We've all been there. The first glint of sunlight cuts through your eyelids like Darth Vader's light sabre. Your mouth tastes like a ferret's burrow and you have a head that feels like the ferret has invited someone home, and they're now trying to pick-axe their way out the top of your skull. Your legs have run a marathon, there's a crick in your neck and you haven't got out of your clothes (or even made it between the sheets). So what's best for the morning after? Pill or Party?

Strangely, the worst hangovers don't start the instant you wake up. You might have the headache and the horrible taste in the mouth, but although you feel a bit woozy and can't quite remember what went on last night, you don't feel that bad. Then an hour later it really kicks in, with nausea, depression, shakes and a belief that you are in fact dying.

What causes a hangover?

The main consitituent of any alcohol you drink is ethanol, and it has many direct effects on us humans. Dehydration, electrolyte imbalance of body chemicals, low blood sugar, and an irritation in the stomach and intestines. If you've really been going hard you can also suffer a complete breakdown of your circadian rhythm, which is the body's internal clock, causing you to experience something like jet lag, with that familiar inability to sleep.

The worst effects of too much ethanol is the enlarging of blood vessels and the reduction in important body chemicals like histamines and serotonins. This imbalance also contributes to the thump, thump, thump of the headache that's associated with a real top class, Grade 1, Premium strength, multi-spirited, totally-full-on, never-again-in-my-life type hangover.

Just say no!

Sorry to be a party pooper - but the best way to avoid a hangover is not to drink. OK, next.

The best way to avoid a bad hangover is the old "water, water, water" approach. You should start on the H2O before your first alcoholic drink, but don't go mad. A large glass will do, you don't have to drink the entire contents of the Thames. As you drink more alcohol, take a break and try to drink another full glass of water - still by the way not sparkling, bubbles can have the effect of making you feel even more drunk. Before you collapse in bed, try another glass or maybe two of water, and keep one by the side of the bed so when you do wake up feeling really shit at 4.23 in the morning, you won't have to lie there deciding whether to die quietly or get out of bed, and get more water.

The nature of the hangover you get depends on what you've drunk the night before. Much of the blame can be laid at the door of congeners, the heavy alcohol flavour compounds found in greatest concentration in Scotch and brandy. As far as wine goes, alcohol levels will affect you, as may tannins, sulphur or cultured yeasts. Everyone is sensitive in their own way: many people get depressed on gin (although that's often the fault of the quinine in tonic water), while others get hideous hangovers on a few pints of beer. Knowing what you can't drink is another great way to prevent a truly bad hangover. That still doesn't help you much the morning after, and neither will Alka-Seltzer or Resolve. It's too late. You need a restorative.

Urgent Help Required

Greasy Food and lots of Coke: Many people swear by this hangover remedy. It may make you feel a little better because it fills up your stomach, but a fried egg after a vat of wine or barrel of lager - I think not! And the thought of black pudding at 8am makes me want to

The Hair of the Dog: Just grab Fido, or if not another beer from the fridge. This is a kill or cure method. You'll either feel fine after, or throw up immediately. In the long run throwing up may be better for you anyway, but it's really not recommended. You need a strong constitution if you going to try this hangover cure, and you can count me out!

The Underberg treatment: Underberg is found in those tiny little bottles wrapped in brown paper that contain a potent German bitter. Forget Fernet-Branca, that's for lightweights, while Jagermeister is for clubbers who like to think they are dangerous. Bitters hark back to a time when alcohol was used as a medicine, and they aid digestion.
Anyway, Underberg. Unwrap the paper. Open the bottle. Take a deep breath. Open your mouth and pour all of the bottle in. Do NOT under any circumstances take a cautious sip. This is a drink that has to be consumed quickly and in one shot. Why? Because it tastes vile. Then wait a couple of seconds. There's a heat building up in your stomach, now your chest is on fire, there's a roaring in your head and...suddenly your hangover explodes through your ears. You're better. Just like that.

Actually you're not better, you're simply horribly drunk once again; but boy do you feel better. Now to find something to get rid of that horrible taste...

The Classic Bloody Mary: The main rule is to remember that this is a cocktail, not a soup, and is therefore more than the sum of its parts. That means giving it some bite from Tabasco, savouriness from Worcestershire sauce and a citric lift from lime (not lemon) juice. Then you can play about with other ingredients. Everyone has their own 'secret' ingredient - manzanilla sherry (to lift the flavour), white pepper, or wetting the rim with lime juice and turning it in some celery salt.

Whatever you do, plan ahead. Make jugs of the mix the night before a party and hide them behind a cabbage at the back of the fridge. It means when you are struggling the next morning all you have to do is reach for the mixture, grab the vodka and pour the two together. Oh, as for vodka, go for good quality: Wyborowa, Smirnoff Black, Absolut or, even better, one that's already got some pepper in, either Absolut Peppar or the Polish pepper vodka, Pieprzowka

In a medium/large tumbler:
2oz Pieprzowka/Absolut Peppar
pour over ice

In jug combine:
Tomato juice
Worcestershire sauce
white pepper
dash of celery salt
splash of fresh lime juice
splash of manzanilla sherry
Tabasco sauce to taste
Now you're all set for another drink. There ain't a hangover in the world that will stop a true party warrior. And after all this is the party season!





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