The state of Wisconsin has long served as the national focal point of all things dairy. However, Wisconsin is also the epicenter of another American food culture niche, and that is alcohol.
My oh my, do people in Wisconsin love to drink. I live the capitol city of Madison and, at least once every weekend, I see snapshot of that state-bred love, either through an embarrassingly sloshed University of Wisconsin undergraduate or a too-tipsy townie. When I found out the actual statistics— that Wisconsin has the highest percentage of drinkers in the population and that, person for person, the state has three times more taverns than anywhere else in the country—I hardly blinked.
Still, I’ll admit that sometimes I find Madison’s hyper-boozing culture to be intimidating. At a lot of college parties, my three-drink limit is everyone else’s warm-up drill, and I’ve met more than a few Badgers whose Thirsty Thursday extends through Wednesday night. However, I’ve never tried to keep up with the crowd. I’m sure some of my peers think it’s lame that my personal bar time is midnight, and not two a.m., but I bet I look a lot cooler the next morning when I haven’t succumbed to their same fate: the head-stinging, stomach-churning, regret-inducing experience that is the hangover.
A hangover is a collection of negative physiological effects that result from consuming too much alcohol. The most common symptoms a hangover are a headache, fatigue, and dehydration. Appropriately, the formal name for “hangover”, veisalgia, is derived from a Norwegian word that means “uneasiness after dubachery” and a Greek word that means “pain.”
More that 75% of alcohol consumers, including myself, have experienced a hangover, and 25% of college students do so weekly. I have not-so-fond memories my first (and naturally, my worst) hangover, which occurred back in my home state of Texas on the morning after my 21st birthday—I woke in my Austin hotel room, melted over the corner of the bed, fully convinced that someone had attacked my vital organs with a blender the night before.
Since then, I’ve learned how to drink alcohol in such a way that I can, for the most part, eschew hangovers. For starters, I’ve discovered my drinking limit. It’s a boundary that’s specific to each person, and it’s established largely by factors such as alcohol tolerance and body weight. Because I’m a moderate-drinking, 140-pound female, I can’t toss back as many shots of tequila as, say, some of my larger, bar-seasoned male friends. The quantity of alcohol they can ingest with without consequence would probably leave me hungover for a week.
I’ve also made it a habit to not drink on an empty stomach. Food, especially the fried or fatty kind, is a great preventative measure against a hangover. This is because fat and grease stick to the stomach lining and digests slowly, which slows the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream. Slower absorption gives the body more time to break down some of byproducts of the alcohol, which reduces the chance of sickness throughout the following hours. Some people think that eating heavy foods after consuming alcohol is the trick to avoiding a hangover—hence, this why Denny’s is flooded with drunkards at 4 a.m.—however, they are mistaken. In fact, scarfing that post-buzz breakfast skillet will probably cause more stomach irritation than going to bed hungry.
Finally, I make an effort to restrict myself to one type of alcohol per night. I love whiskey, white wine and cupcake martinis, but if I drink all of them in one sitting I’m a goner. This is because different kinds of alcohol produce different kinds of byproducts, and the body has a hard time digesting all of the variety. It’s much easier for the body to process just one kind of byproduct; thus, having tunnel vision at the bar can dampen the physiological impact of consuming alcohol.
The aforementioned techniques usually help me avoid (or at least reduce the severity of) hangovers. Still, there are many other techniques that are just as helpful or, based on individual physiology, may work even better. For example, a good friend of mine always downs a glass of water with each alcoholic beverage. By doing this, she keeps her body hydrated and alleviates the diuretic effect of alcohol. Another friend of mine sips her drinks very, very, very slowly. This allows her body ample time to digest small quantities of alcohol, which reduces her chances of getting sick. Pacing herself also allows her to savor her every drop in her glass, and she is usually satisfied after just a few drinks.
Try utilizing some of these drinking techniques when you participate in your next kegger or bar crawl. Hopefully, when you wake up the next morning, your body will thank you.
Drink safely and responsibly!