How to Beat a Hangover
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How to Beat a Hangover

Image for beating a hangover articleMost people know that alcohol consumption can lead to traffic fatalities, alcohol poisoning, and embarrassing situations. But say you plan to play it safe. You’ve arranged for a ride home with a designated driver. You know your limits. You won’t drink yourself silly. What’s the worst that could happen? You could wake up with a nasty hangover, for starters.

Most people have woken up with a hangover at some time or another. Dry mouth, splitting headache, nausea, and upset stomach—you know the symptoms, although they vary, depending on the type of alcohol and how much you drink.

Why Do We Get Hangovers?

Although most hangovers are the result of drinking until intoxication, some people report experiencing a hangover after just a couple of drinks. Not much research has been done on hangovers, but the following factors are thought to play a role:

  • Direct effects of alcohol (dehydration, gastrointestinal distress, sleep disturbances)
  • Alcohol withdrawal (the “crash” people experience when there is no longer alcohol in the blood)
  • Alcohol metabolism (effects of the enzymes the body releases in response to alcohol)
  • Non-alcohol effects (other compounds in alcoholic beverages, use of other drugs, family history)

A hangover typically begins several hours after you stop drinking, when the level of alcohol in your blood begins to decline. Then, the condition peaks when your blood alcohol level reaches zero, but can last for up to 24 hours thereafter.

Hangover Remedies: Fact and Fiction

Hangovers have been around since the discovery of alcohol, so it’s no surprise that a number of folk remedies have as well. These remedies are numerous, ranging from eating a slice of burnt toast to indulging in a morning-after-drink (“the hair of the dog that bit you” approach). But do any of these remedies really work?

If you find yourself on the wrong end of a hangover, the only real cure is time. But there are a few things that may help you feel better. First, since alcohol acts as a diuretic, increasing urination and causing you to be come dehydrated, the first thing you should do when you get out of bed is drink a large glass of water. You should also have something to eat. Bland foods containing complex carbohydrates—toast or crackers—will increase your blood sugar and curb your nausea.

Next, take a measure of your symptoms. If you feel nauseous or have an upset stomach, antacids may make you feel better. If your head is throbbing, you may want to take a pain reliever. Remember that you should avoid taking acetaminophen during a hangover because it can be toxic to your alcohol-soaked liver. Also, don’t take too much aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (eg, ibuprofen or naproxen), since they may irritate your stomach, making some of your symptoms worse.

Some people swear by a small morning-after drink to remedy a hangover. Since hangover symptoms are usually at their worst when your blood alcohol level reaches zero, drinking alcohol will raise these levels and make you feel a little better—but only temporarily. Your blood alcohol level will reach zero again, and your hangover symptoms will inevitably come back. Also keep in mind that drinking alcohol in the morning can quickly escalate to a drinking problem, so people experiencing a hangover should strictly avoid further alcohol use.

Your Best Bet

Your best bet against a hangover is to control the amount of alcohol you drink.

Below is a chart from the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information to help you calculate how high your Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) is. The lower your BAC, the less likely you are to get a hangover. For your reference, some states have set 0.08% BAC as the legal limit for Driving Under the Influence (DUI). A BAC of 0.04% can result in a DUI conviction nationwide for commercial drivers. Keep in mind that you should never drive after drinking.

Men
Approximate Blood Alcohol Content (%)
DrinksBody Weight (in pounds)
100120140160180200220240
00.000.000.000.000.000.000.000.00
10.040.030.030.020.020.020.020.02
20.080.060.050.050.040.040.030.03
30.110.090.080.070.060.060.050.05
40.150.120.110.090.080.080.070.06
50.190.160.130.120.110.090.090.08
60.230.190.160.140.130.110.100.09
70.260.220.190.160.150.130.120.11
80.300.250.210.190.170.150.140.13
90.340.280.240.210.190.170.150.14
100.380.310.270.230.210.190.170.16
Subtract 0.01% for each 40 minutes of drinking. One drink is 1.25 oz of 80 proof liquor, 12 oz of beer, or 5 oz of table wine.
Women
Approximate Blood Alcohol Content (%)
DrinksBody Weight (in pounds)
90100120140160180200220240
00.000.000.000.000.000.000.000.000.00
10.050.050.040.030.030.030.020.020.02
20.100.090.080.070.060.050.050.040.04
30.150.140.110.100.090.080.070.060.06
40.200.180.150.130.110.100.090.080.08
50.250.230.190.160.140.130.110.100.09
60.300.270.230.190.170.150.140.120.11
70.350.320.270.230.200.180.160.140.13
80.400.360.300.260.230.200.180.170.15
90.450.410.340.290.260.230.200.190.17
100.510.450.380.320.280.250.230.210.19
Subtract 0.01% for each 40 minutes of drinking. One drink is 1.25 oz of 80 proof liquor, 12 oz of beer, or 5 oz of table wine.

These charts are only intended to be a guide. Your age, physical condition, diet, and other drugs or medications you are taking can affect your BAC. Women and men metabolize alcohol differently, so a woman drinking an equal amount of alcohol as a man of the same body weight may have a higher blood alcohol level.

The type of alcohol you consume also affects your chances of getting a hangover. Purer alcoholic beverages (eg, pure ethanol, vodka, and gin) are less likely to give you a hangover, compared with brandy, whiskey, and red wine.

Just remember to drink responsibly. Leave your car keys at home and don’t overindulge. You can have a celebratory toast or two without paying for it in the morning.

RESOURCES:

Alcohol and Drug Information
http://ncadi.samhsa.gov/

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/

References:

Alcohol hangover: mechanisms and mediators. National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website. Available at: http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh22-1/54-60.pdf . Accessed October 30, 2003.

Alcohol impairment chart. National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information website. Available at: http://ncadi.samhsa.gov/nongovpubs/bac-chart/. Accessed October 30, 2003.

Drinking: it can spin your life around. American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/handouts/273.html. Accessed October 30, 2003.



Last reviewed July 2007 by Rosalyn Carson-Dewitt, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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