After the fun, pain Signs of alcoholism did you know?
Certain alcoholic drinks, such as brandy and whisky, can cause nastier hangovers
A splitting headache, light-headedness, queasiness, nausea, thirst and lethargy ... Inevitably, after the festive revelry, a good number of people will wake up this weekend experiencing these ill sensations brought about by a hangover.
According to Dr Adeline Ngo, consultant at the department of emergency medicine at Singapore General Hospital (SGH), hangovers occur when the liver cannot process and rid excess toxins fast enough, especially when a person binge drinks.
The unpleasant symptoms of a hangover can worsen because the ethanol present in alcohol has a dehydrating effect, said Dr Wong Wei Mon, a senior physician at Raffles Medical.
"It causes increased urine production, which, in turn, leads to headaches, a dry mouth and lethargy. Dehydration also causes fluids in the brain to be reduced," explained Dr Wong.
Dr Rupert See, a senior physician at Raffles Medical, added that alcohol also inflames the lining of your stomach, hence the queasy feeling.
In general, intoxication sets in by the third to fourth drink, resulting in a "decrease in reaction time and judgment", said Dr Ngo. Triple that number of drinks and a novice drinker may end up in a coma, she added. A chronic alcoholic, however, may be able to stay awake even if he or she consumes up to six times the amount.
Getting a hangover depends on your tolerance level. Nevertheless, certain alcoholic drinks can cause you to have a nastier headache, said Dr Ngo.
"Ingredients called congeners, which give many types of alcohol their flavour, can contribute to hangovers. More congeners may be present in alcoholic drinks like brandy and whisky, than in liquors such as vodka and gin," said Dr Ngo, who also disclosed that the emergency department she works at sees an increase in alcohol intoxication cases during the festive period, as well as on Fridays and Saturdays.
Can it be prevented?
Many drinkers believe that "greasing the gut" - eating before consuming alcohol - helps. As bizarre as it sounds, there may be some truth in this method.
Explained Dr Wong: "Alcohol is absorbed most efficiently in the small intestine. When food is ingested, the pyloric valve at the lower end of the stomach will close in order to hold food in the stomach for digestion."
This keeps the alcohol from reaching the small intestine, thus slowing down the absorption rate.
Dr See said medication such as paracetamol and aspirin, as well as drinking plenty of fluid may help relieve a nasty headache. However, he reminds drinkers that the medication is "not a substitute for restraint at the dinner table".
In contrast, Dr Ngo said that there's no proven method to sober oneself up, aside from waiting for the body to metabolise the ingested alcohol.
She added it typically takes about an hour or two for the body to get rid of one unit of alcohol - that's equivalent to one glass of wine or one shot of whiskey. But this is dependent on the drinker's alcohol tolerance, too.
The most sensible prevention method, said Dr Ngo, is to avoid drinking alcohol altogether.
According to Dr Thomas Lee, acting chief of the addiction medicine department at the Institute of Mental Health, you may have an alcohol addiction problem if:
- It becomes harmful to your physical or mental health, including to people around you.
- It affects important social, occupational or recreational activities.
- You drink more or stronger alcohol over time.
- You get irritable and have visible hand tremors when you cut down on alcohol or stop drinking.
- You spend a considerable amount of money on alcohol.
- You say you need alcohol to numb yourself or get away from ill feelings.
- You need to drink first thing in the morning to "calm your nerves". This morning eye opener is to relieve withdrawal symptoms which result from the clearance of alcohol from the body during sleep hours.
- Frequent falls with head injuries, needing medical treatment.
Call IMH's National Addictions Management Service at 67326837 or log on to www.nams.org.sg if you need help.
Even if you're not a chronic alcoholic, the occasional binge drinking session can be fatal. "Consuming massive quantities of alcohol in a short period of time leads to a dangerously high blood alcohol level which can result in alcohol poisoning," warned Raffles Medical's Dr Wong Wei Mon. According to SGH's Dr Adeline Ngo, the patient can go into a coma, and aspirate on his or her own vomitus or secretions, resulting in pneumonia.