So you went out drinking, ended up drinking way too much, and now every fiber of your being is screaming in agony. What should you do about it?
Most of us will go through a particularly bad hangover at least once in our lives. Some do it quite regularly (thoughts and prayers your way, folks). Obviously, nobody likes them. The combination of dizziness, an upset stomach, a splitting headache, and dehydration simply makes you feel terrible.
But is there anything we can do to escape the horrible clutches of hangovers?
The easiest and most effective way to not get hungover is simply not drinking that much. Hangovers are a perfect storm of several factors, all of which or another to how much alcohol you’re willing to put into your system. There seems to be a common value for how much alcohol is too much for humans — but exactly how many drinks will take you to that value depends on several factors.
“Alcohol hangovers are generally not experienced after consuming low dosages of alcohol,” a study published in the journal PubMed Central reported in 2013. “Evidence from experimental studies demonstrates that, to develop an alcohol hangover, an alcohol dosage that produces a peak BAC [blood alcohol concentration] of at least 0.11% to 0.12% is necessary.”
“The peak BAC attained depends on various factors including sex, body weight, amount of time allowed for drinking, dilution of the beverage, and time since last meal.”
Some people develop a hangover after only 2 or 3 drinks, while others can drink the bar dry and still be perky the next day. Try to keep an eye on your alcohol intake each time you go out drinking and how you feel the next day. Over time, you’ll get a pretty good idea of what your body can handle. Don’t put too more than that on its plate (or rather, in its pint) and you should avoid bad hangovers.
“How much you drink” isn’t limited to single outings. A 2010 study, also published in PubMed Central, showed that self-reported hangover severity of holidayers was “increased significantly during a week of heavy drinking” and that “the impact of alcohol consumed on hangover became more pronounced later in the week.” An approach I found effective was to alternate between drinking and non-drinking days — although this might make you the butt of a few jokes from your mates.
Congeners are by-products of the fermentation processes that put alcohol in your drink. They’re only found in small amounts in drinks, but they are toxic. A high intake of congeners seems to increase hangover severity and frequency. These compounds can also slow down your body’s efforts to metabolize alcohol, prolonging hangovers. This study tracked people that drank enough to reach a BAC of 0.11% over the course of two days. Among other things, it reports that:
“No effect of beverage congeners was found except on hangover severity, with people feeling worse after bourbon,” and that “[c]ongener content affects only how people feel the next.”
Gin, rum, and especially vodka have low levels of congeners. Meanwhile, tequila, whiskey, and cognac are all high in congeners, with bourbon whiskey containing the highest amount. A good rule of thumb is that clear drinks have low levels of congeners, while dark/brown drinks have higher quantities.
So make your own vodka and swig away merrily.
Alcohol is a diuretic — it makes you pee. This dehydrates and drains your body of electrolytes. These effects worsen if you drank so much you started throwing up. Dehydration, by itself, doesn’t cause a hangover. However, it contributes to many of its symptoms, such as increased thirst, fatigue, headache, and dizziness.
Staying well-hydrated, then, mitigates some of these symptoms. Try to have one glass of water for every alcoholic drink while you’re at it. Avoid carbonated (fizzy) drinks, which speed up the absorption of alcohol into your system. This will help keep you hydrated and reduce your overall alcohol intake at the same time.
Do your best to have some water before you go to sleep and every time you feel thirsty the next day to reduce your hangover symptoms. The best choices are simple, bland drinks like water or tea.
A nutritious meal works wonders to put you back on your feet when you’re feeling wobbly. Hangovers are associated with low blood sugar levels, which make you feel dizzy, weak, or even nauseous.
Excessive alcohol consumption can throw a wrench in your body’s metabolic mechanism. One paper links hangovers with “marked metabolic acidosis” in the subjects it investigated, adding that glucose and fructose “significantly inhibit” these metabolic disturbances. It’s important to note, however, that the study found no evidence of hangovers being caused by alcohol-induced metabolic effects or its by-products. No amount of food, in other words, will cure your hangover.
“The results indicate that both fructose and glucose effectively inhibit the metabolic disturbances induced by ethanol but they do not affect the symptoms or signs of alcohol intoxication and hangover.”
Sugary foods are good for a quick boost of energy. Bullion soup is dense in vitamins and minerals and “easy for a fragile stomach to digest,” according to the NHS.
It also pays to keep in mind that when drinking on an empty stomach, alcohol passes into your bloodstream much more quickly. This intensifies all the side effects of drinking, such as impaired cognitive skills and coordination of body movements. It’s not a huge concern if you drink in moderation, but let’s face it — you’re researching hangover cures, so you don’t. Having a bite before you take up the pint can help mitigate a hangover to a limited extent, as it slows down alcohol absorption into your blood (giving your liver more time to process it)
Sleep it off
Lack of sleep won’t cause a hangover, but it will make any hangover worse. Fatigue, headache frequency, their intensity, and general irritability exacerbate when you’re sleep deprived. At the very least, getting a good night’s sleep will make you better able to handle the unpleasantness of a hangover.
You might have some difficulty doing this, however. I know I certainly do. Although a moderate quantity of alcohol can promote sleep, higher quantities and/or chronic use can be really disruptive of your sleeping patterns, leading to decreased sleep quality and duration.