What Causes A Hangover? (Besides 5 Drinks)…
An alcohol hangover is understood as when the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level in a body returns to zero after being elevated while drinking. A hangover is your body struggling in misery to return to normal.
Alcohol contains congeners, which are basically substances other than ethanol produced during the alcohol fermentation process—like methanol, acetone, aldehydes, esters, tannins, etc—which are responsible for some of the way that non-distilled liquor tastes. These are toxic to your body, so it wants to get rid of them as quickly as possible so they can’t damage our cells. When alcohol breaks down, our bodies recognize that those congeners are toxic, and the kidney tries to flush them out, so it’s pulling water from our bodies to dispose of them. We lose things like sodium, potassium, and other essential elements in the process. Then, we feel miserable: muscle aches, headaches, etc. A hangover! On top of all that, drinking affects brain activity during sleep, so that helps explain why waking up exhausted is typical of a hangover.
In short, the more alcohol consumed, the harsher the drop in BAC and the worse the hangover.
What To Do Before You Drink
Eat Up & Drink Water
This sounds so basic, yet it we all did this, we’d all be hungover a lot less often!
Eating a meal high in protein and fats is key, and drink plenty of water throughout your day to stay hydrated. Alcohol will sit in the stomach and intestine longer and get broken down more there, before moving on to the liver, which is helpful for cushioning some of the internal processing that leads to a hangover.
So, before you go out, 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. Meaning, you’ll get drunk faster and feel way worse the next day. Drinking on a full stomach ensures your blood alcohol stays lower. My personal tip: I order a pizza before I go to a party. I eat several slices of pizza before I leave the house. This way if the food at the party is hard to navigate or I just forget to eat, I’m covered. (Bonus, you have leftover pizza when you get home!)
Double Up On Multivitamins
B vitamins, which help turn the food you eat into energy, are especially important since they get depleted when you drink.
A big misconception is that hangovers are entirely about dehydration. But other factors making you feel awful after drinking are inflammation and oxidative stress, or when your body’s antioxidant defenses can’t deal with free radicals. And it’s much easier to prevent a hangover than it is to deal with it the next morning. Antioxidants help mitigate the damage, so pop a multivitamin before you go out, or find another way to get in those antioxidants.
Herbal Remedies That Work
These remedies address many hangover symptoms in one fell swoop, and in one small dosage!
- Milk Thistle is a popular herbal remedy for a hangover due to its long history of having been taken to help protect the liver from damage. It can be taken as tablets both before and after your night out.
- DrinkAde is billed as prevention for hangovers. It contains electrolytes, Vitamin B, and milk thistle, gotu kola and green tea extract. (So, essentially many of the ingredients I mentioned in this article already.) I take this before and/or after a night out. It’s a shot sized liquid with a lime taste. I swear by this stuff!
- Flyby is something new to me. It contains pure Dihydromyricetin (DHM), Chlorophyll and Prickly Pear which allows for maximum absorption and digestibility. It also contains B Vitamins (B1, B2, B6, Folic Acid, Pantothenic Acid and B12) and Magnesium to replenish what’s depleted after a night out. You take three of these pills before and/or after a night out. I have only tried these a couple of times, but so far they seem to have a positive effect at keeping away a hangover!
What To Do While You’re Drinking
Stick with One Thing, Space Out Your Drinks & Hydrate In Between
You know this trick – stick with one kind of drink (or mix wisely). You can keep better track of how much you’re drinking, and you’re less likely to upset your stomach.
The best thing you can do is space out your drinks. The average person can process roughly one normal drink—like, a single glass of wine or a beer—in about an hour. Spreading out drinks accordingly helps stop those congeners from building up for processing. Try to remember to throw back a water for every other drink.
Keep in mind also that different types of alcohol have different amounts of congeners—dark liquors (like bourbon, red wine, and reposado or añejo tequila) tend to have higher levels of congeners, while clearer alcohols (like vodka, silver tequila, and white wine) tend to have lower levels of congeners. The fewer congeners you consume, the better to lessen your hangover symptoms. (Bad news for me, since I mainly drink red wine.)
Drink Water Before Bed
Drinking water will be immensely helpful in mitigating how you feel the next day, so drink a big glass of water before you fall asleep, even if you’ve been drinking water throughout the evening.
What To Do After You Drink
There is currently no such thing as a medical cure for hangovers. Many of the same tricks above can help manage some hangover symptoms, including getting some sleep, taking anti-inflammatories or antacids (Advil), eating a nutritious breakfast, rehydrating (water, fruit juice, and electrolyte drinks like Pedialyte), and eating foods that are rich in antioxidants.
Otherwise, you just rest and wait…
Here is to hoping that the New Year gets rung in hangover-free for you all!