The Hangover Club

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The Hangover Club

By Jodi Sh. Doff 03/22/15

All of these "morning-after instant Dr. Feelgood IV cures" remove what generations of evolution built in for our own good: consequences. 

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Alcohol is a billion dollar industry—correction—multi-billion; Americans spent over $137 billion in 2002.  Just over 50% of that went to federal, state or local taxes and another $5 billion was donated to national election campaigns. The alcohol industry spends another $5 billion a year—that’s $13 million a day—on advertising and promotion, of which, the Mad Men of the world pocket $1.7 billion a year. The next morning, the walking dead stumble down to the corner pharmacy and lay down $2 billion trying to get rid of the hangover caused by the 6.3 billion gallons of beer we drank. Rehabs took in $35 billion last year.  

No one really wants you to stop drinking…except maybe your boss, your kids, your partner...and your liver.

Thirty-odd years ago, when I was just a twenty-something, full-blown, and yet still adorable, alcoholic, I lost half my liver. I had two weird little amoebic parasites that lay dormant as long as I laid off the booze and drugs. The catch was that I couldn’t lay off the booze and the drugs until well after they came out, started chomping away at my liver, and made me so sick that I peed blood and was too weak to get out of bed. A few days in bed and off booze and my immune system would kick back in, forcing them back into their little liver cocoons. Cocoons which got larger each time I went on a binge until they’d literally eaten away half of my liver and were on the verge of bursting.

My morning-after hangover cure was the glass of vodka at the foot of my bed.

Enter Dr. Maurice Beer. He saved my life, and today I have a full-sized liver with two small battle scars. Dr. Beer told me if I didn’t stop drinking, I’d die. He pointed out that I hadn’t done well with a whole liver and I was leaving the hospital with only half of one—and a rather overused ragtag half at that. Just enough for a dinner of liver and onions. 

What he didn’t tell me was how to stop. When you’re an alcoholic, or an addict, you get used to people telling you that you should stop. You might even know you should. Certainly, I knew that vodka for breakfast, lunch, and dinner was not good for my health. But like all twenty-somethings, I was immortal. And I was an alcoholic. I’d heard what he said, but I’d assumed he either a) didn’t really mean it;  b) had to say something like that because of the Hippocratic Oath, blah, blah, blah; or c) was talking to someone else in the room. There was no one else in the room. I took his advice and stopped drinking—for the entirety of the cab ride from the hospital to my neighborhood barstool.

Five years later, at thirty-three, I was back in his office, sure that I had some rare neurological disorder that was causing my blackouts, brownouts, bruises, memory loss, weight loss, bloating, and so on. He repeated himself: "You can’t drink. You’re going to die." This time he added: "You’re an alcoholic." But I already knew that. I left his office with a prescription for Valium and still no idea what he meant by “don’t drink.” Why not just tell me not to breathe?

So, I was a little surprised, and a little unsurprised, when I read recently that the same Dr. Beer is now the medical director of the Hangover Club, which offers various IV treatments, none of which are treatments for alcoholism, or even preventatives. When I called Dr. Beer’s office he was out of the country. I’d wanted to ask how he justified relieving drinkers of the very first and most obvious consequence of over-indulging—the hangover. It’s for after you’ve screwed up, after “a few drinks turn into too many,” says Asa Kitfield, Dr. Beer’s partner in the Hangover Club. “It’s the ultimate Whoops! button.”

There is even a Hangover Club bus which gets “booked for a lot of private events,” says Kitfield, where you can recover with other “busy young professionals who didn’t have time for dinner.” A quick look at the Hangover Club website let me know their target demographic—there’s a bro surrounded by four hot white women, a well-dressed suit who looks uncomfortably like Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman in American Psycho chillaxing on a white couch; and yet another white guy in a suit giving us a sly smile as he’s being helped by a hot nurse. What I’d call white folks with too much money who think they’re above consequences, Kitfield calls the “work hard/play hard crowd.” 

The search to avoid or cure the hangover has been around since the morning after the first fermented grape. There are shelves and bodega racks filled with the before you drink over-the-counter hangover “preventatives.” Products that claim to be to booze what sunblock is to sunburn. Products like NOHO, which advertises itself as a “Functional Lifestyle Beverage” and has the cute little Nasdaq symbol: DRNK. They claim hangovers can be prevented by preloading your system with the ingredients needed to metabolize alcohol.

This is basically a labeled, publicly-traded version of: coat your stomach with milk, eat a big meal first, eat bread to absorb the alcohol, and all the other idiotic things your friends told you in high school. Then there are the morning-after cures that range from a greasy breakfast to hair of the dog to sour pickle juice, and this is where the IV treatments come in. 

The medical community is woefully ignorant when it comes to dealing with alcoholics and addicts. They’ll dry you out, detox you, and lately, it seems, they’ve jumped on the "if you can’t cure them, cash in" party bus. The newest rage is the IV hangover cure. IV therapy isn’t all that new, nor is using it for hangovers, but the branding and sales pitch has taken a definite turn. There’s the IV Doctor; the HangIVer Bar, in Tampa, Florida; Hangover Heaven in Las Vegas; and Dr. Beer’s own Hangover Club in New York City. The marketing is hip and cool, with a variety of packages with names such as Hangover Heaven’s Redemption, Salvation, or Rapture; Dr. Beer’s Hangover Club’s Classic, Super, and Mega; HangIVer Bar’s Hair of the Dog; and the IV Doctor’s Detox—which at least sounds like something medically sanctioned and not something that’s just keeping the party going. 

The Hangover Club’s IV solution includes prescription-strength nausea medicine, but there’s an evolutionary advantage to nausea and vomiting. Vomiting limits the absorption of the poison we ingested. You’ll remember that eating or drinking that thing made you sick, and you expect that it will again, so you avoid it.  That memory of nausea and vomiting has helped us survive for millennia.

All of these "morning-after instant Dr. Feelgood IV cures" remove what generations of evolution built in for our own good: consequences. Oh sure, drink enough and you still have the option of cirrhosis, pancreatitis, impotence, ulcers, arrests, alcohol poisoning followed by coma, brain damage, and death. But, if you have the money—and most of the IV cures come in various levels, including discounts when you book with a buddy or get treated on the Hangover Club’s Mobile Hangover Lounge—you never have to feel morning-after pain. Get your fix with the home-delivery of a nurse and a hanger of saline-plus. But, nausea, thirst, headache, fatigue, and body aches are your body’s way of telling you:

"Hey buddy, you screwed up. I’m completely dehydrated, you probably did some liver damage, and I’m not sure how many brain cells we killed last night so how about we don’t do that too often?"

That voice? That voice is gone.

The foundation of almost every rehab, detox, or 12-step program is hitting bottom, and knowing it. While the bottom is different for everyone, surely those wretched hangovers, with their headaches, vomiting, and missed days of work are part of getting an alcoholic to his or her bottom? They’re our first signs, the ones we feel personally, physically, and repeatedly—the ones that affect us directly.

Hangovers are the consequence of over-indulging that we really can’t deny the way we can other collateral damage—to our bank account, the quality of our work, family or romantic relationships. Or those mornings waking up to a wrecked car parked on the lawn, waking up in bed with a stranger, unsafe sex and the STDs, STIs, and UPB (unplanned babies) that sometimes follow. 

From the age of 13 to 33, I consumed enough booze on a daily basis that I always bordered between sallow and yellow. Foreign bodies were able to invade my body and very nearly eat their way out. On any given day, I couldn’t remember where I’d slept the night before. My morning-after hangover cure was the glass of vodka at the foot of my bed. Feeling like shit in the morning was not a deterrent to me—it’s not to any alcoholic. But it’s a road sign—a blinking neon reminder. It’s a symptom and a warning, one if the bearer of said hangover chooses to ignore, it should, at the very least, serve as a red flag for his or her doctor, not an opportunity to be exploited. 

But does the medical community actually have a responsibility to be informed about alcohol and alcoholism? To take actions in the patient’s best interest, even if he or she is not interested? Nowhere in the Hippocratic Oath (neither the classic nor the modern) does it state that a doctor can’t cash in on the fears, failings, and foibles of patients. Is the next step some method that takes away the physical consequences of smoking crack? Shooting heroin? In other words—is everything okay as long as you don’t feel like shit in the morning? 

Jodi Sh. Doff has written for Bust, Cosmopolitan, xoJane and Penthouse among many other publications. Her last pieces for The Fix were about non celebrity overdoses and powdered booze.

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