In a way, hangovers are a blessing. Without them, we might just be partying hard every day of the week. But as it stands hangovers are a real pain in the…well…everywhere. They aren’t fun for anyone, and they stop us from getting back to life. That’s why it’s important to know what causes a hangover, how to prevent or lighten their impact and how to get rid of them when all else fails. Let’s take a look at these painful reminders of fun and ways to send them packing.
What Is Happening to Me?
A hangover is caused, unsurprisingly, by drinking too much alcohol. Technically speaking, alcohol is a toxic foreign substance that wreaks havoc on your body if taken in excess amounts. It just happens to be really fun.
The hangover occurs not when the alcohol is in your system, however, but rather when your blood alcohol level approaches zero. Your body is under strain and likely dehydrated from the ordeal as alcohol is a diuretic (it makes you pee). Once the happy sauce is gone from your body, the real pain begins.
Hangover symptoms include:
- Dehydration, thirst and dry mouth
- Headaches and muscle aches
- Nausea and vomiting
- Poor sleep
- Increased sensitivity to light and sound
- Dizziness or lack of balance
- Body Tremors
- Decreased focus, memory and cognitive ability
- Depression, anxiety and irritability
- Elevated heart rate
What Makes It Worse?
Just like there are different levels of drunk, there are also different levels of hungover. Hangovers can increase in severity or be light enough not to put too much of a damper on your day. The primary factor in hangover intensity is, of course, the volume of alcohol consumed. It isn’t the only one, however.
Congeners are ingredients in some kinds of alcohol that help give them flavor. They are also known to make hangovers more likely or more intense. Large amounts of congeners are usually found in darker liquors like bourbon or brandy.
Don’t take this fact to mean you have a free pass to slam clear liquors like vodka or gin. Congeners only contribute, they aren’t the only thing keeping you from a pleasant morning. Excessive drinking, regardless of flavor, will ruin your Sunday (or Monday, you rascal).
Can I Prevent Hangovers from Happening?
Sure, stop drinking. But seriously, yes, there are ways that you can prevent or at least soften the blow of hangovers. Done right and in the proper amounts, these preventative activities can even eliminate the need for hangover cures!
- Eat Before You Drink: It may be party 101, but it bears repeating because it is absolutely true. Food slows down the rate at which your body absorbs alcohol. Since it is digesting so much, your body only has so much space to let compounds in, and alcohol has to get in line like everyone else. Drink on an empty stomach though, and it gets a fast pass to your bloodstream.
- Drink Water as You Drink Other Stuff: Take sips of water in between sips (or shots) of alcohol. Water not only keeps you hydrated to stave off some of the symptoms of hangovers, but the act of drinking it will also force you to drink less alcohol.
- Time Your Drinking: Your body can easily process about one drink an hour, so staying close to that will stop you from going overboard. Also, try and stop consuming alcohol well before you go to bed. That way, your body will run out of alcohol quicker, and your hangover will mostly occur while you sleep.
- Get Some Rest: Another no-brainer, but important nonetheless. Sleep is one of the best hangover cures and preventers. Make sure you don’t have to wake up early for anything the morning after and give your body plenty of time to rest.
- No Bubbly: Carbonated or otherwise bubbly drinks like champagne have demonstrated an ability to increase the severity of hangovers. This also goes for drinks mixed with carbonated liquids like soda water or Coke. The bubbles speed up alcohol absorption in your body, getting you sick quicker and for longer.
- Prickly Pear Extract: It isn’t clear why yet, but the extract of the prickly pear fruit from Mexico has been shown to help with hangover symptoms. It is likely helping you out because of anti-inflammatory properties. More on that later. Take the extract about five hours before peak party, so it has plenty of time to reinforce your body.
- Pass on the Smokes: Studies have shown that smoking while drinking can add to the likelihood or severity of a hangover. So, one vice at a time if possible.
All Else Has Failed! Just Teach Me How to Cure a Hangover!
If you’ve done everything you can to prevent the hangover yet have still been cursed by the party gods for your sub-par impromptu karaoke last night, then it’s time to try some hangover cures. Everyone is different, however, so do some experimenting and see what works. It also won’t hurt to try more than one of these methods.
Pop Some Pills
During a hangover, your body is going through a lot. One of the most painful things happening to your body is inflammation, also known as swelling. The blood vessels in your brain swell up, giving you that headache and your guts get inflamed, giving you nausea. Therefore, right when you wake up (and before you go to bed if you remember) pop a couple of anti-inflammatory drugs.
These can be common over the counter medications like ibuprofen or Naprosyn. They’ll get your head straight. However, avoid drugs containing acetaminophen, a common headache medicine. It works well for headaches, but it also puts a strain on your liver, which is already working overtime on that booze. Excessive alcohol plus too much acetaminophen can permanently damage your liver.
Stick to safer pills, and supplement them with some multivitamins. When you are hungover, you are also most likely dehydrated, and your body is missing electrolytes and other key compounds. You can replace these with a multivitamin before and after bed. You can also drink some Gatorade to help your body out, but not too much. Too much sugar never helped anyone.
A full stomach will help you digest that alcohol and send it on its way out of your body. Eggs are one of the best hangover foods because they are filling, high in protein and chock full of all of the vitamins our body misses during a hangover. Order them any way you like but avoid greasy options like fried eggs if you have a sensitive stomach.
Many people swear by greasy foods as hangover remedies, but that depends on the person. Oily and fatty foods can exacerbate an already upset and hungover stomach. If you do go that route, take an antacid to settle your stomach. It also helps prevent sugar overload.
Try Sprite or Seltzer Water
Yeah, we talked about not drinking that stuff earlier, but this stuff can help your hangover for the same reason it makes your drunk worse. Sprite and seltzer water speed up alcohol metabolism. So, if you were drinking, you would get drunk faster. However, if the alcohol is already in your body, these drinks will speed up the process of getting it metabolized, then out of your system.
Is There Anything I Should Avoid?
You mean besides getting housed on tequila sunrises, drunk texting exes, passing out on your dog then desperately googling hangover cures the next morning? Plenty. There’s a lot of misinformation and myths out there surrounding hangovers, and they can make your morning a lot worse.
- Hair of the Dog: A common misconception. It is possible that drinking alcohol the morning after will temporarily assuage your symptoms, but they will be back hard with a vengeance starring Bruce Willis. Also, fixing your alcohol problems with more alcohol is classic alcoholic, don’t be that person.
- Expensive “Miracle Hangover Cure Supplements”: You’ll find these in gas stations and internet advertisements on that website you don’t tell anyone you visit. They claim to cure hangovers with a pill, but no research has proven them to be effective. At best, they are multivitamins with an inflated price, and at worst they are snake oil pills with untested ingredients.
- Herbal Teas: Disregard the hippies on this one. Herbal tea can be great for your health, just not when you are hungover. It has the reverse effect of Sprite or seltzer water, in that it slows down your body’s ability to process alcohol. That means the creature will be causing havoc in your system for hours to come.
As we’ve seen, there are ways to cure a hangover, but there are even more ways to prevent one. If you know you are heading out on the town, consider putting together a “hangover kit.” Fill it with things we talked about like ibuprofen, multivitamins, prickly pear extract, a water bottle, gift certificates to IHOP and a note to your drunk self-reminding you how bad your Freddy Mercury is. Your head will hurt enough the next day, no sense tossing shame into the mix.