Hangover is a catch-all term for a constellation of unpleasant symptoms experienced the morning after drinking alcohol. People often experience some combination of a headache, nausea, thirst, sensitivity to light, and dizziness. Hangovers can last anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days. The severity and specifics are different for different people, but it's a universally unpleasant experience.
The only ironclad way to prevent a hangover is to avoid drinking alcohol. However, if you're planning to consume alcohol, some steps can make it less likely you'll experience unwanted symptoms the morning after.
Blood alcohol content (BAC) is a measurement of the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream. That amount rises at different rates for different people. For example, people with smaller bodies require less alcohol to raise their BAC. Due to a variety of genetic factors, female BAC levels generally increase at a faster level than males, regardless of size.
The higher your BAC, the more intoxicated you'll be. Research is mixed as to whether a high BAC is directly linked to hangover severity. However, the less intoxicated a person is, the more likely they’ll be able to make mindful decisions that will help limit the negative impacts of alcohol consumption.
Logically, drinks with a higher alcohol content will make a person more intoxicated more quickly. The amount of alcohol in a typical 12 oz beer is roughly equivalent to 1.25 oz of liquor or 4-5 oz of wine.
Certain types and combinations of alcoholic drinks are more likely to cause hangovers than others. Recent studies indicate that alcoholic options with more congeners—chemicals produced during distilling and fermenting—have a higher likelihood of causing hangover symptoms.
Drinks with high levels of congeners include:
Drinks with lower levels of congeners:
In addition, mixing alcohol and carbonated beverages can increase the rate of alcohol absorption and may make a person more susceptible to hangover symptoms.
Alcohol is a diuretic, which means that it contributes to increased urination and can cause dehydration. While dehydration likely isn’t the direct cause of most hangover symptoms, it can make symptoms like headaches, fatigue, and nausea worse.
Staying hydrated while consuming alcohol is a good strategy. Drinking water is a start, but the majority will pass through the body without fully hydrating it. Drinks with electrolytes (such as coconut water or sports drinks) may help the body restore itself more quickly.
Food plays an important role in the body’s ability to absorb alcohol. Alcohol enters a person’s bloodstream primarily through the tissue that lines the stomach and small intestine. When food is in the stomach, alcohol enters the bloodstream at a slower rate.
Because food needs to still be present in the stomach in order to impact alcohol absorption, it’s a good idea to eat a meal shortly before drinking, and it can help to continue snacking or eating throughout the drinking period. Foods high in carbohydrates are particularly good at slowing down the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream. Additionally, food high in nicotinic acid and zinc, such as meat, beans, whole grains, and avocados, may lessen hangover symptoms.
Alcohol can impact levels of vitamins and nutrients in the body, particularly when consumed in excess. Very little research exists as to whether consuming vitamins before or after drinking is an effective method of preventing a hangover. However, one recent study did find that the consumption of magnesium, vitamin B, and vitamin C prior to drinking and again before going to sleep had some impact on hangover severity.
The pace of alcohol consumption directly impacts the body’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Regardless of body size, the liver can generally process about one drink each hour. Any amount beyond that will accumulate in the blood and tissue and begin to cause intoxication.
Slowing down the pace of alcohol consumption will give the liver time to process each drink and decrease intoxication levels.
One effective strategy for maintaining a reasonable pace of alcohol consumption is to keep track of the number of drinks you consume. It can be as simple as making a note in an app every time you order or pour a new drink.
Alternating alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic drinks is an effective way to give the body more time to process the alcohol it has consumed. Remember that drinking anything more than one alcoholic drink per hour increases the odds of becoming intoxicated and ending up with a hangover.
Closeup of unrecognizable adult woman holding a glass of red wine and smelling it before tasting. She's standing outdoors on summer afternoon. Blurry gras and red flowers in background. Toned image.
Alcohol consumption has a negative impact on sleep and makes people more likely to wake in the second half of their sleep cycle for multiple reasons. Unfortunately, this is compounded by the fact that too little sleep can make a hangover worse.
Because being well-rested can help the body recover better from a hangover, it’s a good idea to implement any techniques that normally help you get a good night’s rest after you've been drinking. Whether it’s wearing noise-canceling earbuds, donning a sleeping mask, or calling off any early morning obligations the following day, make sure the body gets as much quality sleep as possible after drinking alcohol.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.