A hangover is nature’s way of telling you that you have overdone the electric sauce. Seasoned topers will have their own tried and tested antidote to a hangover, some more effective than others, but the sobering fact is that that feeling of being under par will remain with you for some hours once your blood alcohol concentration gets down to zero or as close to zero as its ever going to get. The American humourist, Robert Benchley, probably got it spot on when he opined that “the only cure for a real hangover is death.”
When drinkers reconvene after a heavy session, the subject of the intensity of their respective hangovers will tend to crop up, once a refreshing drink or three has sufficiently lubricated the brain to allow the faculty of cogent speech to return. The problem is, though, that descriptions tend to be subjective and for anyone who is looking for objective metrics, they are too vague to be of any use. Would that there was a scale by which the intensity of hangovers could be measured and compared.
One of my favourite comic writers, P G Wodehouse, plied his mind to the subject in The Mating Season, published in 1949. He wrote “I am told by those who know that there are six varieties of hangover—the Broken Compass, the Sewing Machine, the Comet, the Atomic, the Cement Mixer and the Gremlin Boogie, and his manner suggested that he had got them all.” We can understand where he is coming from but for the seeker of exactitude, they are too woolly to be of much use.
Where there is a gap in human knowledge, it is good to know that there are some wonderful men and women in white coats, scientists, working away to plug it. I rarely glance at the pages of Psychopharmacology, my loss I’m sure, but my attention was directed to a paper, published in September 2012, in which six academics, four from Utrecht University and the other two from the Universities of Ulster and Groningen, in which they proposed an Alcohol Hangover Severity Scale, or AHSS as we like to call it.
I don’t know about you but I often find academic papers to be a mélange of the blindingly obvious and the incomprehensible and this one is no different. The introduction opens with a sentence, complete with references (natch), of the most mind-numbing banality; “alcohol hangover is the most commonly reported consequence of heavy drinking.” But after what can only be described as an early stumble, the paper became quite interesting.
A group of 214 social drinkers, drawn from university workers and students from Utrecht University, were asked to complete an online survey the morning after a night of heavy drinking, I can’t imagine they had a shortage of volunteers, and a night of abstinence. There was no restriction on how much they consumed or where or what they did whilst drinking, for example dancing or smoking, but they were disqualified if they had taken recreational drugs. It was the Netherlands, after all.
The volunteers marked the severity of their hangover against a number of criteria using a ten-point scale and then marked those symptoms on the morning after night without a sip of the electric sauce. The mean results of the group were that they had 2.5 hangovers a month and that their latest hangover saw them consume 10.6 alcoholic beverages and had 6.4 hours of shut-eye. The results were then put through a series of analyses.
The upshot was that there were twelve factors that significantly predicted the severity of a hangover. For the record, they are, all painfully familiar, fatigue, clumsiness, dizziness, apathy, sweating, shivering, confusion, stomach pain, nausea, concentration problems, heart pounding and thirst. Interestingly, they found that a headache, the usual sign that you have a hangover, was not a factor in establishing the intensity of a hangover.
Their conclusion was that you could construct a scale, the AHSS, using these twelve criteria and a ten-point scoring system. Simply add up the scores you have allocated to each criterion and divide by twelve to give you your metric. Armed with this you can compare and contrast the intensity of your hangover with fellow topers.
I will give it a try, all in the name of science, you understand.