Dear Science,

My head hurts. I feel like barfing. Why do people get hangovers? How can I make this never happen to me again and keep drinking?

Too Sick To Make Up A Name

Out of solidarity, Science also has a hangover. Judge me not, reader—endlessly researching your questions about climate change, failed AIDS vaccines, and poisoned foods has left me with no recourse but to drink heavily. For those of you not crawling out of a bottle right now, let's recap the hangover experience: a splitting headache and angry stomach matched with soreness in every limb. The brain drags along, filled with feelings of wretched misery. Light and sound make things worse, much worse. Copious vomiting only occasionally relieves this motley collection of symptoms. In sum: This is the perfect physical state to contemplate the rapidly arriving end of the world.

How'd this happen? Well, in 2000, Al Gore, coming off one of the longest eras of peace and prosperity, ran the most inept political campaign in modern history—matched only by John Kerry in 2004. As a result, a half-formed, semisentient troglodyte has had the opportunity to pay off his cronies through the steady decline of a once-great nation.

Oh, you mean medically?

Alcohol strips the body of water and salts, mostly by aggravating the kidneys. The stomach also doesn't take kindly to being pickled. The liver, furiously busy trying to process away the alcohol, doesn't have as much time to maintain blood sugar. All of these things contribute to the misery, but the way we get rid of alcohol is the real culprit. Your body quickly turns the alcohol (relatively harmless itself) into aldehyde—not so harmless, the same chemical family used to preserve dead bodies—and only slowly turns the aldehyde into really harmless acid. It's not the wisest process. Make the poison quickly; get rid of it slowly. Thanks, intelligent designer!

What is a committed drinker to do? Fluids. Convince a doctor or nurse friend to give you an IV. If your salvation must be by mouth, water alone won't cut it. Drink a liter of Pedialyte—find it in the infant section, used to treat children with massive diarrhea—or make Pedialyte yourself (eight teaspoons of table sugar, one teaspoon of salt, and a splash of orange juice in a quart of water), and you'll be happier in the morning. It works for cholera victims and it can work for you. If you find yourself getting hangovers regularly, it's time to think about cutting back on the drinking.

When all else fails, Science recommends a cup of coffee and some aspirin.

Queasily Yours, Science

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