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Hangovers More of a Headache Than You Think

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Wiese affirms Cloninger's definition, saying multiple studies show decreased reaction times, less ability to concentrate, lower managerial skills, and increased risk for injury, even after some of the more obvious hangover symptoms are gone and alcohol can no longer be detected in the blood.

Wiese describes one study looking at airline pilots, where pilots drank enough one night to meet the criteria for having a hangover the next day. The pilots followed an eight-hour "bottle to throttle" standard before entering a flight simulator. Wiese says even though half of the pilots didn't feel like they had a hangover, their thought, or cognitive, functions were clearly reduced.

"The point being is that many people see being hungover as having a headache or just not feeling great, but don't recognize that their cognitive function is actually impaired," says Wiese, "and that may have implications for whether people decide to work with heavy machinery, decide to drive, or operate aircraft, for example. People should be aware that their cognitive function may not be optimal, even though they may not be feeling the most severe symptoms."

Wiese says 75% of all drinkers will have a hangover in a year, and 15% will have a hangover at least monthly, which has a large economic impact. "You're talking about a big part of the American workforce, and if each of those [people] misses work one or two times a year, and then if you toss on the decreased productivity from the cognitive decline ... it starts to become a fairly large opportunity cost, a large loss in productivity," Wiese says.

Some studies have put the annual cost in the U.S. at a whopping $148 billion per year, while another researcher estimated the average annual loss to be about $2,000 per working adult, Wiese writes. Light-to-moderate drinkers cause 87% of all alcohol-related problems in the workplace and, paradoxically, this same group suffers more hangovers than heavier drinkers.

So, the million-dollar question is, what can be done about hangovers? Humorist and writer Robert Benchley said, "there is no cure for the hangover, save death." He was close. Wiese says "prevention" is the only surefire hangover cure, followed closely by moderation and not drinking on an empty stomach.

Some studies also have found the only other effective remedies are drinking plenty of nonalcoholic fluids to rehydrate you, vitamin B6, and prostaglandin inhibitors -- the class of anti-inflammatory drugs that include ibuprofen and aspirin, according to Wiese. These should be taken at the time you drink the alcohol for a small effect in reducing hangover severity.

There was one study of an herbal preparation called Liv.52 that was shown to reduce hangover symptoms, but Wiese writes the results are suspect because of the way the study was conducted and because the manufacturer sponsored the study.

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