April 21, 2019

The Science of Hangovers

“When I was asked to write about the most “sciency” parts of my new book, Hungover: The Morning After and One Man’s Quest for a Cure, step one was admitting that my expertise in the matter lies more in the experience of being a drinker than in any credentials as a scientist.

That said, after all my time studying this strange malady to write the book, the surest thing I know is how little we know about hangovers. The disorder has plagued us for most of human history—altering the outcomes of wars, weddings, the World Series, etc.—and still science has learned almost nothing about it. Certainly there have been no state-sponsored attempts to address the hangover as a legitimate medical condition, the usual explanation being that it is an illness for which you have only yourself to blame.

Even these days, those who do study hangovers for a living (and there really aren’t that many), fall generally into two camps: 1) entrepreneurs focused on finding and bottling a “cure,” with only a cursory interest in what hangovers are, how they work, and why they might exist; and 2) medical researchers unwilling to even contemplate the efficacy of a remedy until they’ve elucidated the mysterious pathology and mechanisms of being hungover.

In my experience, these two groups purposefully ignore each other, until suddenly a few collaborate (under the guidance of some whiz-bang marketing team), and then the result is typically confusing, short-lived, and commercially unsuccessful.”

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