Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Author Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall Embarks On The Quest To Cure Hangovers In 'Hungover'


Hangovers have been around for as long as humans have been getting drunk, which is to say forever. But the word hangover is relatively new. In the 1800s, you might have the jim-jams or crapulous.

I learned this from a book called, appropriately, "Hungover: The Morning After And One Man's Quest For The Cure." It's by Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall. Here are his own words from the book that really bring the horrors of a hangover to life.

SHAUGHNESSY BISHOP-STALL: (Reading) A headache, but no, oh, no. This is so much more, something terrible and growing. It is like your brain has started to swell, pressing against your cranium, eyes pushing out of their sockets. You cradle your head in shaking hands to keep your skull from splitting, but in truth your brain isn't growing at all. It is, in fact, drastically shrinking.

As you slept, your body, bereft of liquid, had to siphon water from wherever it could, including from those 3 pounds of complex meat that hold your messed-up mind. So now your brain, in the awful act of shrinking, of contracting, is pulling at the membranes attached to your skull, causing all this [expletive] pain, tugging at the fibers of your very being.

SHAPIRO: Wow. The writing in this book was so vivid, there were actually moments reading it that I started to feel like I was having the symptoms of a hangover, even if I'd had nothing to drink the night before.

BISHOP-STALL: (Laughter) That's what we're going for, even starting with the sort of nauseating green of the cover here.


SHAPIRO: You point out that even though people have been doing this for thousands of years and suffering from it day after day after day, there's been remarkably little research in how to eliminate it.

BISHOP-STALL: Yeah, and - so the one - the one constant is not only how little we know, but how much we shrug about it. It seems that for centuries we seemed to sort of throw up our hands and go, what can be done? Who knows? You know, it's very odd.

SHAPIRO: Why do you think that is? Is there a kind of moralistic sense of people who are hungover deserve it for what they did the night before?

BISHOP-STALL: Yeah, so there's a large part of it is that. I think that there have been no state-sponsored, you know, missions to figure out the hangover or solve it in the medical communities because they see their time, rightly so, as precious. And why would I waste it on a malady that can be so easily solved by just not drinking? (Laughter) But - but I also think that there's also the underlying thought that hangovers are a source of not just moral, but physical warning, right? To not...

SHAPIRO: Right. A deterrent...

BISHOP-STALL: ...Go too far.

SHAPIRO: ...That if we didn't have hangovers to stop us, we'd drink everything and make ourselves, you know, ill in a different way.

BISHOP-STALL: Yes, and we'd all be intoxicated all the time.


BISHOP-STALL: And society would fall into ruins.

SHAPIRO: Do you think there's actually something to that?

BISHOP-STALL: There may be, but (laughter) as with everything to do with this mysterious malady and alcohol in general, there's always that flip side, which is that the warning system doesn't really seem to work that well, 'cause...

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Right.

BISHOP-STALL: ...As you pointed out, we keep doing it (laughter).

SHAPIRO: We keep doing it.

BISHOP-STALL: So I don't really know what to think of that either.

SHAPIRO: So much of what we think of as symptoms of sickness are actually symptoms of our body trying to fight a sickness, you know, whether that's...

BISHOP-STALL: Absolutely.

SHAPIRO: ...Coughing or swollen glands. Are the symptoms of a hangover directly a result of being poisoned by alcohol, or are they a reflection of our body trying to cope with what we did to it?

BISHOP-STALL: You've hit it on the head there. It's really our immune system that causes all the havoc. (Laughter).

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

BISHOP-STALL: You know, when it kind of notices the acetaldehyde that is the byproduct of - of breaking down alcohol in its system, it sends out all these sort of kamikaze troops to sort of try to nullify it. And that starts this whole domino effect of your body going through a whole bunch of horrible processes.

SHAPIRO: OK. So spoiler alert - you actually found a cure.


SHAPIRO: Without getting too deeply into chemistry, one of the interesting things you learned is that if you wait until the morning after, it's pretty much too late.

BISHOP-STALL: Once that whole mechanism starts, that perhaps you don't even want to stop it because you could be causing other problems, I think. But, no, it really has to do with timing. The - the concoction I finally settled on, which is a mix of certain amino acids and vitamins and minerals and some natural anti-inflammatories, they have to be taken before you fall asleep - after drinking and before you fall asleep.

SHAPIRO: What impact has that had on your consumption of alcohol...

BISHOP-STALL: Yeah (laughter)...

SHAPIRO: ...Which we say is robust based on this book (laughter)?

BISHOP-STALL: There were - there were much darker chapters in the book.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

BISHOP-STALL: We decided to cut some of them out because it wouldn't seem to have the same stocking-stuffer ability...

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

BISHOP-STALL: ...With those darker chapters in it. But to sort of summarize them quickly for you and your listeners, the more successful I was in eliminating the pain of the morning after, the more complicated, I think, my relationship with alcohol became and the more I think I lost a sense of equilibrium...


BISHOP-STALL: ...To some degree.

SHAPIRO: I mean it almost becomes a morality tale then. Be careful what you wish for.

BISHOP-STALL: Yes, absolutely.

SHAPIRO: My producer and I, before this interview, were talking about the book, and he said, well, the biggest question I had was, are you OK?

BISHOP-STALL: (Laughter) Well, your producer is very kind. I'm doing OK. I'm doing OK. I gained probably about 55 pounds and lost a few friends while writing this book. But I've come out the other side, and I'm - tried to be very healthy since finishing it - not drink too much and eat well and things like that.

SHAPIRO: Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall, thanks so much for talking with us.

BISHOP-STALL: Thank you so much.

SHAPIRO: His new book is called "Hungover: The Morning After And One Man's Quest For A Cure."

(SOUNDBITE OF THE MARTINIS SONG, "HUNG OVER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.