How to Get Over a Hangover

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The best way to avoid a hangover is not to drink alcohol in the first place, even when it might seem like a good idea at the time. But, even if you stick with the recommended one drink per hour, you might end up paying for it the next day. Hangovers begin when your previously raised blood alcohol level drops and nears zero. So, how to get over a hangover? Shelley Shafer, DO, UnityPoint Health, offers her advice to help you get on your feet faster.

How Long Does a Hangover Last?

Dr. Shafer says hangovers usually resolve within 24 hours. But, those 24 hours can be rough due to symptoms, including fatigue, thirst or dry mouth, headaches, body aches, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, poor sleep, sensitivity to light and sound, dizziness, shakiness, irritability and rapid heartbeat. Dr. Shafer says no two bodies are the same, and everyone tolerates alcohol differently depending on a variety of factors, such as age, size and life experience.

“It’s always a good idea to pace yourself. The liver processes one drink per hour. However, the liver can slow down some as we age, so if you’ve noticed hangover symptoms, try spreading drinks out even further,” Dr. Shafer says.

Dr. Shafer says if you know you’re going to consume alcohol, make sure you adequately hydrate the day before, with at least 64 ounces of water. Also, make sure you have at least one glass of water for each alcoholic beverage consumed. 

How Much Alcohol is Too Much?

It's recommended that women consumer fewer than seven drinks per week. Men shouldn’t have more than 14. Dr. Shafer says anything above that could signal a possible drinking problem.

How to Get Over a Hangover?

Dr. Shafer knows most people have their own special recipe to cure a hangover. She says there’s no specific combination supported by the medical community. However, the eight items below could help relieve your suffering.

  • Hydrate. Consuming alcohol causes dehydration by increasing urination. So, if you’re experiencing a hangover, reach for the water. While water is key, Pedialyte or sports drinks can help rehydrate you a bit faster than plain water because they include electrolytes (like sodium and potassium), which help direct water to the areas of the body where it’s needed most.
  • Sugar boost. Alcohol causes low blood sugar. Eating a breakfast high in carbohydrates or adding a glass of juice can help get your sugar levels up while the alcohol comes out of your system.
  • Coffee. Alcohol causes the blood vessels to dilate, which can cause headaches. Since the caffeine in coffee is a stimulant, it increases heart rate and constricts blood vessels. Dr. Shafer says that’s also why there’s caffeine in some headache medicines, like Excedrin. Besides helping with your headache, the caffeine in coffee can also provide a boost of energy. Keep in mind, you don’t need to go overboard with the coffee to feel its helpful effects.
  • Multi-vitamin. Don’t forget to take your daily multi-vitamin. While you likely won’t feel a huge benefit from this, it won’t hurt. Many multi-vitamins include a B vitamin, which can help with energy. Also, if you happen to get too many vitamins, your body will simply get rid of the excess.
  • Go to bed with an empty stomach. You’ve probably heard it’s a good idea to eat after drinking, so food can soak up the alcohol. However, Dr. Shafer says this is a bad idea. Having a stomach full of food at the end of the night will probably only cause you more problems. The reason – having too much alcohol causes stomach emptying to slow, which often leads to more indigestion, nausea, upset stomach, even vomiting. For this same reason, she’d suggest skipping a greasy breakfast, if you’re trying to handle a hangover.
  • Potassium. You’ll get some of this electrolyte in Pedialyte or a sports drink. If you’re feeling muscle aches, adding in a bit more potassium from things, like bananas, can help offer some relief.
  • Stop drinking. Having another alcoholic beverage in the morning isn’t going to help your cause. Hangovers are a type of alcohol withdrawal. So, if you have another alcoholic beverage, you are raising your blood alcohol level and prolonging when your hangover inevitably begins.
  • Acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Using over-the-counter pain medication can help, but they come with a word of caution. Both alcohol and acetaminophen filter through your liver, meaning you shouldn’t use these two products together regularly, or you risk causing damage to your liver. Ibuprofen and alcohol both have gastrointestinal side effects, including bleeding and ulcers. Any time you’re taking two things with the same side effect, you increase your risk.

Is Mixing Different Types of Alcohol Bad?

You might have heard the phrase, “Beer before liquor, never been sicker. Liquor before beer, you're in the clear.” Dr. Shafer says there’s no truth to it. She says it doesn’t matter what types of alcohol you mix. That being said, she does recommend sticking with one type because it’s easier to keep track of consumption amounts. U.S. Serving Size Guidelines include:

  • 12-ounces of beer (5 percent alcohol content)
  • 8-ounces of malt liquor (beer with high alcohol content)
  • 5-ounces of wine (12 percent alcohol content)
  • 1.5-ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor (gin, rum, vodka, whiskey)

“If you get a beer, it’s often a pint, which is four ounces more than the recommended size. Bartenders also don’t always exactly measure shots or pours of wine. That’s why I suggest sticking with one type of alcohol. It’s easier to remember, for example, if you’ve had three beers. But, it gets more difficult if you have two beers, a long island ice tea and then another beer. You might think you’ve had four drinks. However, the mixed drink is really the equivalent of three or four drinks, which makes your total around seven drinks,” Dr. Shafer says.

Talk to your doctor if you feel you or someone you know has a drinking problem. Another resource is the National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Referral Routing Service at 1-800-662-HELP. It can route you to service in your community, and connect you with someone to speak with about the problems.