Hangovers make everything hard—especially during the holiday season. For many, this time of year is jam-packed with activities. Our schedules are full of holiday party commitments, gifts to buy, food to cook, and family and friends to see. It can be hard to keep up, so sure, we may indulge in some alcohol to help take the edge off of the busy holiday season.
Initially, it might feel like alcohol helps us to relax; the first few sips seem to remove any of life’s worries. But when we over-indulge and find ourselves waking up the next day not feeling our best, we find that we are still faced with our long list of endless to-do’s. We wonder what happened when all we wanted to do was take the edge off.
It happens. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in six US adults over-drinks about four times a month.
So if you’re looking to still enjoy your drinks this holiday season (and beyond) without the burden of a hangover, here are some simple tips to keep in mind.
1. Know your limits and set them before you start drinking.
This has to be the first and most fundamental step—and often it’s easier said than done. I think we all know the key to avoiding a hangover is not drinking beyond your own personal limit. Yet so many of us have been there the morning after a night of drinking, hungover and wondering why we ordered that last drink. We lose our sense of judgement once we begin to drink, so it’s easy to overdo it once we’ve started. A key to success here is to take time with yourself before you begin drinking to identify your limits—and commit to them. Take a few minutes in silence to get clear on your intentions with drinking. Write them down, even, and sign your name to them. You can even make a list of the things you want to do the next day that a hangover would prevent you from doing.
For example: I want to have fun tonight and not have any regrets tomorrow morning. Therefore, I commit to having no more than 1 drink per hour and a maximum of 3 drinks. I will drink at least 1 glass of water between each drink. I will drink slowly and really enjoy and savor the beverage. If I have more than 3 drinks, I know that I will be hungover and will be unable to focus on my work meeting tomorrow, go Christmas shopping, or enjoy time with my kids.
You can also get a trusted friend to hold you accountable to your drink number. Ask the waiter to not serve you more than that set amount. Don’t keep alcohol in your house, and if you do, limit it to the amount you can drink in a sitting without a hangover.
As you move into your drinking session, keep these intentions with you. This will help you to maintain focus on the goals your sober-self (who knows best) set out for you.
2. Examine why you’re drinking before you start drinking.
Not to get too philosophical here, but it’s important to know your own reasons why you’re drinking. This reason might vary with each drinking session: for example, are you drinking to have fun with friends, or drinking to cope after a stressful day? Whatever your reason is, identify it. Once you know why you’re drinking, get clear on how many drinks you want to have to fulfill that reason. For example, if you’re drinking to have fun with friends, drinking too much may prevent you from doing that and make the next day regretful instead of celebratory. Or if you’re drinking to cope with a stressful day, perhaps just a couple of drinks will give you the relaxed feeling you’re after. Anything more will make tomorrow even more stressful. Know your “why” for drinking and how many drinks it will take to fulfill that.
Water is your best friend when it comes to drinking because alcohol is a diuretic (it makes you urinate frequently) and therefore dehydrates you the more you drink. The more dehydrated you get, the worse your hangover will be. Adding in at least 1 full glass of water for every alcoholic beverage you have is vital to avoiding hangovers. If you’re out drinking, order a pitcher of water for the table. Or with every drink you order, be sure to order a glass of water with it.
4. Eat food before you drink.
The key here is to eat before you drink—before any alcohol has absorbed into your bloodstream. Eating before drinking alcohol allows the alcohol to be assimilated more slowly into your system. For best results, make it a hearty meal consisting of protein, carbs, and fat.
Recent studies point to supplements which may alleviate the effects of a hangover—two of which are red ginseng and Korean pear juice. Both supplements were shown to lower the blood alcohol concentration and alleviate the symptoms of a hangover. A quick Google search of these will point you to sites where you can purchase some for yourself for your next drinking session. But remember, supplements are an extra layer of safety. Taking them doesn’t give you permission to drink a ton.
Pharmacotherapy uses safe, FDA-approved medications that are proven to help people crave less and drink less alcohol. This approach is especially effective when combined with behavioral change support. One medication that’s used for this is naltrexone. Naltrexone reduces the pleasure effects of alcohol and therefore leads you to drink less. And thanks to telemedicine, pharmacotherapy can be done easily from the comfort of your home.
7. Don’t beat yourself up.
Okay, so this last tip isn’t a hangover prevention tip, but more of a reminder to be kind to yourself—no matter what. Sometimes we have a tendency to beat ourselves up, to feel guilt and shame that we overdrank, yet again. But this behavior won’t help your hangover go away. It’s best to be gentle on yourself, take care of yourself the best you can, and try better next time.
Katie Lain is director of community engagement at Ria Health.