The Complete Guide on How to Cure a Hangover
We’ve all been there—a birthday party gets out of hand (which happens right around the time someone starts shouting “Let’s do shots of Fireball!”), or there’s an open bar at a wedding, or you’ve just had a crappy day at the office and need to unwind by pounding down the better part of a plastic bottle of bourbon.
In any of these situations, one drink turns into two turns into…well, however many is too many for you. The next morning is a fresh hell of bright light, the taste of vomit in the back of your mouth, and thoughts about why the world sucks so much. Hello, hangover, it’s so not nice to see you again.
Because hangovers are the devil, we’ve compiled everything we’ve written on the subject to provide you with a complete guide to hangovers, including how to prevent hangovers, what to do/drink/eat when you have one, and what products you should check out to help at various stages. We’ve even thrown in a couple “hair of the dog” recipes, for those that really, truly believe that it helps (hint: it doesn’t, but sometimes a cocktail in the morning is a good idea anyway).
How to Prevent an Unholy Hangover
Written by TJ Carter
If you’re serious about preventing a hangover, don’t drink. Like that’s going to happen, right? We thought we’d put together a more realistic guide with the assumption that you’ll drink many of alcohols of all kinds over the holidays. For help understanding how to prevent a hangover, we’ve enlisted the help of registered dietitian and food blogger Tali Sedgwick.
How Does Alcohol Affect the Body?
Understanding how the body metabolizes alcohol is a great first step toward understanding how to prevent a hangover. We know what you’re thinking: “Um, duh, it gets you drunk.” Well, it’s slightly more complicated than that. “When the body senses that you have alcohol in your system, it wants to metabolize that first before anything else, because we don’t store alcohol,” says Tali Sedgwick. “We can store the calories that come from alcohol, but we can’t store the alcohol itself.”
The body responds to the simple sugars in alcohol by pumping out insulin, which then results in a low blood sugar situation. “About 20% of alcohol goes to the stomach, where it gets absorbed directly and gives you that buzz right away,” says Tali. “The rest of it is processed in your intestines, as are most of your nutrients. A tiny bit is excreted through your breath, sweat, saliva, and urine.” Generally speaking, the body can process about a quarter to a third of an ounce of alcohol per hour — the equivalent of an ounce of hard liquor.
1. Eat a Healthy Meal Before Drinking
Chew before brew. Dine before wine. Bisque-y before whiskey. Lobsta before vodka. We have a million of these, but we’ll stop there. One of the keys to preventing a hangover is having a nice, healthy meal before you start drinking — not after a couple shots — but before you start drinking anything at all. “If you’re drinking on an empty stomach, even just 2 ounces of alcohol can lead to really low blood sugar levels,” says Tali.
A high-fiber meal takes a while to digest, and can help your body regulate blood sugars once you commence drinking. Antioxidants such as vitamin C can also help you process alcohol safely. High-fiber foods include brown rice, pasta, whole grain bread, and avocado. Good sources of antioxidants include chili peppers, kiwi, strawberries, and pineapple. For an easy pre-party meal, Tali recommends a brown rice stir fry with chicken, peppers, mango, and other fresh and tasty ingredients.
2. Choose Your Drinks Wisely
You’ve likely heard the rhyme “beer before liquor, never been sicker; liquor before beer, you’re in the clear.” Well, it’s not quite that simple. If you drink a lot of booze, it really doesn’t matter what order you drink it in. Still, there is a jigger of truth to the idea. The carbonation in beer can speed up the absorption of alcohol in the stomach. Here’s what Tali says about drinking beer before liquor: “You’re not giving your body enough time to process the beer, then you’re just slamming it with liquor.”
You might think that you can get a step ahead of your hangover by drinking fruity drinks. Fruit is good for you, right? Well, not when it’s piggybacking a couple ounces of liquor. “When you think of a fruity cocktail, typically the mixers have very little fruit, and a lot of added sugar,” says Tali. “More sugar is just going to add to the problem.” Clear spirits or white wine may reduce the likelihood of a hangover. Unfortunately for Irish whiskey lovers, darker drinks tend to have higher concentrations of congeners — byproducts of fermentation that have been proven to amplify hangovers. Also, cheap liquors are less likely to filter out congeners, and can lead to considerable unpleasantness if consumed in excess.
3. Drink Lots of Water
During a night of drinking, you may notice a spike in the number of bathroom visits. This is because alcohol acts as a diuretic, which means it increases the excretion of water from your body. You’ve probably heard this a million times before, but it truly bears a millionth and first mention: Drink water. All bars have water fountains or buckets, so you don’t have to feel lame about ordering water at the bar.
Tali also recommends drinks with electrolytes, as they can get your blood volume elevated more quickly. “Sports drinks work, but I’m also a big fan of coconut water as an electrolyte drink,” says Tali. You might also consider drinking fruit or vegetable juice so you can get your vitamin C on.
There you have it — three ways to prevent a hangover and still have a merry time on St. Patty’s Day. Tali says that mixing alcohol and exercise can worsen a hangover — as can drinking while tired. She also says that certain painkillers and other types of medication can multiply the effects of alcohol as much as tenfold. So don’t do that.
If you’re hoping for a magical remedy that will allow you to get rat-arsed on St. Patty’s Day and wake up doing a jolly Irish jig, you’re out of luck. According to a 2005 study on hangovers, “The most effective way to avoid the symptoms of alcohol-induced hangover is to practice abstinence or moderation.” Still, the above suggestions will at least dull the consequences of your revelry. In case you’re wondering, the patron saint of hangovers is Saint Bibiana (really).
Based in San Francisco, Tali Sedgwick, RDN is the mastermind behind Food NE/RD, a well-regarded food blog whose goal is “helping you feel your best, one forkful at a time.”
The No-Nonsense Guide to Curing a Hangover
Written by TJ Carter
Come back with us, if you will, to the morning after the first night of heavy drinking. Some sick, confused caveman probably rolled off his mammoth pelt, threw on a pair of stone-rimmed sunglasses, and immediately started working on a crude hangover remedy.
Indeed, there have been a lot of nutty hangover cures over the years. Legend has it that hungover Mongolians brightened their mornings with pickled sheep eyes and tomato soup. Perhaps the idea was to get so sick from the remedy that you forget about your hangover.
Unfortunately, hangover cures haven’t progressed much since ancient times. There is no compelling evidence that any traditional remedy has a profound healing effect. Still, trying a few hangover remedies is better than wallowing in boozy despair. For help understanding how to cure a hangover, we’ve called upon the wisdom of registered dietitian Tali Sedgwick.
Drinking Water and Electrolyte Drinks
As you might have learned in our piece on how to prevent a hangover, alcohol can dehydrate you in a hurry. One of the most obvious hangover cures is also the most important: drinking plenty of water. Alcohol can also have a profound effect on your blood sugar: “Your body responds to alcohol like ‘Oooh, a lot of simple sugars coming in, I better pump out the insulin,’” says Tali Sedgwick. “It’s that insulin response that lowers your blood sugars.” Sports drinks, fruit juice, and coconut water can replenish lost electrolytes and bring your blood sugars back up to speed.
Getting Lots of Sleep
If you party until 4am, you shouldn’t expect to wake up at 6am. The only true hangover remedy is time, and it’s best to spend that time in bed. “Sleep is helpful because it gives your body more time to metabolize the alcohol,” says Tali. Since alcohol negatively affects REM sleep, you’ll likely have trouble sleeping through the night after drinking heavily. If possible, try to steal a few naps during the day. Your boss won’t mind; just tell him you’re hungover.
Eating Eggs and Toast
Food is usually the last thing on a hungover person’s mind. Still, choking down carbohydrates is essential for restoring your normal blood sugar levels. You don’t have to sit down for a five-course meal; in fact, that’s probably a bad idea. Instead, nibble on crackers, toast, and other bland foodstuffs until you feel good enough to eat real food. Tali also recommends eggs: “Eggs are rich in cysteine, which helps break down one of the byproducts of alcohol called acetaldehyde. So the feeling of wanting a big, eggy breakfast actually makes sense.”
What Doesn’t Work
Exercise is good for you the vast majority of the time. However, it certainly won’t make your hangover feel any better. “I tell this to my diabetic patients all the time: Go for a walk after a meal to bring down your blood sugars — exercise naturally does that,” says Tali. “If you combine exercise and alcohol, however, it can actually make your blood sugars go even lower, and make you feel worse.” There’s also the danger of further dehydrating yourself. Fortunately, you probably won’t feel much like exercising after hugging your toilet all morning.
Hair of the Dog
The “hair of the dog” doctrine is a myth perpetrated by eternal partiers looking for an excuse to keep drinking. “I don’t know who came up with that one; it doesn’t make sense,” says Tali. “Your body’s having a hard time dealing with all this alcohol, so you going to give it some more? No.” While the sugar in alcohol can momentarily boost your blood sugar, it will just end up going down again. Tali has a potential explanation for this faux cure: “I can see somebody having a swig of the beer bottle next to their bed and feeling better for a minute, because of the blood sugar issue, but you’re better off having anything with sugar than another swig of alcohol.”
Everyone dreads the morning after a raucous party. The phrase “I’ll never drink again” may pass your lips in between gushes of regurgitated alcohol, but we all know that’s a damned lie. You probably don’t remember much of the evening before, but you recall enough to know that you’ll be doing it again soon. Instead of hanging up your shot glasses and joining the temperance movement, learn how to cure a hangover and prepare yourself for next time.
Tali Sedgwick, RDN is based in San Francisco. She is a self-described “Food NE/RD” whose goal is “helping you feel your best, one forkful at a time.”
The Best Regimen to Cover Up Evidence of Your Wild Night
Written by Katie Dickens
The morning after an over-indulgent evening you probably feel like crap but you also look it, too. Little shut-eye, too much booze, plus loads of late night junk food means you’ll definitely wake up on the wrong side of the bed. As in, those indiscretions are going to be written all over your face. You can disguise your self-destructive tendencies before you head out the door with a combination of energizing ingredients, detoxifying formulas, and the topical equivalent of a slap in the face.
Davines Energizing Shampoo, Malin + Goetz Peppermint Body Scrub and C.O. Bigelow Mentha Vitamin Body Wash
Even if you’re running late for work a shower is non-negotiable. Just do it. And make it cold. Then wash away the sins of last night with this invigorating one-two-three punch of peppermint-infused body cleanser and scrub and caffeine-laden shampoo.
Jack Black Face Buff Energizing Scrub
$18 for 3 oz., getjackblack.com
You might have enjoyed a super fun night, but now you’re dull, your skin, at least. A once over with this scrub will brighten things right up.
Blind Barber Wild Watermint Gin Facial Cleanser
Sort of like hair of the dog for your skin, this juniper berry (yeah, the same stuff that’s in Beefeater) spiked face wash will help you snap out of your stupor.
Clarins Men Anti Fatigue Eye Serum
The eyes have it. Meaning, they will be the first to show signs of your sleepless night by way of puffiness and dark circles. Get all bright-eyed, if not bushy-tailed, with this instant eye revitalizer.
Anthony Wake Up Call
Like an alarm clock for your face, this hydrating gel’s potent (non-alcoholic) cocktail of green tea, caffeine, menthol and prickly pear extract does what the name promises. Plus, it replenishes moisture-sapped skin.
Game Day Charging Energizing Facial Mist
Getting through your day is going to be a struggle but frequent spritzes of this invigorating face spray will help you overcome.
Bloody Mary Recipes to Help You Recover
Written by TJ Carter
In the past, we’ve researched and written about hangover cures. Unfortunately, we’ve found that drinking more alcohol is not really an effective remedy. Still, if you insist on the “hair of the dog” approach, a Bloody Mary is a fine option. It has some healthy things in it, right? Best not to think too hard about that question and just try the unique Bloody Mary recipes below.
Yellow is the New Black
(Created by Cody Goldstein — Upholstery Store: Food and Wine, New York, NY)
- 6 parts Bloody Mary Mixture* (or about half way)
- 2 parts Basil-infused Tres Agaves Blanco Tequila
- Crushed Red Pepper
- Prosciutto Jerky**
- Fresh Basil
- Mini Mozzarella Balls (garnish)
Method: In a Collins glass, add one large Collins ice cube. Pour in Tres Agaves tequila and top with mixture (allow a ½ inch or so of ice to show on top). Stir to combine them. Garnish the top with 1 piece of basil, 1 piece of prosciutto jerky and mini mozzarella balls (optional). Makes 3-4 servings.
*Bloody Mary Mixture (1 quart):
- 5 large yellow heirloom tomatoes (cut into eighths)
- 2 lemons (squeezed)
- 1 tablespoon of salt
- 1 tablespoon of black peppercorn
- 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 inch Horseradish (chopped)
- .5 cup of apple cider vinegar
Method: Combine all ingredients except vinegar into mixer. Begin to puree and add in apple vinegar to help thin out the mixture. Once smooth, pour through a chinois strainer and use a rubber spatula to extract all liquid until mixture is dry and sticking to spatula. Can be refrigerated for 7-10 days.
**For Prosciutto Jerky, place slice in oven at 200 degrees between two pieces of parchment paper and two cooking sheets (to keep flat). Bake for 90 minutes, then pat dry.
The Carrot Bloody Mary
(Created by Giselle Minshull — Bluehour, Portland, OR)
- 1 oz carrot and cherry tomato, juiced
- 1 oz vodka
- 1 oz lemon juice
- .75 oz agave
- .75 oz Secret Aardvark hot sauce
Method: Add a good pinch of pink peppercorns to the glass. Combine and shake ingredients, then strain and serve in a Collins glass. Garnish with a pickled carrot.
(Created by Tim Heuisler — Time Restaurant, Philadelphia, PA)
- 2 oz. The Black Grouse blended scotch whisky
- 5 oz. tomato juice (McClure’s Bloody Mary Mix)
- .5 oz. fresh lemon juice
- .5 oz. Worcestershire
- Pinch celery salt
- Pinch fresh horseradish
Method: Shake all ingredients over ice and strain into an ice-filled glass and garnish with a gherkin, pickled onion, and a piece of bacon.