About 85% of all people in the U.S. that are 18 years or older drink or have drunk alcohol. Even “light-weight” drinkers can experience the unwelcome after-effects of alcoholic beverages. One of the most common questions I get asked is “what is the best way to prevent a hangover”? Skip the unpleasant consequences by doing these things before, during, and after you drink. Be sure to try the 5 beverage calculators to simplify your drinking decisions.
How Alcohol Makes You Feel Hungover
If you are reading this article then you have probably felt hungover at some time in your life. Maybe you just turned the drinking age and you are planning to take some precautions. Alcohol can make you regret drinking in a variety of ways.
First and foremost, alcohol can act as a diuretic (cause fluid loss from your body). As your body becomes dehydrated you can develop symptoms of excessive thirst, dry mouth, fatigue, headache, muscle aches, and palpitations.
Alcohol can cause a variety of GI (stomach) issues by causing irritation and inflammation of the lining of your esophagus, stomach, and small intestine. This can lead to symptoms of chest pain (from esophageal irritation), belly ache, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Vomiting and diarrhea can add to your dehydration.
Alcohol can also have a “neurotoxic” effect on your brain, which causes disorientation by disrupting your thought processes and can fragment your normal sleep pattern. This can lead to feelings of anxiety, irritability, lightheadedness or dizziness, shakiness, and increased sensitivity to light and sound. If you drink frequently then these symptoms can often lead to depression.
Even “Social-Sippers” Have Hangover Symptoms
You do not have to be a “big drinker” to get symptoms of a hangover. How you will feel can depend on things like your overall state of mental and physical health, ability to clear alcohol from your body, weight, gender, ethnic background, genetic makeup, sleep quality and duration after drinking, and total alcohol consumption.
You can avoid the symptoms of a hangover by learning how your body reacts to alcohol under various circumstances and by adjusting your alcohol intake accordingly. Each individual is different so you need to figure out what works best for you. For example, I know that if I have more than 7 ounces of beer, even with a meal, that I will need to go to bed earlier than usual and that I will be groggy when I wake up in the morning.
Tips For Drinking – Before, During, And After
This section will show you some of the best ways to prevent a hangover and how to stop a hangover if your drink too much or the wrong type of alcoholic beverage. Chances are that you are already implementing some of these methods.
Plan ahead – Make a general plan for how alcohol consumption will figure into your day or evening’s entertainment. If you arrive at a restaurant or bar early then it’s a good idea not to begin drinking until everyone else has arrived. Try to seat yourself with a group of people that are not big drinkers. You might be surprised how much this can influence your total alcohol consumption.
If you have access to the food and alcohol menu ahead of time you can select beverages that pair best with the meal and have not given you a problem in the past.
It is usually easier to organize things if you are hosting an event at home. Avoid the temptation to open your liquor cabinet and begin the party early. If you are attending an event at someone else’s home and what you usually drink is not available then get a small beverage with low alcohol content or excuse yourself from drinking entirely and have a non-alcoholic beverage. Alternately, you can bring a bottle of what you drink as a gift and then consume a portion of that beverage.
Drink in moderation and pace yourself – Always set a drink limit beforehand and stick to it. Drink your beverage slowly. This will prevent your blood alcohol level from rising quickly and give you an opportunity to eliminate a portion of it from your system. People that drink slowly tend to consume less alcohol and enjoy their overall entertainment experience more.
Hydrate your body – You should always consider your fluid intake while drinking to avoid dehydration. Dehydration is responsible for many of the symptoms of a hangover. Hydrate yourself liberally before, during, and after alcohol consumption. Beverages that contain balanced electrolytes, like mineral water or sports drinks are best.
Plan to drink water between each alcoholic beverage. Ordering mineral water at a bar or restaurant will help with hydration and electrolyte balance. It is also a good way to keep your alcoholic beverage count down. Hydrating increases the fluid in your blood vessels (your intravascular volume), which effectively dilutes your blood alcohol concentration. Drinking alcohol while exercising or being outside on a hot day could dehydrate you more and worsen your hangover.
Eat well – Always eat beforehand and while you drink to help absorb the alcohol and prevent a hangover. Eat a regular size meal ahead of time so that you will have food in your stomach as you begin drinking. Avoid eating salty foods while you drink, which can increase your thirst and prompt you to order another round that you don’t even want or need.
The morning after you drink plan to eat a good breakfast. Raising your blood sugar level and adding some good nutrition with vitamins and minerals will make you feel better. Some people claim that a meal that is greasy or high in carbohydrates helps absorb and breakdown alcohol but the is no definitive research-based evidence to support this.
Take dietary supplements – Some people take dietary supplements to prevent symptoms of a hangover. Supplements that are frequently used include vitamin B complex (a mix of vitamin B1, B2, B6, B12, and folic acid), niacin, vitamin C, magnesium, calcium, and zinc.
Pre-packaged “drinking” supplements are available and should be taken the day before, the morning of, and the morning after you drink. If you don’t want to take a specialty dietary supplement then just use a regular multivitamin with mineral. There are also many foods you can eat that are high in vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals. For more information see Foods High In Antioxidant – Eating Smart For Better Health.
There are a variety of natural herbal and vegetable options that can be used to treat and prevent a hangover. They include Pueraria Lobata (Kudzu), Fructus Evodiae, Trigonela Foenum-Graecum (seeds of fenugreek), Hovenia Dulcis, Pyrus Pyrifolia (Korean pear), Mangifera Indica L (mango), Diospyros Kaki Thunb (persimmon), Thymus Vulgaris (thyme), Zingiber Officinale (ginger), Asparagus Officinalis (asparagus), Oenanthe Javanica (water dropwort), Opuntia Ficus-Indica (pear cactus), and Panax Ginseng (Asian ginseng).
Some of these herbs may be available in health food stores or can be purchased on-line. If you go to a specialty shop the staff there should be able to help you select the most appropriate herbs and provide instructions for use.
Get plenty of sleep – If possible, plan on getting a good night’s sleep before consuming alcohol and always make it a must the night after you drink. Alcohol can adversely affect both the quality and the duration of sleep. You can take melatonin to help regulate your sleep cycle. One study showed that low to moderate doses of alcohol may promote sleep while higher doses create significant disruptions in sleep architecture. For more info see Natural Ways To Help With Sleep – Feeling Refreshed Every Morning!
Here is a video from Dr. Clare Atzema on some of the ways you can minimize a hangover.
How Much Should You Drink?
According to the CDC”s Dietary Guidelines For Moderate Alcohol Consumption the recommended number of alcoholic beverages is up to 1 drink a day for women and 2 drinks a day for men. The alcohol content is typically measured in percent alcohol by volume (ABV). The other way to measure it is in “proof“, a term that originated in England. In the United States, it is defined as proof = 2 times the ABV of a beverage (straight up). Therefore, 40% ABV equals 80 proof, 60% ABV = 120 proof, etc.
So, how big is enough? The recommended size for one drink depends on its alcohol content. The chart below shows you how to figure out what your drink size should be.
ONE Drink/Day For Women (based on CDC guidelines) TWO Drinks/Day For Men
12 ounces of 5% ABV (alcohol by volume) beer equals
8 ounces of 7% ABV malt liquor equals
5 ounces of 12% ABV wine equals
1.5 ounces of 40% ABV (80-proof) distilled spirits or liquor (e.g. gin, vodka, whisky, and rum)
These drink sizes are based on “alcoholic drink equivalents”, which provide a “U.S. standard drink”. This ensures that each of the drinks contains about 0.6 fluid ounces (or about 14 grams) of alcohol. Your bartender or drink mixer should be following this standard.
Mixed drinks, like cocktails with multiple types of alcohol, make it harder to estimate size so the rule of thumb is to just stick with one glass and drink it slowly. If you want to drink more then use the drink calculators in the next section to design your beverage and minimize your chances of a hangover.
How Strong Is Your Favorite Drink?
Here are five drink calculators from the National Institute Of Health’s (NIH) Rethinking Drinking website. You can use them to plan your alcohol consumption prior to a social event or to design your drink “on the fly” from your smartphone in a restaurant or bar. They give you the ability to approximately estimate and control the alcohol content, drink size, calories, and cost of your drink as well as what your blood alcohol concentration will be. Let’s have a look at them now. Just click on each of the buttons below to navigate to that calculator.
Use this calculator to estimate the alcohol content in your mixed drink or cocktail. Since cocktail recipes can vary this is a very handy tool. You can also use it to build your own drink from scratch, using the “check your drink” option.
Drink selections include Mojito, Margarita, Martini – extra dry, Martini – traditional, Pina Colada, Screwdriver, Bourbon And Water, Vodka And Tonic, Gin And Tonic, and Cosmopolitan.
This tool allows you to select the drink size of a particular type of beverage and calculate its alcohol content. This is particularly useful when you need a quick estimate of non-mixed drinks like beer, wine, and liquor. You can also enter custom alcohol content values to find your drink size and vice versa. With this calculator, you can keep track of your number of U.S.standard drinks and pace your self better.
This calculator is helpful if you are trying to watch your weight or are on a diet. In addition to adding calories to your meal alcohol can also act as an appetite stimulant so that you eat more than you should. This tool allows you to choose how many drinks of a specified beverage you would like to consume in one week. It then calculates your total weekly calories at the top of the list. If you try this you might be surprised at how fast the calories (which have a very low nutritional value) can add up!
If you are counting your coin then this calculator can save you quite a bit in the long run, especially if you are a regular drinker. How much is it costing you to drink every week, month, or year? If you’re drinking 2 drinks per day, 5 days a week, and spend $5.00 per drink then it’s costing you $2,600 per year! Go ahead, try it for yourself. Over time you might be able to buy that new car you want or take that dream vacation you have been planning!
This tool can calculate your approximate blood alcohol level and give you drinking advice based on that level (your BAC analysis) after your enter in how much you drink, it’s alcohol concentration, your weight, and how fast you drink it. This tool is easy to use for beer, wine, and liquor. If you like mixed drinks or switch from one alcoholic beverage to another then it might give an answer that is misleading. In that case, your best bet is to use a portable blood alcohol concentration tester.
if you are a frequent drinker or need to accurately monitor your blood alcohol concentration for any reason then the number one device I recommend is the BACtrack S80 Professional Grade Breathalyzer. It is portable, easy to use, gives quick results, and one of the most accurate units available.
Drinks To Avoid
Most people that drink know what types of alcohol to avoid. If you are not a big drinker and don’t prefer a particular type of liquor then is always best to avoid drinks that contain chemicals called congeners. They are byproducts of the fermentation process and can be used to color or flavor alcoholic drinks. There is a definite link between congeners and hangovers. Studies by Rohsenow and Howland as well as Verster showed that bourbon (the highest congener beverage) typically results in a more severe hangover than vodka (a beverage that does not contain significant congeners levels).
As a rule of thumb, clear alcoholic beverages are less likely to contain congeners
Low Congener Level Beverages – Hangover Less Likely:
High Congener Level Beverages – Hangover More Likely:
Whiskey (especially bourbon whiskey)
Carbonated drinks – Carbonated alcoholic beverages like champagne, sparkling wine, and drinks made with soda water are more likely to give you a hangover than the same beverage without the bubbles. There are many theories explaining why this is so. One theory is that carbonation helps relax the sphincter muscle between the stomach and the small intestine (where about 80% of alcohol is absorbed). Another theory states that the bubbles allow alcohol to be absorbed directly into your bloodstream through the inside of your nose.
Methanol (also known as wood alcohol) can be found as a congener in drinking alcohol (ethanol). It breaks down into formic acid and formaldehyde and can cause or worsen a hangover.
Moderating Your Drinking To Avoid Medical Problems
I would be remiss if I did not list some of the medically important reasons to moderate your drinking. Excess ingestion of alcohol can worsen or cause the following problems, just to name a few.
- Decreased memory and cognitive function, dementia, stroke
- High blood pressure
- Cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach, liver, colon, rectum, and breast
- Heart attack, enlarged heart, congestive heart failure
- Cirrhosis of the liver, fluid retention
- Pancreatitis (acute and chronic)
- Bone marrow problems, anemia, bleeding
- Stomach and small intestine ulcers
- Malnutrition and low vitamin levels
- Adverse reactions with medications
You don’t necessarily have to be an “alcoholic” or drink regularly to develop any of the above complications. Some people may be sensitive to the adverse effects of alcohol or should not drink, especially if you have a pre-existing medical condition.
There are many ways to enjoy a drink or two without having a hangover the next day. Try various types of drinks to find the ones you like that don’t make you ill and stick with them. Eventually, you will learn what you should and should not drink and how much of it you can consume. Remembering to pace yourself is important, especially if you are having more than one drink. It is usually best not to mix different types of drinks together in one session.
When you drink it’s important to hydrate yourself, eat, take dietary or herbal supplements, and get a good night’s sleep. Always drink alcohol sensibly and in moderation to add enjoyment to your healthy lifestyle.
If you have a history of medical problems or are on prescribed medications then it’s important to check with your health care provider before drinking alcohol. Don’t ever drink and then drive. Always appoint a designated driver.
Tell Us What You Think
Please let us know what’s on your mind in the comment section, or if I can help you with anything.
- Do you have any additional tips or suggestions?
- What drink gives you the worst hangover?
- What drinking strategy do you use to avoid getting hungover?