Why does alcohol produce hangovers, and why doesn’t it produce hangovers consistently?

This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series The Old Ways

Hello and welcome to Yet Another Week on Banter Latte. It’s Monday, and that’s Myth day! Huzzah! And today the myth comes from enthusiastic friend of Banter Latte Goblinpaladin, who asks:

What *really* causes hangovers? It can’t be just drinking, because plenty of people drink them and don’t get them, or throw up the alcohol and do. It can’t just be dehydration because even folk who drink lots of water get them.

Which, you know, is a fair question. I mean, think about it. There’s lots of scientific basis and explanation given, but nothing’s been definitive. They talk about hypoglycemia or B-12 deficencies or God punishing them for sin.

And where there is question, there is a ripe field for myth. Which is, after all, what we do here.

So, let’s do this thing.

Why does alcohol produce hangovers, and why doesn’t it produce hangovers consistently?

We have mentioned before that the spirits of the world are more properly called daemons. And we have seen a lot of daemons in this work. We have seen the nymphs of money and the mermaids of the sea. We have seen the psychopomps on the green line and the union organizers from the spirits of good order. And of course we have seen the dance of muse and kharite, the inspirer of art and the inspirer of artistic appreciation.

We do not mention Mister Shephard and Mister Crook in that list. But that is another story, of course.

We have also mentioned that daemons come in two basic types — the Eudaemons, or beneficial and helpful spirits, and the Kakodaemons, or malicious spirits. Now, if you read almost any fairy tale or storybook, an ugly specter is raised. Not a demon or ghost — something uglier still. The specter of racism.

Seriously. You’ve read the stories. Trolls and ogres are evil. Fairies and sprites and pixies are good. Banshees kill because they like to do it. Sirens sing sailors to their doom. Neriads are helpful and friendly unless crossed.

Don’t believe it. Not for one second. Eudaemons and Kakodaemons can be found in every race and species of spirit and fairy. A redcap might be a bloody killer, but whether or not he’s a malicious one has little to do with his species or his choice in headgear.

But, these associations have come down through the ages regardless. The good fae and the bad fae. The good nymphs and the bad nymphs. All based on race instead of the true defining edge between a eudaemon and a kaodaemon — the heart. Mankind believes it. And sadly, all too many spirits, godlings and daemons believe it. And this means that all too often, evil lurks in the midst of good, leading to pain and corruption.

Which brings us, interestingly enough, to alcohol.

Unlike many inventions and substances in what we euphemistically call the real world, there was no real artifice or metaphor in the creation of alcohol — at least in the creation of the potable beverage variety. Yes, it was brought to our world by the spirits who carried it from the unseen world, and yes the real world had to piece together some kind of scientific process to explain it after the fact, but really that’s just bookkeeping. Alcohol was created by the spirits for the pleasure of mankind and was given to mankind as a gift. And believe it or not, it was done with the best of motives by the nicest of eudaemons.

You see, back in the mists of history, there was a call put forth by the lords and ladies who stood above the spirits of rock and wave and grain. An echo was heard by the Oreads in their caves and the Auloniads in their pastures and vales. A whisper was passed by the naiads in their brooks to the Napaeae who lived in the wooded glens and grottos and by them to the Nereids who lived in the sea.

This call was simple. The world was lush and beautiful and bright, and for their part in making it so, the nymphs of the world were to be commended. And so, there was going to be a truly kickass party.

And so the nymphs ascended to the unseen world, leaving behind their places of mystery. The Dryads, Hamadryads and Meliae left their trees, the Oceanids and Nereids left the sea. The Pegaeae left their springs, the Alseids left their groves, the Limnades left their lakes, the Hesperides left their gardens, and by now you’re sick iof the list so needless to say all the other beautiful, wise and glorious nymphs left their respective homes as well. They gathered on the foothills of Mount Kegger, and they proceeded to have games and spirits and a whole mess of entheogens.

Their entheogen of choice, for the record, was a kind of fermented tree sap they called méli or ‘honey,’ made from the sap of certain sugar ash trees. Which meant, naturally enough, that the Meliae were responsible for bringing the booze to the party. They drank hearty and went wild enough that a commemorative series of Grecian urns depicting them topless in the shower were sold late at night for years.

But as with all really bitching parties, the group reached that time of night where the party slowed down and everyone was feeling mellow. People were sitting back, smoking cigarettes, and talking about how no, I really love you, man. Somewhere in the background, a particularly ambitious Erinye had figured out how to play Tubular Bells on a lyre.

“You know what?” Ceto, one of the Oceanids said, finally. “I figured it out. I mean, I figured it all out.”

“What?” Larunda, one of the Naiads asked.


“What? What did you figure out?”

“Wh– Ohhhh. Mankind.” Ceto shook her hand. “I figured out mankind. Just now.

“She is so wasted,” Kyrene, herself an Auloniad, said.

“No no no no no,” Ceto said, shaking a finger. “No. I did it. I figured out mankind. Right now.

“What about them?” Larunda asked.


“What did you figure out about Mankind?”

Oh. I know what they need.”

“What do they need?”

This,” Ceto said, waving her arms to encompass the whole area. “They need this.

“Mind-blown overly mellow nymphs whose inhibitions have been taken down with fermented tree sap?” Kyrene giggled. “I’ll bet that’s what they need.”

“No no no. Think about it. Human beings are all so uptight. They need a chance to feel. Like. This.” Ceto grinned. “Because man, I totally feel so cool right now. They should feel this cool. Blow off some steam.”

“You are not going to teach them how to make méli,” Britomartis, one of the Meliae who brought the fermented sap, said firmly. “The last thing we need are a bunch of humans nailing faucets into our trees. Have you seen what those people do to maples?

Nearby, one of the more powerful Naiads — a nymph named Orseis — wrinkled her pretty brow with thought. “She’s on to something,” she said. “Think about it. Humanity doesn’t really know how to party. They need something to relax them. Something that will lower their inhibitions. Bring their hearts closer to the surface. Give them a release.”

“I’m serious,” Britomartis said. “No fucking méli.”

“All right all right all right,” Ceto said. “No méli. There must be something else we could give them.”

One of the shy Napaeae — whose name has been lost to history — piped up “well, we could combine our natures. Berries and the like from the fields, or grapes. Yeasts. Water from the springs. Do a little fermenting and distilling and….”

There was a long pause.

Yes,” Orseis said, slapping her hand on the table, which knocked her half cup of méli over. “Of course! We could make up whole batches of beverages that the humans would love, that would be like a méli for them! We could combine them and develop them and cultivate them. We could distill some and age it in barrels of oak to get that nice Dryad nature in them, and give it to the Scots, say.”

The idea caught on like wildfire, and within the hour thousands of overly creative nymphs of all description were busy turning their supernatural natures to the creation of a whole new kind of beverage, meant for mankind.

They had the highest of principles, of course. They wanted to relax us, and calm us, and make us feel good. And it was well known, to both scholars among mankind and among the nymphs themselves, that all nymphs of all varieties were eudaemons. Helpful. Friendly. Kind. Loving. This was well known.

And, as we know, that was also false. Because the choice to become a kakodaemon came from the heart, not from the lineage. And for every ten or fifteen eudaemons among the nymphs, a kakodaemon lurked, quiet and unseen. And as more and more nymphs got involved, those kakodaemons smiled, seeing some chance to spread mischief and have a little fun. And so they added hints and accents to the concoctions. They added addictive qualities here… they added bits of anger and resentment and sulleness there. They added torment and pain, and a loss of control. They coupled a loss of coordination with the loss of inhibition, and they gently nudged those losses of inhibitions to a higher extreme — so that instead of simply making human beings feel good and trust each other more, sometimes there were barfights or unexpected adultery.

These poisons were very, very slight compared to the whole. And while the nymphs would normally have noticed them as they were working on it, it’s worth noting everyone involved was totally wasted on méli. Quality control was somewhat hard under the circumstances.

And so the beverages were brought to the real world, and real world techniques for making them were taught to the humans, as the nymphs whispered the recipies to trusted human beings, confidents, and lovers.

And beers and ales were brewed, and they were good. And wines were pressed and fermented and aged, and they were sweet. And whiskey and rum and vodka and gin spread. Liquor became all the rage, especially at parties.

But the poisons that the kakodaemons slipped into them remained. And so heartache followed in some cases. Liquor made some people angry. Others became depressed. Still others thought they could dance when they were drunk, and that was a sad sight indeed.

But the poisons did not affect all human beings equally. Nor did all drinks cause the same effects. The individual human might be more susceptable to one poison, making him an angry drunk. Another might find himself craving liquor all the time, as the poison wrapped around his liver and his soul. A third might found Depeche Mode.

And some human beings? Well, some human beings are more sensitive to the poisons, and have a very human, very literal reaction to them. The liquor poisons them. In extreme cases, hospitalization has to follow. But far more commonly, they simply feel like sheer, unmitigated Hell when the liquor works through their system and the poison is left behind.

Some people have no sensitivity to these specific poisons, and always feel fresh and cheery the following day. Others aren’t always sensitive to them — sometimes they have seasonal allergies which make them more sensitive, or some other factors that opens their souls metaphysically speaking. Still others always suffer the pains of the morning after.

And of course, these ‘hangovers’ were exploited by those who advocated temperance or just didn’t like parties. They would rail at the suffering men and woman, and mock them, and suggest that they should avoid these things going forward. And so they sowed guilt and anger and arguments about alcohol even when no one was drinking it right then — a very deep poison indeed, causing division where the eudaemons only meant to increase harmony.

The nymphs feel badly that things didn’t work out quite as they’d hoped, but since most of that night was a haze anyway, they didn’t worry overly much about it. For the most part, they got on with their immortal lives and figured that even with the downside that alcohol brought with it, the up side still made a lot of humans happy, and that was okay with them.

As for the kakodaemons?

Set aside for the moment hangovers, as miserable as they made people. Set aside for the moment the indiscretions and embarrassments, from unplanned pregancies through to videos of the office party proving you called your boss a miserable scrotum. Set aside the depressions and the agonies and the interminable Beatnik poetry we ended up having to listen to.

Set all that aside, and consider this. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 17,013 alcohol related fatalities on the road in 2003 alone. And over half a million injuries.

Statistics like that make a kakodaemon smile an evil little smile. As far as they are concerned, that was one totally kickass party.

It is rumored, by the by, that the Pegaeae — the nymphs of the springs — learned of the poisons and learned of a way to counteract them. So, someone who drinks a large amount of spring water — or, in more practically, any water — will help shield himself from a hangover’s effect. This is because the act of drinking water while drinking or drunk calls the attention of a Pegaea to you. However, as with all the other nymphs, some Pegaeae are kakodaemons instead of eudaemons, and if you should get one of those she’ll likely just make the hangover worse.

It is also rumored that vitamin B-12 helps hangovers. I can’t speak to that, because as everyone knows vitamin B-12 is in the province of the satyrs, and they weren’t anywhere near that party. Still, it’s probably a good idea to stock up on your B complex vitamins anyway.

Regardless, one should remember that the kakodaemons do in fact enjoy making you suffer. And more to the point, they enjoy making you badly injured or dead. So when you indulge in drink, try to do so in moderation lest they have a chance to wreak havoc with you. And don’t turn around and operate heavy machinery — including a car, motorcycle, truck, or folding tandem bicycle — after you’ve been downing shooters, okay? Kakodaemons might like those statistics I quoted, but the rest of us don’t.

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13 thoughts on “Why does alcohol produce hangovers, and why doesn’t it produce hangovers consistently?”

  1. There is nothing as embarrassing as being quoted, and having a typo in said quote. Dear gods.

    But! A good myth. I am a happy incarnation of the secondary theme, which is that not all stereotypes are accurate.

    I wonder, how does this tie in with the secondary questions? Such as “Why do all academics, ever, in any field, drink like fish?”

  2. As a note, we don’t actually have many notes for the above today. It’s one of the aspects of using actual mythological figures in these things: there’s not a lot of room for buried meaning when your soil is actually made up of meaning. All of the nymphs listed as going to the party actually come from Greek mythology, for example. And almost all the names listed were actual names of nymphs of those types.

    One exception is Britomartis, who was actually an Oread in mythology. However, the only named Melia I could find was actually named Melia, and that seemed too twee.

    Sugar ash sap was indeed fermented (and called honey or méli) by the Greeks. It’s not unlike maple syrup, if maple syrup were turned into a kind of potent mead. Or so I’m given to understand. I’d actually like to try it someday, if it’s at all possible to find.

  3. The world was lush and beautiful and bright, and for their part in making it so, the nymphs of the world were to be commended. And so, there was going to be a truly kickass party.

    Yay, for abrupt style changes!

    Reminder: Book, when you have enough of these to fill one.
    I’d fucking pre-order it.

  4. Excellent storytelling, as usual. As for me, alky-hol makes me really sleepy. Is that a kakodaemon or eudaemon thing?

  5. Hmm. A dilemma. I’m catching up on the Bank Holiday’s Banter. Now I read the Mythology first, as these things are important to know. I mean, I know I’ll be careful next time I step round an roadside oak tree to releave myself.

    Which next. Theftword, or Leather. Hmm, I think I prefer Theftworld, but I can hear Dynamo Girl calling.

  6. I think one of my favorite aspects of your writing is the way you can take the myth-telling voice and say things like ‘kickass party’ and it still fit together.

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