If you drink alcohol, you’ve likely experienced a hangover at some point. Though hangovers can vary in symptoms and severity, they often include headache, fatigue, dizziness, and nausea. Generally speaking, the more alcohol you drink, the worse your hangover will be the following day.
A bad hangover can put you out of commission for the entire day, but fortunately, there are steps you can take to ward off a hangover. Continue reading to learn how to prevent a hangover, and put some of these tips into practice before you head out for your New Year’s Eve party.
Already have a hangover? Here's how to cure it.
Hangovers occur after drinking too much alcohol, but the amount of alcohol required to cause symptoms varies from person to person. One drink may be enough to cause hangover symptoms for some people, while others have a higher tolerance.
Hangover symptoms typically begin when your blood alcohol content drops back down to at or near zero after drinking. Symptoms are usually in full effect the next morning.
Depending on what kind of alcohol you drank and how much, you may experience symptoms such as:
Dry mouth and excessive thirst
Nausea and vomiting
Sensitivity to light and sound
Loss of appetite
What causes hangovers?
Various factors work together to contribute to hangover symptoms, including:
Increased urination. Alcohol is a diuretic, which is a substance that causes increased urination. In turn, this can lead to dehydration, which contributes to symptoms such as thirst, dry mouth, headache, and lightheadedness.
Inflammation. Alcohol triggers an inflammatory immune system response. This can trigger certain agents that create physical symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, memory problems, and loss of appetite.
Stomach irritation. Alcohol increases the production of stomach acid and delays emptying of the stomach, both of which can contribute to nausea, stomach pain, and vomiting.
Low blood sugar. Excessive alcohol consumption can decrease blood sugar levels, causing symptoms such as weakness, shakiness, and fatigue.
Expanded blood vessels. Alcohol can cause blood vessels to expand, which causes headaches.
Sleep disturbances. Alcohol can prevent deeper stages of sleep and cause you to wake up during the night, leading to fatigue and difficulty concentrating.
How to avoid a hangover
The only guaranteed way to prevent a hangover is to avoid alcohol consumption. While some over-the-counter pills and tablets claim to prevent hangovers, there is no scientific evidence to support the use of these products. If you choose to drink, do so in moderation and follow these tips to help ward off hangover symptoms.
Drink plenty of water
It’s easy to avoid dehydration, but it’s also easy to forget to drink water when you’re at a party or out celebrating with friends. Make a rule to drink a glass of water in between each alcoholic beverage, and drink a big glass of water before going to bed. You’ll likely feel much better the next day if you make it a priority to hydrate.
Avoid drinks high in congeners
The main active ingredient in alcohol is ethanol, which is the primary source of hangover symptoms. Alcohol also contains toxic chemicals called congeners, which give many types of alcohol their flavor. Congeners occur naturally in alcohol as a result of distilling and fermenting processes. Alcoholic beverages with high levels of congeners seem to be associated with more severe hangover symptoms.
Congeners are found in higher amounts in dark liquors, such as whiskey, brandy, cognac, and especially bourbon. Colorless drinks, such as vodka and rum, have lower levels of congeners. Vodka has essentially no congeners.
Studies that compared the effects of bourbon and the effects of vodka found that bourbon was associated with higher hangover ratings.
Eat before and while drinking
Have you ever noticed that you feel the effects of alcohol more if you haven’t eaten? Alcohol is absorbed more quickly on an empty stomach. It may help to lessen hangover symptoms if you have something to eat before you start drinking and eat throughout the night.
Know your limits and drink in moderation
Decide ahead of time how much you’ll have to drink, and stick to it.
Limit yourself to one alcoholic drink per hour. Stop when you’ve hit your limit, or before then if you start to feel like you’ve had too much.
Consider the use of some supplements
Certain herbal supplements have been shown to help prevent hangovers, possibly due to their anti-inflammatory properties.
In one study, red ginseng was found to relieve hangover symptoms. Participants drank 100 ml of whiskey along with either a glass of water or a red ginseng anti-hangover drink. Plasma alcohol concentrations of participants who drank the red ginseng beverage were significantly lower than the control group after 30 minutes, and the beverage had a positive effect on hangover symptoms.
Ginger may also help prevent hangover symptoms. Another study examined the effects of a traditional Chinese hangover remedy containing tangerine, ginger, and brown sugar. Participants who drank the remedy following a large amount of alcohol showed significant decreases in nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Research also shows promising results from prickly pear, the fruit of a cactus native to Mexico. Study participants who took prickly pear extract five hours before alcohol consumption showed significant improvements in nausea, dry mouth, and appetite after drinking. Levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation, were also significantly lower in participants who took the prickly pear extract.
While herbal supplements won’t completely prevent a hangover, they may be worth trying if you plan on a night of drinking. Always read instructions and take supplements as directed.
It’s also a good idea to follow an anti-inflammatory diet in general, as chronic inflammation is associated with numerous degenerative diseases, including cancer, heart attack, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease. Anti-inflammatory foods include leafy greens, celery and celery juice, blueberries, tomatoes, olives and olive oil, turmeric, and green tea.
How to cure a hangover
If you do end up drinking too much and find yourself hungover, try these tips to start feeling better.
Eat a hearty breakfast
Because some hangover symptoms are associated with low blood sugar, eating a nutritious breakfast in the morning may help. Carbohydrates will help raise blood sugar levels quickly.
Other foods that are especially helpful in alleviating hangover symptoms include bananas, eggs, honey, spinach, oranges, asparagus, and high-protein foods such as meat.
Drink plenty of fluids
Hangover symptoms such as diarrhea, sweating, or vomiting could indicate severe dehydration.
Although it may be difficult to keep anything down if you’re severely hungover, make an effort to hydrate by sipping water.
Get some sleep
Alcohol can disrupt sleep patterns, and lack of sleep can worsen some hangover symptoms, such as fatigue, headache, and irritability. If possible, stay in bed and get enough rest to allow your body to recover.
While exercise may be the last thing you want to do while hungover, it may help you feel better.
The same qualities that make exercise an effective antidepressant can also help you feel better after a night of heavy drinking. Exercise increases oxygen flow to the brain and releases a surge of neurochemicals and hormones—including endorphins and norepinephrine—that boost energy and mood.
Don’t push yourself too hard, since you’re likely dehydrated. Stay hydrated and minimize sweating with some gentle exercises like walking or yoga.
Finally, always drink responsibly. Take an Uber or get a ride with a designated driver if you know you’ll be drinking, or arrange to spend the night at the location of the party so you don’t have to be on the roads at all.
Practicing these tips can help you enjoy a night of celebrating without the pain and nausea that can be all too common the day after.