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Looking to avoid a New Year's hangover? Think prevention, not cure

Emergency departments will see a number of alcohol-related trauma events on New Year's Eve.

For those who ring in the New Year with too much to drink, there really isn’t a simple cure for the pounding headache, queasy stomach, icky dry mouth morning-after that awaits.
For those who ring in the New Year with too much to drink, there really isn’t a simple cure for the pounding headache, queasy stomach, icky dry mouth morning-after that awaits.Read moreiStock

Throw out all those recommendations for coffee, red ginseng tea, hair of the dog, power drinks, or even an intravenous infusion as hangover remedies. For those who ring in the New Year with too much to drink, there really isn't a cure for the pounding headache, queasy stomach, and icky, dry-mouth morning-after that await.

About the best you can do is manage the symptoms, ride out the misery, and remind yourself to behave better the next time. Above all, never add to your woes by getting behind the wheel when you've been drinking, potentially harming others and costing yourself thousands of dollars.

The best advice on managing drinking is "everything in moderation," said Ben Usatch, an emergency room physician at Lankenau Hospital in Wynnewood, part of the Main Line Health system. Dehydration is one of the causes of a hangover, and keeping hydrated — with water, not more booze — will improve but not fix the symptoms. Your system will not metabolize alcohol any faster no matter what you try, he said.

Usatch has seen hangover patients so sick that they land in the ER. Usually, though, the symptoms can be handled at home with plenty of water or a sports drink such as Gatorade, plus an over-the-counter headache remedy, if appropriate.

"But if you have uncontrolled vomiting, we certainly need a shot at you," said Usatch.

Christie D'Arcy, owner of City Hydration at 1315 Walnut St., offers a "Hangover Relief" intravenous infusion to help with the nausea, headache, and overall pain and fatigue. The $179 treatment isn't a cure, she notes, just symptom relief.

"Yes, it will relieve symptoms. Yes, you will feel better, but [binge-drinking] is still very unhealthy," D'Arcy said. The IV bags contain fluids and a mix of anti-nausea and anti-inflammatory medication, and supplements that include B vitamins, she said.

Anyone with a history of cardiac or kidney problems or those with allergies to the IV ingredients, or who use other medications that interact with them, can't get this treatment, D'Arcy said.

While they accept reservations, clients looking for help with jet lag and athletic performance are the ones that usually plan ahead, she said.

"Most of the hangovers call me in the morning," said D'Arcy. "They want to fix things before they get worse."

Of course, hangovers are not the only problems associated with a binge.

Just one drink too many can loosen inhibitions, said Usatch, potentially leading to dangerous behavior. As the booze keeps coming, results can include slowed reflexes, loss of coordination, and respiratory depression, he said. So don't ever leave an inebriated friend to "sleep it off."

"If you ever feel anyone is in danger of alcohol poisoning, call 911," he said. "Let the EMS workers get there and get them to us so you don't have regrets for the coming years."

Emergency departments also see alcohol-related traumas on New Year's, notably car crashes. Then there are those "silly adult tricks," like trying to step between two balconies and falling, that land people in the hospital, he said.

Add to all that the legal and financial consequences of drinking too much and getting behind the wheel. Expect state and local police to have extra patrols on the lookout during the three-day weekend.

To be safe, use a ride-sharing service, said Lt. Ted Schafer of the New Jersey State Police. That advice also applies to those who drink until the early morning hours and then think they're OK to take a short break before driving.

"It is not unheard of for us to stop a drunk at 7 or 8 in the morning," Schafer said.

The price tag for a drunken driving conviction can exceed $10,000 with fines, court costs and attorney fees, Schafer said. Those who ride a bicycle while drunk also face arrest and significant expenses, he noted.

"There is no excuse to get behind the wheel and risk losing your license and maybe your job," said Schafer. "It is simply not worth one night of entertainment for several years of inconvenience and the possibility of taking someone else's life."