Why regret more than last night’s dance moves, amirite?
BY: Kara Cuzzone and Elizabeth Narins/Cosmopolitan.mag
If you’re looking to prevent a hangover, the easiest way to do that is to drink in moderation or not at all…duh. You’ve probably heard that a million times. But what does moderation *actually* mean in this case?
For most women, experts recommend having no more than three standard drinks in one sitting. (Yup, even when there are bottomless mimosas involved.) Another easy guideline to keep in mind? Stick to one standard drink per hour, says Laura Veach, PhD, director of the master’s program in addiction research and clinical health at Wake Forest School of Medicine. That’s because your liver typically takes about an hour to process one drink, she explains.
Drink any more than that, and you’re more likely experience a hangover because you’re consuming more alcohol than your body can handle. But good news: According to the pros (you know, actual MDs, RDs and PhDs), there are ways to lower your chances of feeling like a human trash can after a night out.
Oh, and if you’re already feeling hungover and you’re reading this for future reference, there are a few things you can do to feel better ASAP too.
Here, 21 expert-approved tricks to prevent a hangover at every stage of your bender journey. Just promise not to leave your phone in the Uber again, please.
Before You Drink
Give yourself a food baby. Ok, so nobody wants to feel bloated before a night out, but make sure you’re full. Like, really full. “When you drink alcohol on an empty stomach, it just passes the alcohol right to your intestines and then it’s absorbed into the bloodstream very quickly,” explains Robert Swift, MD, associate director of the Brown University Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies. That means you’ll get drunk faster and feel way worse the next day. Drinking on a full stomach ensures your blood alcohol stays lower, he says.
Dr. Veach recommends chowing down on foods like red meat, chicken, shellfish, avocados, mushrooms, and whole grains, which are rich in zinc and nicotinic acid, two nutrients that were shown to reduce the severity of hangover symptoms in a 2019 study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine.
Hit the gym. One of the main reasons hangovers happen is because we’re trying to blow off steam and we go too far, explains Leon Coleman, MD, research assistant and professor at the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies at UNC Chapel Hill. That’s why he recommends working out or finding another healthy way to relieve stress before you go out. Then, when it’s time to rage, that work hard/play mentality is gone, says Dr. Coleman. “You can enjoy yourself without going too far.”
Choose your squad wisely. Another reason we drink too much and then feel like death the next day is because we’re with the wrong people. “Who you’re with is one of the main determinants of your behaviors, it’s been well studied,” he adds. Pro tip? Take note of your friends who bail on plans to nurse a hangover every Sunday and steer clear the next time they invite you out.
Avoid sugar. Dipping into your candy stash and then going out for a night of drinking can set you up for a bad hangover. Since alcohol causes inflammation, which is thought to be one of the factors that goes into creating a hangover, you want to avoid adding any additional inflammation to your body—which is exactly what sugar does, explains Dr. Veach.
While You Drink
Mix in a water or a mocktail. Remember how Dr. Veach recommended sticking to one drink per hour? Yeah, easier said than done. So if you find that you tend to down your vodka crans too quickly, try to alternate every boozy drink with a non-alcoholic one. By spacing out your alcoholic drinks, you’ll be giving your body more time to process them, says Dr. Veach. And giving the body more time to process alcohol = less sh*tty symptoms tomorrow. Yay!
Keep track of how many drinks you’ve had. It’s really easy to get carried away with your friends or a few heavy pours and think you’ve had three drinks when you’ve actually had more like five or six. That’s why Dr. Veach suggests keeping track. It can be as simple as popping a little 🍸 emoji into the notes app on your phone every time you start a new drink. Just do something to make sure you have an accurate idea of how much alc you’ve had over the course of the night.
Order beer, wine, or mixed drinks—not shots. If you’re trying to stave off a hangover, it’s best to choose a drink with a low ABV (alcohol by volume) percentage. “Higher volumes of alcohol seem to cause worse [hangover] symptoms in a lot of people,” says Dr. Veach. Sipping on beer, wine, or a mixed drink is typically better than downing a shot too, since you’re consuming the alcohol more slowly. Just be sure not to chug, because that defeats the whole purpose.
Opt for organic wine. Preservatives and pesticides may be why people feel more hungover drinking wine in the U.S. than they do in Europe, says Wendy Leonard, RDN, founder of Rhode Island Nutrition Therapy. (Well, that and the fact that many European wines have less alcohol content than those in the U.S.) So if you can get an organic, preservative-free, or lower alc wine (think 12.5 percent or less) that might help prevent hangover symptoms tomorrow, she explains.
Make your roadie a Gatorade. Chasing your alcohol with coconut water or a sports drink like Gatorade helps replace the fluids and electrolytes, the nutrients you lose when you drink, says Elizabeth Kovacs, PhD, director of the alcohol research program at Loyola University. She recommends sipping either a coconut water or a Gatorade throughout the night to prevent a pounding headache when you wake up.
Skip the smokes. When 113 college students documented their alcohol intake, smoking habits, and hangover symptoms every day for eight weeks, researchers found that when students drank heavily, smoking significantly increased the risk and severity of a hangover, according to a study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.
Stick with clear liquor. Clear liquors like vodka and gin have less congeners, which are compounds that have been linked to hangovers, than dark liquors like whiskey and rum, explains Jennifer Maeng, RD, founder of Chelsea Nutrition. This doesn’t mean you can drink all the vodka and gin you want, though—it’s still possible to get a hangover from drinking too much of either.
Wash your hands super well. Drinking alcohol changes the way your immune system works, so if you’re exposed to something like the flu, you’re more likely to become infected, have a more severe reaction, and take longer to recover, Dr. Kovacs says. The same is true for COVID-19, adds Dr. Veach, so make sure to follow social distancing guidelines so you don’t put yourself at risk.
Dance your ass off. It’s hard to hold a drink while you’re breaking it down, so dancing, playing a game like pool, or ping-pong (assuming it involves paddles as opposed to cups of beer) can slow the destructive cycle of emptying your glass and immediately refilling it. Just be sure to stash a cup of water on the edge of the dance floor to rehydrate, particularly if you start to break a sweat.
Before You Go to Sleep
Don’t overdo it on the water. It’s true that hangovers can happen when your body gets too much bad liquid (alcohol) and not enough of the good kind (water).
However, Dr. Kovacs says chugging water can put undue stress on your body. And frequent bathroom runs can mess with your sleep. So after a night of heavy drinking, down a glass of water (and a second one, if you’re particularly thirsty), and leave a full glass on your nightstand to treat dry mouth at 5 a.m.
Slap on a sleeping mask. While sleep deprivation won’t cause a hangover, it can make your hangover worse, per a study published in Current Drug Abuse Reviews. Incidentally, alcohol disrupts the second part of your sleep, according to a study in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, which occurs after the sun rises if you go to sleep particularly late. While you can’t control the quality of your sleep after a litty night, you can minimize environmental disruptions with a sleep mask that keeps light out of your eyes.
The Morning After
Chug some Pedialyte. When you’re hungover, you’re generally super dehydrated because alcohol inhibits your antidiuretic hormone (the one that prevents you from peeing), so you hit the bathroom a lot more often, Dr. Swift explains. “Sports drinks and Pedialyte are scientifically formulated to maximize the rate at which the fluid is absorbed,” he says. In other words, you’ll feel better ASAP.
Hit up your fave breakfast place. Here’s exactly what you should order: an omelette with spinach and cheese, home fries, and a glass of OJ, says Leonard. Eggs are high in N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC), which helps your body metabolize alcohol. Similarly, spinach is a good source of Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA), which also helps move alcohol through the body. So are home fries, BTW. And OJ has vitamin B1, to promote some of that mental clarity you’re probably lacking rn.
Forget the whole “hair of the dog that bit you” thing. Experts agree that it’s straight-up stupid to booze it up the morning after heavy drinking. It only delays the inevitable: a hangover that’s even worse than the one you’ve got.
Practice some mindfulness. If you wake up with major hangxiety (you know, that super jittery, nervous feeling you get after drinking sometimes), try taking some deep breaths, listening to a guided meditation or journaling, whatever makes you feel more relaxed. We sometimes feel anxious after drinking because our body is trying to counteract the depressive effects of the alcohol, Dr. Veach explains. The only thing that truly cures it is time, but practicing some mindfulness can help you more at ease in the meantime.
Drink Sprite or seltzer. When researchers at Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou, China, analyzed the effects of 57 different drinks on alcohol metabolism, they found that the Chinese version of Sprite and regular soda water help speed up the body’s alcohol metabolism, which decreases the amount of time your body is exposed to the harmful chemicals produced when your body digests alcohol.
Avoid herbal teas. In the same Sun Yat-Sen University experiment, researchers found that herbal teas make your body process alcohol more slowly, so your hangover lasts extra long. No thank you!ELIZABETH NARINS senior fitness and health editorElizabeth Narins is a Brooklyn, NY-based writer and a former senior editor at Cosmopolitan.com, where she wrote about fitness, health, and more.