We’re often told that the only sure hangover prevention is either drinking alcohol in moderation or abstaining completely from drinking. While avoiding all alcoholic beverages may be the most efficient way, it isn”t always the most realistic or the most popular.
Hangovers are most often an accidental side effect of over-indulgence, as anyone who has experienced a severe hangover can confirm. So, if you have had a few too many, what can you do to prevent, or at least alleviate, the symptoms?
Food: Gruel and Water
Since one of the main causes and side effects of a hangover is dehydration, drink plenty of fluids (non-alcoholic!) such as water, juice and milk. Your body needs fluids to break down the alcohol. Without them, toxins build up and cause you to feel ill.
Dehydration isn”t the only culprit. Drinking alcohol also depletes your body of essential nutrients. Eat something light and easy to digest to calm your tummy. Dairy products and foods high in fat and/or protein are often considered the most helpful. Fruit and honey can help because they contain fructose. Soup can help re-hydrate your body.
Most people falsely believe food is beneficial because it simply absorbs the alcohol. Instead, the presence of food in the stomach helps decrease the concentration of alcohol by diluting it. Thus, food helps by lessening the direct irritation of the stomach lining and by slowing down the absorption of alcohol, giving your body more time to metabolize the toxins.
A good preventive measure is to nibble throughout your drinking escapade. Starting out with food and water in your body reduces your chances of a hangover.
The Drinks of Evil
All forms of alcohol can give you a nasty hangover. Some types of alcohol, however, can be meaner to you than others.
Avoid like the plague:
- mixing different types of alcohol. Your body takes longer to recognize and metabolize the individual types.
- carbonated drinks like sparkling wines. These speed up the absorption of alcohol.
- sweet drinks (margaritas, pina coladas, and other “frou-frou ” drinks). Not only do you look like a sissy drinking them, but sweet flavors can disguise the taste of alcohol, and you may not realize how much alcohol you”re consuming.
- drinks made from dark liquors, especially bourbon, as they contain more congeners.
- red wine in excess. While beneficial to your health in moderation, red wine has more congeners than white wine. Red wine also contains a substance called tyramine, which is found in cheeses and rotting meat and is thought by some to cause headaches.
- cheap liquors. More expensive brands generally undergo a more extensive distillation process that removes many of the congeners that make you ill.
If you must have one of the drinks listed above, you should be able to enjoy it as long as you follow other hangover prevention guidelines, and, as always, drink in moderation.
Taking Vitamins or Pain Relievers
Vitamins: While you may not feel any benefits directly from taking vitamin supplements, they can”t hurt. Many experts recommend taking a B-Complex vitamin with vitamin C before and after you drink alcohol. A deficiency in thiamine (vitamin B1) makes it harder for your body to break down alcohol. Interestingly, beer contains a substantial amount of thiamine.
Aspirin: Taking aspirin while you drink or before you pass out can be very dangerous. The alcohol already irritates your stomach, and the aspirin may irritate it further by increasing your stomach acid.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that taking aspirin before consuming alcohol increases blood alcohol levels by 26%, and that the alcohol actually remains in the body longer because your metabolism is slowed.
Tylenol: Tylenol (acetaminophen), like aspirin, can be very dangerous when mixed with alcohol. The liver can be damaged because, as it metabolizes the acetaminophen, toxins can be released. Today, Tylenol packaging carries a warning of the potential danger associated with combining Tylenol and excessive alcohol consumption.
Ibuprofen: Ibuprofen is also metabolized in the liver and may increase your risk of liver damage when combined with large amounts of alcohol.
While it is dangerous to mix pain relievers with alcohol, you may safely take a pain reliever the next day to relieve some of the hangover symptoms.
Timing Between Drinks
Timing is very importantnot just in hangover prevention, but in determining when you shouldn”t drive.
You should always drink alcoholic beverages very slowly to allow your body the time it requires to process the alcohol. The liver can process only about two teaspoons of alcohol per hour, so it takes the average adult five to six hours to completely metabolize the quantity of alcohol contained in four ounces of whiskey, or three twelve-ounce beers. This means that all those rapid drinking games are out!
Drink at the right time. While to some, anytime is the right time to drink, drinking while you are tired, sick, or stressed can make the condition worse. Your body is already functioning poorly and can”t process the alcohol as well as it normally can. Drinking while taking certain medications can also intensify the effects of alcohol.
Time your drinks. You should know your approximate tolerance level for alcohol. Set a maximum number of drinks for the evening, and once you reach it, drink only water. Many people use the one drink per hour guideline, but everyone has different tolerance levels based on weight, height and other factors.
Try to remember this rhyme: Beer before liquor, never sicker. Liquor before beer, never fear. Because beer is carbonated, drinking it before liquor will cause your body to absorb the alcohol much more rapidly, causing you to feel the effects more quickly than usual.
Blood Alcohol Chart (BAC level) as defined by the DMV:
The following chart demonstrates the percent of alcohol in the blood in relation to body weight over time. One drink is defined as 1 ounce of 100-proof liquor, one 4 oz. glass of wine, or one 10-oz. bottle of 5.7% beer.
|.01-.04% May be DUI|
|.05-.07%: Likely DUI|
|.08% and up: Definitely DUI|
For additional information and weight charts not listed, visit the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).