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Your head is pounding. Your stomach is churning. You think back to that third shot of tequila, curse yourself, and vow to never drink again before crawling back into bed. Sound familiar? Most people have been there after a night of too many IPAs or vodka sodas. Of course, the best way to avoid a hangover is to limit your alcohol consumption. But research shows there are other ways to minimize your odds of those ever-dreaded symptoms.
First, let’s clarify what a hangover actually is.
“A hangover occurs when you drink more alcohol than your liver can process,” says Dr. Harold Hong, a board-certified psychiatrist at New Waters Recovery. “The leftover toxins circulating in your bloodstream cause physical symptoms. For example, you may experience nausea due to the irritant effects of alcohol on your stomach lining, get a headache due to the alcohol causing blood vessels in the brain to dilate, or get dehydrated due to alcohol’s diuretic effects.”
On top of all that, Dr. Brynna Connor, a board-certified family medicine physician and healthcare ambassador at NorthWestPharmacy.com, notes that alcohol can sabotage your sleep quality, which can exacerbate your hangover symptoms.
The severity of your hangover depends on the type and quantity of alcohol you consumed, says Hong — as well as how fast you consumed it.
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The good news is, there may be ways to mitigate these unpleasant effects. So, before your next round of beers or cocktails, heed the following expert-approved tips to reduce your risk of a nasty hangover.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but don’t underestimate the power of staying hydrated when you’re indulging in some adult beverages.
“Drinking enough water helps flush out toxins from your body and keeps your brain functioning properly,” explains Reda Elmardi, a registered dietitian and owner of The Gym Goat. “If you don’t drink enough water, you may experience headaches, nausea, dizziness, and fatigue.”
Aim to drink about 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of water throughout the day — and try alternating boozy beverages with water to slow down your drinking. That way your body has more time to process the alcohol.
Elmardi says it can also be helpful to guzzle an electrolyte-enhanced beverage, like coconut water, right before or after a night of drinking to regulate fluid balance in the body, and potentially ward off or reduce hangover symptoms that result from dehydration.
“Dehydration causes headaches, nausea, fatigue, and dizziness,” says Elmardi. “If you don’t drink enough water, your liver will have to work harder to remove toxins from your system.”
Drinking on an empty stomach is just asking for a brutal hangover, according to Connor.
“Your body absorbs alcohol more quickly without any food to provide a buffer,” Hong explains. “As a result, you’ll get drunk faster and the hangover symptoms will worsen.”
So, it’s a good idea to eat a hearty meal before heading out to have some drinks. Specifically, focus on foods high in zinc and nicotinic acid, which a 2019 study found can reduce the severity of hangover symptoms. Examples of foods rich in these nutrients include:
It’s also worth noting that high-fat and high-fiber foods delay the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream.
Thinking about downing an energy drink or iced coffee right before heading out for the night? You might want to reconsider, says Elmardi.
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“Caffeine is a diuretic — a substance that increases urine production — meaning it can dehydrate you,” he explains. “Caffeine also raises your heart rate and blood pressure, making you more likely to pass out. Plus, it stimulates the nervous system, which can cause heart palpitations and insomnia.”
According to Hong, straight liquor — whether vodka martinis or Scotch on the rocks — is more likely to give you a hangover than beer or wine (if consumed in the same quantities, of course).
“This is because hard liquor has a higher ethanol concentration,” he says.
Sara Chatfield, a registered dietitian and nutrition specialist at Healthcanal, notes that congeners — chemicals that are produced during alcohol fermentation — can also increase the severity of hangovers. Drinks that contain high levels of congeners include:
So, if you do prefer drinking spirits over wine or beer, try opting for the clear and light-colored stuff — think vodka, gin, white wine, light rum, and light beer.
And since sweet beverages can only compound hangover symptoms like headaches and nausea, you might want to ditch the margaritas and mudslides and stick with sugar-free mixers.
Research has also found that carbonation can speed up the rate of alcohol absorption, so you may also want to stay away from champagne and other sparkling beverages, like gin and tonic.
By the way, you may have heard the old adage “beer before liquor, never sicker” and “liquor before beer, you’re in the clear” but Connor says there isn’t really any truth to that advice. The more alcohol you drink, the worse your hangover will be — regardless of what combination you consume or what order you have it in.
In case you needed one more excuse to quit cigarettes once and for all, here you go: A 2013 study in college students found that smoking significantly increased the risk and severity of a hangover after drinking heavily.
To be clear, supplements can’t prevent or cure a hangover.
That said, according to Elmardi, some can replenish your stores of certain essential vitamins so you’re a little less likely to feel super crummy after drinking.
Ideal supplements include:
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