toast or two, and crawl back under the covers.
After all, there’s no reason to hurry; you’ve got all year.