After a very difficult and socially isolated 15 months, many of us are looking forward to a summer of celebration and gathering with friends. A festive atmosphere is to be expected (and welcomed), and festivity often includes drinking alcoholic beverages — too many of which can have unwanted side effects the next day.
Consuming alcohol in excess can cause dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, low blood sugar, sleep disturbances, and stomach and intestinal inflammation — in other words, it can cause a hangover. The symptoms of a hangover typically include headaches, sensitivity to light and sound, nausea and vomiting, weakness, sweating, fatigue, increased blood pressure, and anxiety.
Many people have favorite home remedies — but is it actually possible to prevent a hangover or lessen its effects?
The best way to prevent a hangover is to drink alcohol only in moderation. According to guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a moderate amount of alcohol per day is one serving for women and two servings for men. (A serving of alcohol is described as 12 ounces of 5-percent-alcohol beer, five ounces of 12-percent-alcohol wine, and 1.5 ounces of 40-percent-alcohol spirits.)
Drinking more alcohol than that is considered excessive and can lead to health problems such as certain cancers, pancreatitis, sudden death if you have cardiovascular disease, heart muscle damage leading to heart failure, stroke, high blood pressure, liver disease, suicide, accidental serious injury or death, brain damage and other problems in an unborn child, and alcohol withdrawal syndrome.
Binge drinking is defined as a pattern of alcohol consumption that brings your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level to 0.08% or more. This pattern of drinking usually corresponds to five or more drinks on a single occasion for men or four or more drinks on a single occasion for women, generally within about two hours. This can also lead to serious medical problems and even death.
If you choose to drink more than is recommended, the first thing to do is give up your car keys. Also make sure that you are with people you trust and that a friend knows where you are — do not accept drinks from strangers or drinks you haven’t seen being prepared. You can limit some ill effects by being mindful of how you’re feeling and limiting consumption to one serving per hour. Be sure to drink plenty of water or other non-alcoholic beverages as well, and eat if you feel hungry.
Then you can take some steps to ease your pain the next day.
And we don’t mean ordering another round. No, consuming more alcohol won’t make you feel any better (“the hair of the dog” can exacerbate symptoms and make you feel worse)! But drinking water will. Alcohol dehydrates the body, which explains the pounding headache and muscle weakness you may feel. Drink plenty of water before hitting the bar and drink plenty the next day! Non-carbonated sports drinks (such as Gatorade) can also help: these drinks contain electrolytes — minerals such as sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium — that help regulate fluid levels in your body
Alcohol can also lower blood sugar, which can be especially dangerous for people with diabetes. If you or someone you know is managing diabetes, be sure to monitor blood sugar levels, keep appropriate snacks on hand, and drink plenty of water. Even if you aren’t managing diabetes, your blood sugar may drop, causing weakness, fatigue, and a bad mood. Carbohydrates can help your body get back in balance. Crackers, oatmeal, toaster waffles, toast, and whole-grain cereal are all quick and easy options.
While you’re at it, top your waffle with eggs and bacon for a boost in cysteine, an amino acid that gets depleted during alcohol consumption. Broccoli is a great vegan source of cysteine. A broccoli and cheese omelet with a side of toast? Sounds good!
An old adage suggests that the order in which alcoholic drinks are consumed makes a difference in hangovers. It doesn’t! Whether you drink wine, spirits, or beer, too much of anything, in any order, can have you hurting the next day.
Taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen might seem like a good idea, and they can lessen the headache and body aches associated with hangovers. However, certain medications, even over-the-counter products, can have interactions with alcohol that are harmful. Always check with your physician before consuming any alcohol with medications.
Alcohol consumption can disturb sleep — so time and rest are probably the best medicine for getting past a hangover. Once you've had a glass of water, something to eat, and perhaps a pain reliever, see if you can take a nice nap. If someone you know has consumed an excessive amount of alcohol and cannot be awakened, has excessive nausea or vomiting, or has vomiting with blood, it’s important to seek medical help right away.
If you have questions or concerns about alcohol consumption and how to enjoy alcohol safely, check out the National Institute on Alcohol and Alcohol Abuse. You can also discuss alcohol consumption related to your personal health with your physician. If you have questions, make an appointment with a healthcare provider at Carbon Health.
Carbon Health’s medical content is reviewed and approved by healthcare professionals before it is published, but it is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Talk to your healthcare provider about questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition, and before making changes to your healthcare routine.