Too much alcoholic good cheer can leave an unjolly hangover as a painful reminder the next day.
Hangovers -- headaches, nausea and stomach irritations -- result from an overindulgence of alcohol.
Hangovers are caused by the undigested byproducts of alcohol, such as acetaldehyde and lactic acid, that build up in the bloodstream as the liver is digesting alcohol.
But planning and moderation in drinking can help prevent a hangover.
The liver digests alcohol at a slow, fixed rate that cannot be changed. However, the absorption of alcohol can be slowed by eating a full meal before drinking.
Slowing the rate of alcohol absorption gives the liver time to eliminate some of it from the body before more is absorbed. Resting before going out also slows the entry of alcohol into the bloodstream.
Drink selection can influence the occurrence and severity of a hangover. If you feel compelled to imbibe, select a drink that contains a lot of non-carbonated mixer, then sip it slowly.
Avoid drinks made with two or more varieties of alcohol because these tend to cause worse hangovers than drinks containing just one.
But even this does not guarantee you won't get a hangover. Any alcoholic beverage taken to excess can result in a pounding head the following day.
Hosts can help guests prevent hangovers -- as well as road accidents -- by providing a self-service bar that includes non-alcoholic alternatives. At least an hour before the party ends, coffee and cake should be served. The party hosts also should suggest a taxi for any of their guests they feel drank too much.
Guests should also be provided with hors d'oeuvres during the party to maintain a full stomach.
Punches that contain alcohol should be made mild and have a non-carbonated base because carbonation speeds up the emptying of the stomach and accelerates the transition of alcohol into the bloodstream. A non-alcoholic punch also should be served.
The only real cure for a hangover is time; waiting for the body to process and eliminate all traces of alcohol. It cannot be cured by drinking black coffee or gulping fresh air.
Drinking alcohol the morning after to relieve symptoms raises the blood alcohol level and could signal a problem with alcohol.
Those who drink heavily but have no hangover the following day may also have an alcohol problem.
Alcoholics are thought to develop a metabolic system that allows increased tolerance to alcohol or the ability to process large amounts of alcohol with little visible outside effects but with negative long-term effects on the vital body organs.
Although there are no tried-and-true cures for a hangover, its symptoms can be relieved by certain over-the-counter medications, including antacids, aspirin and other pain relievers. These, however, should be coated or taken with milk to avoid further stomach irritation.
Dr. Nicholas Pace, an assistant professor of clinical medicine at New York University Medical Center, wrote this article for the Associated Press.