Why can't I move my head quickly when hungover?
January 1, 2004 8:46 AM   Subscribe

Why is it that when you are hungover, and change the orientation of your head quickly, for a while it feels as if it is still orientated the other way, and isn't very pleasant? Is it something to do with your balance being off, or what?
posted by Orange Goblin to Health & Fitness (14 answers total)
Your perception of motion and orientation is due to how you sense the motion of the fluids of your inner ear. Most likely you are still a bit, er, "disoriented" and your brain is misinterpreting those signals.
posted by majick at 8:55 AM on January 1, 2004

Often after lots of alcohol has been consumed, it is possible to get the sense that the room is spinning, technically called positional alcohol nystagmus. Although motor areas of the brain are usually heavily affected at this time, it is not directly the brain which is responsible here; alcohol has affected the organs responsible for balance, present in the ears. Balance in the body is monitored principally by two systems: the semicircular canals, and the utricle and saccule pair. Inside both of these is a flexible blob called a cupola, which moves when the body moves. This brushes against hairs in the ear, creating nerve impulses that travel through the 8th Cranial Nerve in to the brain. However, when alcohol gets in to the bloodstream it distorts the shape of the cupola, causing it to keep pressing on to the hairs. These 'fake' nerve impulse tell your brain that the body is rotating, causing disorientation and making the eyes spin round to compensate. When this wears off (usually taking until the following morning) the brain has adjusted to the spinning, and interprets not spinning as spinning in the opposite direction causing further disorientation.

This and more on drunkeness from wikipedia.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:40 AM on January 1, 2004

My favorite passage from this book:

The telephone blasted Peter Fallow awake inside an egg with the shell peeled away and only the membranous sac holding it intact. Ah! The membranous sac was his head, and the right side of his head was on the pillow, and the yolk was as heavy as mercury, and it rolled like mercury, and it was pressing down on his right temple and his right eye and his right ear. If he tried to get up to answer the telephone, the yolk, the mercury, the poisoned mass, would shift and roll and rupture the sac, and his brains would fall out.

Tom Wolfe
posted by CunningLinguist at 10:30 AM on January 1, 2004

That's really interesting about your brain adjusting. I wasn't exactly sure how balance worked, but I knew it was something to do with ears. So how come astronaut aren't sick the whole time? Wouldn't weightlessness muck up the way the cupola moves?
posted by Orange Goblin at 11:22 AM on January 1, 2004

Hangovers, often laughed off, are a very serious sign you've deeply abused your body and brain. Alcohol, if enjoyed properly, should actually help you sleep in the mildest possible way and ensure you wake up in fine form, hungry for breakfast and looking forward to your first pre-lunch Martini.

Alcohol and drunkenness should be radically separated. Alcohol is a relaxant, social and creative lubricant when it's imbibed as it should be. I'm not saying "in moderation" because you can drink a lot if you pace yourself and avoid the addictive, pernicious lure of inebriation - which make you hateful to everybody, starting with yourself. A drink too much can make you anti-social, paranoid, jealous, a bore.

The secret for those who enjoy drinking (meaning the flavours; the ritual; the comraderie) is to monitor yourself strictly. Never rely on quantities or past experience: be prepared to be constantly surprised. You never know how alcohol will affect you. One day, after a full meal, you have two cognacs and you're on the verge. Another day, on an empty stomach, three large screwdrivers do nothing.

At the slightest indication of drunkenness (slight pronunciation lapses; slower motor coordination; unusual gaiety; memory gaps), just stop drinking alcohol and start drinking a lot of water or juices. When (it doesn't take long) you feel you're "sober" again, have another drink.

It's all about maintenance and keeping up a pleasant alcohol level. This way you can go on drinking all day, just "topping up". The secret is not to expect too much of alcohol.

If you enjoy drinking as much as I do, make sure you drink a lot of fruit juices with each drink - vodka is the obvious choice. Freshly squeezed is the best or, if you can't get it, bottled fruit juice without added sugar. Refined sugar AND alcohol are too much of a burden on the liver, whereas it'll do well with natural fruit sugars.

Avoid nutrionally empty mixers like sugar-laden Coke and Tonic Water and, above all, avoid neat alcohol. One or two Martinis are OK but, after you've had them, go back to the fruit juices and water.

If you're feeling too frisky and perky - stop.

Wait an hour. Let the old liver do its magic. Then you can restart. In actual fact (and I'm basing this on a proper Neurology textbook) if you can keep your alcohol intake regular, the liver will actually process the alcohol quicker, meaning you can drink slightly more as the evening progresses.

A hangover means that you've really, really overdone it. A beer might be enough, if you're not used to drinking. So drink half a beer or have a shandy. Build up tolerance - experienced drinkers can drink a hell of a lot with no drunkenness or after-effects.

Finally, the more often distilled and cleaner the drink (i.e. vodka and, a distant second, gin) the lesser the effects the morning after. Wine, cognac, Port, Grappa and anything grape-based is deadly. Anything aged (whisky, bourbon, cognac again) is even worse - all that toxic wood.

That's about it. A hangover is really a reminder that you're not treating alcohol with all the respect it deserves.

All the usual hangover advice, both pre- and post-, compounds the problem (drink lots of water, etc). Once you learn how to enjoy alcohol as a liquid form of food (good food also gives you a high), insisting on its proper flavour, mixing and serving, you'll find that drinking too much is the surest way of ruining its many pleasures.

Here's to you, Orange Goblin!

*raises glass*
posted by MiguelCardoso at 12:25 PM on January 1, 2004

I forgot to say the most important: lots and lots of ice (should occupy 80% of the glass) and sipping very, very slowly; letting the ice melt down into water. Then add more ice and a little more booze. An addiction to coldness is a great friend as it makes you drink water in its most palatable form. Serious drinkers, i.e. anti-drunks, daily drink 3 litres of water in ice.

Remember what happens to drunks: either they have to stop drinking altogether or they die. Either way, they ruin other people's lives, destroy their potential and, by the way, kill their proper enjoyment of the many delightful forms of imbibing alcohol.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 12:58 PM on January 1, 2004

Oh, I'm well aware a hangover is a bad thing :) I normally take measures to replace lost nutrients, etc, before going to bed, by eating a banana and drinking water, and almost never get a hangover. But hey, if you can't over do it on New Years, when can you? I tend to avoid both fruity/sugary drinks and vodka, having had bad experiences, but I guess different things work for different people.

On preview: yes. Ice is good. Me likes ice. Anyway, I'm not a drunk, I'm a teenager. One drinks too much, has anti social behavior, and is the bane of civilization, and the other is over 20.
posted by Orange Goblin at 1:04 PM on January 1, 2004

Clearly, OG, you're on the right track and make an enviable drinking buddy - I sincerely hope we'll be able to partake together and share experiences before we die. And, by "we", I mean "I".

And yet - I've been a teenager once and, a few years ago, I even had two teenage daughters. So I've made the same mistake. It's not about "before going to bed"; much less about the morning after.

Drink control is a hands-on, while-you're-drinking endeavour. It's not remedial. If you feel poorly the next day, you've already fucked up. It means you felt too well the night before.
Everything has a price. But, with booze, it's too expensive.

Follow your instincts. And don't be too comforted by age - we're talking insidious, progressive disease. At 20, you're already a little old and, in linguistic and sociological terms, no longer a teenager. I.e. there is no "teen" suffix in the word "twenty". Make the decision to enjoy booze. Read and buy books; investigate cocktails; learn about the lure and charm.

Ice is a saver! :)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 2:17 PM on January 1, 2004

I know you're not a teenager at 20, but "over 20" sounds less clumsy than "20 or over" ;) Anyway, cheers for the advice.
posted by Orange Goblin at 2:53 PM on January 1, 2004

Vodka is the way to go, but I have to admit, Miguel, that I like tonic. In fact, I like mandarins in vodka and tonic. Or any fresh citrus. Or berries. Crushed raspberries in a vodka tonic.
Don't forget, Orange Swan, to eat while imbibing. People usually say that one should stick to starches, but I like crunchy veggies for the most part. It gives my mouth a small party between sips, and usually mixes well with my vodka choices.
But do eat something with your drinks.
posted by oflinkey at 3:22 PM on January 1, 2004

Oflinkey is absolutely right.

Most people think of their stomach (not important) and forget their liver and pancreas (essential).

While drinking, your two second-best friends are starch and fat and nothing combines the two like nuts. Pure starch (carbohydrate, like mashed potatoes) or pure fat (olive oil) will line your stomach and ensure a slower, more muddled intake of alcohol, making it easier for the liver.

But the best antidote are nuts - roasted peanuts, almonds, pecans, pine kernel, cashews - which combine starch and fat.

In the end, though, it all boils down to not becoming addicted to drunkenness. Alcoholics avoid nuts, milk, olive oil and other anti-intoxicants because they want to get drunk.

Discriminating drinkers, on the other hand, use these delicious aperitifs as an ally.

The aim is to drink (and eat) as much as possible without getting drunk.

The best combiination, btw, in the world is Irish whiskey and soda water and freshly roasted, salted almonds...
posted by MiguelCardoso at 3:48 PM on January 1, 2004

Orange Swan is the "other" one...and peanuts and beer are wonderful.
posted by Orange Goblin at 3:56 PM on January 1, 2004

The aim is to drink (and eat) as much as possible without getting drunk.

You say some good things, there, Miguel, but this is bollocks, I'm afraid. Unless we are differing in our understanding of the word 'drunk,' which is, I admit, quite probably the case, based on this :

At the slightest indication of drunkenness (slight pronunciation lapses; slower motor coordination; unusual gaiety; memory gaps), just stop drinking alcohol and start drinking a lot of water or juices. When (it doesn't take long) you feel you're "sober" again, have another drink.

This sort of thing is definitely the way to fly, but I would submit that there is a sliding scale of where the tipping point of lies, for different people. My line-crossing 'drunk' may be a bit closer to the sun, I think, but I can count nonetheless the number of times my wings have melted in the last 20 years of flight on one hand. Well, OK, maybe two. I see little point in drinking if one does not allow the alcohol to work its magic.

Despite those decades of enthusiastic tippling, I remain in robust health, thanks to a similar respect for the drink, if not often the resources to indulge my taste for quality.

Still, as Miguel says, good booze and ample draughts of good clean water (frozen or otherwise), along with either supplements or foods rich in B vitamins, will see you through. I would disagree on the issue of fruit juices, but that is a mere detail.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:51 PM on January 1, 2004

(And sorry about that 'bollocks' crack, there. Maybe turn it down a notch or two to 'silly talk,' to get the effect I was after)
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:52 AM on January 2, 2004

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