Nurses help take care of others, but of course they're human like everyone else. This means that like many others, some nurses overindulge at alcohol-infused holiday parties and gatherings. If they're not working until the next day, they may reason that they won't be under the influence of alcohol when they're caring for patients.
That may be true, but it doesn't account for the nasty gift that over-indulging can leave in its wake — the dreaded hangover. It can cause a splitting headache, excessive thirst, muscle aches, sweating, vertigo, fatigue and more.
Although a hangover can result from a single incident of drinking alcohol at a holiday party, repeated drinking can mean repeated hangovers. Similar to the rest of the population, up to 10% of RNs might be dependent on alcohol or other drugs.
The dangers of a hangover
Nurses may think they can power through their symptoms and continue to function at their usual high level, but the dangers of a hangover are real, both for the nurses themselves as well as their patients and colleagues. Research from the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies found a correlation between hangovers and lower scores on tests that require both sustained attention and speed. Unfortunately, the ability to concentrate well and perform duties quickly are skills required for many nursing tasks.
So hangovers are not just misery-inducing — they're also dangerous, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. They can affect a variety of performance-related abilities, such as caring for others, decision-making, muscle coordination, operating machinery and driving.
What causes a hangover
Alcohol affects your body in many ways that can lead to a hangover. Here are some of the effects, cited by the Mayo Clinic, that can contribute to a hangover:
- Increased urination: can lead to dehydration
- Inflammatory response: can cause symptoms such as an inability to concentrate well
- Stomach lining irritation: can cause nausea or vomiting
- Lower blood sugar levels: can cause fatigue, shakiness and other symptoms
- Expansion of blood vessels: can cause a headache
How to avoid a hangover
Abstaining from drinking or imbibing in moderation are the only sure-fire ways to avoid a hangover. But the following tips from healthline.com and mayoclinic.org can help reduce the chances of getting a hangover:
- Drink slowly — Don't have more than one alcoholic drink in an hour.
- Choose lighter-colored drinks — Darker drinks such as whiskey (especially bourbon whiskey), cognac and tequila contain high levels of congeners, which have been linked to a greater likelihood of hangovers as well as more intense symptoms. Clear liquors like vodka and gin contain fewer congeners.
- Drink plenty of water — Alcohol causes increased urination, which can contribute to fatigue, thirst and other hangover symptoms. Drink a glass of water or another beverage without alcohol between alcoholic drinks.
- Get enough sleep — This can help lessen fatigue.
- Eat a good breakfast or late-night meal — Especially when it's carb-heavy, a meal can help combat low blood sugar, which can cause weakness and headache.
How to treat a hangover
The only sure remedy for a hangover is to avoid getting one or waiting long enough for its symptoms to subside.
But the following tips from Cleveland Clinic may help make symptoms less severe:
- Sip water or fruit juice — This can prevent dehydration.
- Eat bland foods with complex carbs — Try toast and crackers to settle your stomach and raise your blood sugar.
- Take antacids — These can help ease an upset stomach.
- Get enough sleep — Getting plenty of sleep can help lessen fatigue.
- Take a pain reliever — Aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen can help alleviate headaches and muscle pain, but they can also irritate the stomach. Don't take Tylenol (acetaminophen), since it can cause liver damage when combined with alcohol.
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