The World’s Top Hangover Expert On How To Stay Pain-free

Luke BenedictusBy Luke Benedictus.
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Editor’s note: Hangovers are a nasty business at the best of times, but if you’ve got small children they’re truly unbearable. As a result, you naturally end up reining things in after you become a dad. And yet… Let’s face it, there are still times when you drink a little more than you intended and, as you’re not as “match-fit” in this department as you once were, the effects of even marginal over-indulgence are now more unforgiving than ever. With that in mind, TFH travelled to Las Vegas to interview the world’s only doctor to dedicate his whole career to curing the ill-effects of the morning after. The goal: to find the insider secrets to help you never suffer from another hangover ever again.

The secret industry of Las Vegas isn’t neon lights or poker chips or even broken dreams. No, what Vegas manufactures in truly satanic quantities is hangovers. This is, after all, a city that’s dedicated to hysterical excess. When you’re in the world’s hedonism capital, it’s almost obligatory to order a bucket-sized frozen margarita. In the swimming pool. At 10am. “People come here specifically to get obliterated,” Dr Jason Burke admits with a shrug.

Burke is a pony-tailored anesthesiologist with over 15 years experience. He’s also the world’s only doctor to formally dedicate his career to the study and treatment of veisalgia (the medical term for the common hangover). “Working in the recovery room I saw various medications that we used to treat post-operative nausea, vomiting, pain, headaches and delirium,” he explains. “And I just thought these things could work really well for a hangover.”

The result is Hangover Heaven, a Vegas medical clinic set up by Burke that has treated thousands of victims of the morning after. The trained staff will even come direct to your hotel room and administer a specially designed treatment that promises to alleviate any hangover in under two hours.

Burke’s vocation means that he’s well acquainted with pain, remorse and spectacularly dumb decisions. He wears the unshockable expression of a man who’s witnessed all manner of Vegas depravity. (“All sorts of scantily clad women. Midgets. One guy had cut off part of his finger and carried on partying…”)

Along the way, he’s also catered to the truly desperate. Burke once fielded a call from the father-of-the-bride whose daughter was getting married in three hours but couldn’t stop throwing up. He’s rescued CEOs who have to give speeches at international conferences but who’ve been left bed-ridden by the previous night’s hi-jinks. “We come in and in a matter of an hour, an hour and half we’ve got them turned around,” says Burke.

There’s only one way to test Burke’s treatment first-hand. “Be sure to get a significant hangover – the worse the better,” the doctor says. Selflessly, in the nature of investigative journalism, I am duty-bound to comply…

The next morning I awake with a shudder in my Caesar’s Palace hotel room to a loud knock on the door. I seem to have followed Burke’s instructions a little too obediently. All the symptoms of a wretched hangover are present and correct. (Head feels like it’s been reversed over by a monster-truck? Check. Stomach lurching with waves of acidic bile? Check. Nagging sense of shame whose precise source is difficult to pinpoint? Check.)

Two uniformed medics enter the room with a wheeled suitcase and a large bag of equipment. An IV drip is assembled and a silver canister of oxygen is produced from which a tube is stuck up my nose. “Oxygen helps to relax the blood vessels in the brain,” Bourke tells me later.

While I’m breathing in the oxygen, which makes me feel more clear-headed, my pulse and heart rate are measured and I’m asked to rate my hangover out of ten for three criteria: headache (7), nausea (7) and anxiety (6). My treatment is then personalised according to my answers. For the anxiety, I’ve handed Propranalol, a beta-blocker that gently slows my heart rate to deliver a welcome sense of calm. (“We find the guys get the anxiety much more than the women,” says Burke). In the meantime, my IV drip is prepared and administered. Zofran, an anti-nausea medicine widely used in chemotherapy recovery, puts the immediate brakes on my dry heaves. Toradol, a medication that targets acute pain, effortlessly deals with my headache.

The drip is also full of antioxidants as Bourke believes that inflammation is a primary cause of bad hangovers. Inflammation, he explains, causes oxidative stress in the form of free radicals that gum up your mitochondria, the energy factories of your body. Two powerful antioxidants, taurine and glutathione, team up as catalysts that help process the booze out of my system.

After an hour of peacefully absorbing the drip, the colour has returned to my face. Miraculously, I already feel human once again. I could almost weep with gratitude.

Further tests reveal my blood-pressure and heart rate have also both lowered. Hangover Heaven takes these measurements from every patient as part of a larger research project Burke is conducting to look at everything from inflammatory markers to liver-function enzymes. This research is significant as it’s actually very rare. Despite the impact that hangovers have on the workplace – The Medical Journal of Australia estimates alcohol-related sickies could cost our economy $1.2 billion a year – they remain a curiously under-studied phenomenon.

Part of this academic neglect, Bourke explains, stems from the fact that hangovers are intense and short-lived experiences that are therefore difficult to study. But medical ethics are another complicating factor. When institutional review boards evaluate a potential study, they’re duty-bound to protect the health of participants. As a result, they can’t get research subjects too sozzled for safety reasons, vastly limiting the real-world benefits of their work.

Burke, on the other hand, works on Vegas’ front-line handling the fall-out of the city’s non-stop debauchery. As a result, he has an unlimited production line of well-oiled case-studies and it’s this access that’s helped establish him as the world’s foremost hangover expert. Most hangover studies, Burke explains, can only get research subjects to a blood-alcohol level of about 0.15 per cent. “That’s about five drinks,” he says. “And for most people here in Vegas, well, that’s just warming up…”


Follow Dr Burke’s DIY tips for a less gruesome morning after

The worst drinks for producing evil hangovers? Burke ranks champagne, brown spirits (whiskey, brandy, Jagermeister) and anything mixed with energy drinks as all especially hazardous. “I don’t tell people to just cut them out, because they taste good, they’re fun and you don’t want to be a stick in the mud,” he says. “But if you’re heading out for a big night, just have one glass and then switch to something else.” More tactical choices? Burke recommends vodka or gin.

Before you hit the sack, tackle hangover-causing inflammation and neck a couple of vitamins, ideally a Vitamin B Complex that has high doses of Vitamin B6. “You deplete those vitamins when you’re drinking,” says Burke “You need to give your body the tools to deal with the problem.”

“Eat before you go to sleep,” advises Burke. Nutritious food gives your body ammunition to fight back against the damaging effects of booze. The best thing to eat? “A steak sandwich,” suggests Burke. “You’ll get carbs from the bread, B vitamins from the red meat and there’s also a lot of amino acids.” Consider that your excuse to visit the kebab shop on your way home…

Drinking water is a no-brainer. “But if you bomb three litres of water before you go to bed, you’re going to waking up having to pee which is going to disrupt your sleep pattern,” says Burke. “You’re better off hydrating during the course of the night.” Up the ante with a dissolvable rehydration tablet like Hydralyte that’ll help replace fluid and lost electrolytes without the need to chug a bathful of water.