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All About Hangovers: Cures, Tips, and FAQs

Most of us have woken up with a hangover at least once in our lives. Here’s the science of why heavy drinking makes us feel so bad the morning after, a look at common hangover cures, and how you can prevent these awful symptoms in the first place.

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What Is a Hangover?

Scientifically, a hangover is a set of physical and psychological symptoms that occur after consuming too much alcohol. Most people will experience hangovers as nausea, tiredness, and a headache—but they can come with a range of other unpleasant effects as well.

Common hangover symptoms include:

  • Body aches
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Extreme thirst
  • Sensitivity to loud noises and bright lights
  • Agitation

Table of Contents

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What Causes Hangovers?

While the science behind hangovers is still developing, it seems there are several reasons alcohol causes you to feel so terrible the morning after. Put simply, alcohol is stressful for your body to process. In high quantities, its effects create a perfect storm inside your system, and it takes time to recover. Some of the factors include:

  • Acetaldehyde: This toxic chemical is produced as your body breaks down booze.1 Until it is eliminated from your system, it can cause stress throughout your body, which may be a factor in hangovers.
  • Congeners: These are chemicals found in dark liquors that may amplify hangover symptoms.2
  • Cytokine levels: Cytokines are proteins that play an important role in your immune response.3 Alcohol may alter cytokine levels, causing many of the “sickness” symptoms linked to hangovers.
  • Dehydration: Alcohol causes you to urinate more often, flushing fluids from the body more quickly and dehydrating you. While there is debate about the role of dehydration in hangovers, it can certainly contribute to headaches, fatigue, and dizziness.
  • Disrupted sleep: Even though alcohol can make you drowsy, heavy drinking actually worsens the quality of your sleep. This can make you feel extra tired and sick in the morning.
  • Stomach and gut irritation: Alcohol can be hard on your digestive system, resulting in nausea or diarrhea the next day.

Read more: Alcohol and Your Health

How to Avoid a Hangover

When it comes to how to prevent a hangover, the best thing to do is limit your alcohol intake from the get-go.

There’s no set-in-stone number of drinks that will make you feel sick later on, but having more than one drink per hour is most likely to cause problems.4 This is the approximate rate at which your body can process alcohol.

To reduce the risk of hangovers, pace yourself and avoid having more than three to four drinks on a night out.

What Can You Do To Reduce the Chances of a Hangover?

Here are some additional tips for lowering your odds of a hangover.

  • Have a glass of water after every alcoholic beverage.
  • Eat a hearty portion of food before you dive into drinking. A well-rounded meal can help your body absorb alcohol at a slower pace.
  • Cut back on sugary and dark drinks. These are known to cause more intense hangover symptoms.
  • Avoid shots and pure liquor. Choose low-sugar cocktails or seltzers instead.

Read more: Tips To Control Drinking at a Party

man crouching on floor holding his head

How to Recover from a Hangover

If you’ve ever been desperate to figure out how to cure a hangover, you’re not alone. You may have heard of popular “hangover cures”—like coffee, taking ibuprofen before bed, prairie oyster cocktails, or having a Bloody Mary in the morning.

However, many popular remedies only provide temporary relief—and some may even make things worse. In truth, the best hangover remedies are simpler (and a bit more boring) than the cures you might find online.

What Can Actually Make a Difference in Your Hangover?

Here are the most effective remedies to help your body recover from drinking:

  • Drink plenty of water when you wake up. Alcohol causes excess urination, sweating, vomiting, and even diarrhea at times. All of these combined symptoms can lead to serious dehydration. Water can also help you flush toxins from your system.
  • Eat nutritious food. Reach for healthier foods the morning after drinking (even if a greasy breakfast sounds tempting). Nourishing your body will help it bounce back, and be more resilient overall.
  • Focus on restful sleep. Too much alcohol can disrupt your sleep, so prioritize rest and recovery after a night out. Pace yourself in your daily activities, and call out of work if you think you cannot fulfill your responsibilities.

All in all, there are many ways to soothe a hangover in the moment. But to truly recover, you mostly need two things: water and time.

Ready for a change in your relationship with alcohol?
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Hangover FAQs

Here are some commonly asked questions and answers regarding hangovers.

Is pickle juice good for hangovers?

Hypothetically, pickle juice could help with hangovers by correcting electrolyte imbalances from dehydration. But it’s not any more powerful than other electrolyte-infused beverages. If it’s unpleasant to drink, leave it be.

Does Pedialyte help with hangovers?

Pedialyte might help restore your blood sugar and electrolyte balance after a night out, but its usefulness is often overstated. While it can be helpful, it won’t cure all of your drinking-induced ailments.

Read more: Can Pedialyte Really Cure Your Hangover?

How long does a hangover last?

A nasty hangover can keep you down and out for up to three days.5 But most of the time, you’ll start feeling better within a day or so.

How do I get rid of hangover anxiety?

If you’ve ever dealt with racing thoughts and stress after a long night of drinking, you know what hangxiety (hangover anxiety) is like. You can calm your mind through following a standard hangover protocol, deep breathing, mindfulness, and patience.

Read more: How To Deal With Hangxiety

Do hangovers get worse as you get older?

Hangovers really can worsen as you age. This may happen because your liver slows down, and your body retains less water as you get older.

Read more: Why Do Hangovers Get Worse With Age?

Do hangover pills work?

Certain brands market pills that can “cure” some (or all) of your morning-after-drinking symptoms. These pills might include blends of B vitamins, aspirin, ginseng, and other ingredients. Their effectiveness is uncertain at best, and it might be better to stick to sleep, water, and healthy food instead.

Read more: Hangover Pills vs Anti-Craving Medication

Should I go to work hungover?

Before going to work hungover, ask yourself if you can survive your shift. In some cases, it might be best to stay home and rest. If you do decide to head to work, plan ways to stay comfortable and hydrated throughout the day.

Read more: How To Deal With a Hangover at Work

Are Hangovers Becoming a Common Part of Your Life?

If you’re experiencing hangovers more frequently than you’d like to, you’re not alone. Heavy drinking is normalized in today’s world—even when it leads to days spent in bed or other repercussions down the road. This can make it hard to gauge whether or not your drinking habits are healthy, or if it’s really time to cut back.

If you aren’t sure whether your drinking is “normal,” take our free alcohol use quiz to see where you stand. Or, if hangovers have become too large a part of your life, get started with Ria Health’s online program today.

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