How to Feel Better Faster When Dealing With a Hangover
A night of drinks can be fun, but if you have too much, there is nothing cute about a hangover. The pounding headache, intense nausea, dry mouth, upset stomach, trouble sleeping, and dizziness rank high on the worst-feelings-ever list, and you're likely googling "emergency hangover cure."
Dealing with a hangover isn't the most glamorous, but there are certainly some best hangover cures to keep in mind. If you're in the throes of the dreadful aftermath, here's what you need to know, including how to prevent a hangover, how long hangovers last, and the best hangover cures.
Preventing a Hangover
Know this: if you're going to go out and toss back more than a few drinks, you're going to pay the price; the body isn't designed to drink lots of alcohol and feel great the next day. But before you even get to the worst-case scenario, there are a few things that can help you prevent a hangover altogether — or at least make it a bit more manageable.
- Don't drink, or at least drink less: When you go out, instead of giving yourself unlimited access to the Champagne bar, limit yourself to one or two cocktails, says Laura Purdy, MD, a board-certified family medicine physician. "How hungover you get has a direct correlation to how much alcohol you consume," she explains. Drink slowly, and as a rule, don't consume more than one drink per hour, which helps give the body time to metabolize the alcohol. Also, one drink does not mean a Long Island tea. We're talking a beer, a glass of wine, or roughly one ounce of hard liquor.
- Drink water, and lots of it: Since alcohol dehydrates the body, begin and end your night of drinking with plenty of water, and for every alcoholic beverage you consume, match it with another glass of water, Dr. Purdy says. An easy trick is to alternate between a cocktail and a glass — or two! — of water while you are out for the night. You should also drink at least one full glass of water before going to sleep, she adds.
- Don't drink on an empty stomach: Having food in your stomach helps dilute the concentration of alcohol in your belly. Fill up on good-for-you foods with an emphasis on complex carbs (think oats, sweet potato, whole grains, and vegetables), Dr. Purdy says.
- Be choosy with what you drink: Whenever possible, stay away from sugary and carbonated drinks, notes Dr. Purdy. They may taste delicious, but these bevs up the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream, so opt for choices that have a low alcohol content, like sake, soju, or low-cal vodka. Drink clear liquors over colored ones: darker alcohol like bourbon or red wine contain more congeners, a substance that can worsen hangovers for some people, per the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
How Long Do Hangovers Last?
Here's the thing about hangovers: they can be unpredictable and depend on how much and what you drank, Dr. Purdy says. Luckily, though, most hangovers are gone within 24 hours, she adds.
Some hangovers may last a second day, but doing some of the preventable suggestions above can shorten the sickening feeling and help you bounce back, Dr. Purdy explains.
How to Deal With a Hangover
If you're feeling less than stellar after a night of drinking, next-day care is key for recovery.
- Eat something. Even if a stack of pancakes is the only thing you're craving, make sure to eat, because food helps break down the alcohol in your system, Dr. Purdy explains. In fact, eating carbohydrates can actually help speed up the hangover, since alcohol lowers your blood sugar, and carbs will get your energy levels back up, she adds.
- Hydrate. After a long night out of drinking, you need to hydrate, stresses Dr. Purdy. Your throat and mouth are dry due to dehydration. This can also affect your muscles, making them feel weak. Drink plenty of water, and replace lost electrolytes with a low-sugar electrolyte-replacement drink, coconut water, or juice, Dr. Purdy suggests
- Soothe your stomach. Excessive alcohol irritates the lining of the stomach, causing nausea, digestive issues, or, in really bad cases, vomiting. Start with some Alka Seltzer, and eat bland and easily digested foods like bananas, saltine crackers, broth, or toast.
- Drink some juice. Because the liver gets backed up trying to metabolize the alcohol, you might be experiencing low blood sugar, which can result in you feeling irritable and moody. While most any food can help spike up sugar levels in the body, in small studies, fructose has been shown to speed up the body's ability to metabolize alcohol. Give yourself a tall glass of orange juice after a night of drinking, or press your hangover away with this fresh juice recipe.
- Take an OTC ibuprofen. Once you've eaten, ward off a headache with some ibuprofen (avoid pain relievers containing acetaminophen, like Tylenol, because they may cause liver damage), Dr. Purdy says. This can help manage the pounding and any muscle aches. Just remember that pain meds can irritate your stomach (so don't take them on an empty stomach) and taking ibuprofen too close to drinking alcohol comes with it's own set of risks (some experts advise waiting 24 hours after drinking to take an ibuprofen).
- Go back to sleep. Alcohol does a number on sleep patterns; the pituitary gland becomes confused and releases the wrong amount of hormones that regulate sleep; the central nervous system also becomes overexcited, causing sensitivity to light, sound, and touch. All of the above means you do not get a good night of quality sleep, Dr. Purdy explains. If your hangover is really bad, don't feel guilty for taking the day off to relax and get some shut-eye.
What to Avoid When Hungover
For starters: more alcohol. You've likely heard of the "hair of the dog" method, but drinking more alcohol while hungover can actually make things worse. Not only will more booze further dehydrate you, but it perpetuates a cycle and doesn't allow you to recover, according to Harvard Health.
Coffee may provide some immediate relief, but too much caffeine when hungover can also make matters worse. All caffeinated drinks have a diuretic effect (aka it makes you pee), so multiple cups of coffee will continue to deplete your hydration reserves, per the Cleveland Clinic. Plus, coffee might worsen your hangover headache since the caffeine narrows blood vessels and raises blood pressure, which could amplify the painful throbbing.
It's also best to take a day off from any intense workouts. On its own, exercise is not an effective cure against a hangover, said Ruth C. Engs, RN, Ed.D., a professor at Indiana University who has done extensive research on the effects of drinking. While the endorphin rush can counteract the pain (albeit momentarily), the dehydration that comes along with an intense exercise session can worsen symptoms.
If you can't bear to miss a workout, take into account how bad you're feeling, and then opt for a light cardio session or restorative yoga class. But what your body probably needs right now is rest.
Are There Emergency Hangover Cures?
Unfortunately, there aren't any super-quick fixes to cure a hangover and make you feel better immediately. That said, Dr. Purdy says the big four will get you back on track: drink water, take a pain reliever, eat some carbs, and go to bed.
If your hangover feels like a real emergency, seek medical attention immediately. "Most hangovers go away on their own, but sometimes you may have alcohol poisoning, which would require a visit to the emergency room," Dr. Purdy says. Typical signs of alcohol poisoning include low body temperature, change in skin color, passing out unconscious and/or hard to wake up, unresponsiveness, seizures, vomiting, irregular or difficult breathing, confusion, disorientation, and slurred speech, she adds.
— Additional reporting by Andi Breitowich