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Avoiding that awful next day

A Solebury scientist has spent 30 years studying drugs and alcohol. Now, he offers some advice.

John Brick calls it "the hangover circuit."

It happens November through New Year's Eve, when the Solebury scientist and researcher starts getting calls from people wanting to know the skinny on that nauseating, head-throbbing, hand-shaking experience.

Why do sufferers see rooms that spin, get headaches that are mind-numbing, and maybe even wake up next to people they don't remember?

After 30 years of studying the effects of drugs and alcohol, Brick has become a go-to guy. This year, he decided to write it all down in

The Doctor's Hangover Handbook: The Intelligent Person's Guide to Curious and Scientific Facts About Alcohol and Hangovers


"There really wasn't anything quick, easy-to-read and scientifically accurate that I felt comfortable referring people to," said Brick, 57. "So after 30 years of writing textbooks, I decided to write something a little bit more fun."

Inside the 42-page booklet are interesting facts and history about alcohol. Did you know that the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock because they ran out of beer? There are jokes courtesy of comedian Henny Youngman: One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor. There's also a bit of sarcasm, along with the message that abstaining is the best remedy.

"Heavy drinking" is defined as more than one drink daily on average for women and two drinks a day for men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Binge drinking for women is more than three drinks at one sitting; more than four for men. Excessive drinking equals heavy drinking, binge drinking or both.

Crossing the line wreaks cellular havoc in the brain, Brick says.

Alcohol changes the way the brain cells function. Those cells are responsible for how we feel, perceive things and think. Introducing "a drug" changes everything, Brick said. The cells try to adapt to function efficiently. When the drinking stops, the cells try to revert back to normal.

Also, alcohol is a diuretic. Losing large amounts of water can cause dehydration, which can cause the brain to shrink. The result is that the nerve endings between the outside of the brain and the surrounding tissue start stretching (i.e. the pounding headache).

Then there are the congeners, the additional substances in alcoholic drinks that are either a byproduct of fermentation or are added for color, texture, aroma and taste. These produce their own set of toxic effects.

In the end, it can all add up to dizziness, vomiting, headaches, depression, memory loss, insomnia, and the reason that the glow from a 30-watt bulb feels as if it could light Times Square.

The drug and alcohol science that underlies the hangover effect began to captivate Brick when he worked as a college intern and then a researcher at the Rockefeller University in New York.

He had been studying the relationship of biology and behavior at Queens College, but his lab at Rockefeller specialized in alcohol studies. He went on to earn a doctorate in biological psychology from the State University of New York at Binghamton.

Over the years, he has written textbooks and training materials, served as chief of research at the Rutgers University Center of Alcohol Studies. As an expert in forensic psychopharmacology, he frequently testifies as an expert in criminal cases involving drugs and alcohol. Currently, he heads Intoxikon International, a consulting firm in Lower Makefield.

When it comes to questions about curing the hangover, Brick has heard and read the good, the bad and the ugly.

Among them are: Rub half a lemon under the arm; a breakfast of red meat and bananas; and a strong cup of coffee with salt. Adherents of voodoo believe that sticking 13 black-headed needles into the cork of the bottle from which you drank. They are all listed in Brick's book. None is effective, he said.

Marion McGowen, director of the Bartenders School of Roslyn, is certified in training servers of alcoholic beverages on how to intervene when a customer begins to drink too much. Some of the methods can ultimately serve to reduce the risk of intoxication and a hangover.

"Coffee doesn't work," McGowen said. "It buys time, but then you just have a wide-awake drunk. You slow down the service. You get them to eat. You give them water." As for the actual hangover, "bitters and soda is good for indigestion, and ibuprofen and lots of water before you go to bed," McGowen said.

Brick seconds the recommendation of medication such as aspirin before bed, with lots of water. He adds that high-octane sports drinks such as Gatorade also can ward off dehydration. Homeopathic remedies such as willow bark (which contains properties of aspirin) and milk thistle (which can settle the stomach) can be helpful.

But Brick's ultimate advice for celebratory days such as New Year's Eve? Duct tape.

"Put it over your mouth," he said, "or over your bottles."

Hangover Helper

Treating the Hangover

John Brick's six-step preventative "treatment" for hangovers:

Drink less.

Consume water between drinks.

Drink as much water as you can handle before you go to sleep and when you wake up.

Take a multivitamin with Gatorade before you shower in the morning.

Eat honey over lots of fresh fruit for breakfast, lunch or brunch. The natural sugar helps speed the rate at which the alcohol is burned off.

If you are a coffee drinker and get a headache without your morning cup, you may be going through caffeine withdrawal. If so, a small cup of coffee might help.

Buying the Book

The Doctor's Hangover Handbook: The Intelligent Person's Guide to Curious and Scientific Facts and About Alcohol and Hangovers

is available at and the Doylestown Bookshop, 16 S. Main St.