Holiday Hangover Help: What to Do When You’ve Had Too Much

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No one ever wants to drink too much, but sometimes festivities happen. Keep this guide handy for preventing and dealing with the horrible hangover.

Preventing a hangover
Know this: if you’re going to go out and toss back more than a few drinks, you’re going to pay the price; the body isn’t designed to binge on bad stuff and feel great the next day. But before you even get to the worst-case scenario, there are a few things that can help you prevent a hangover altogether—or at least make it a bit more manageable.

Don’t drink, or at least drink less. Instead of giving yourself unlimited access to the champagne bar, limit yourself to one or two cocktails. Drink slowly, and as a rule, don’t consume more than one drink per hour, which helps give the body time to metabolize the alcohol. Also, one drink does not mean a Long Island Tea. We’re talking a beer, a glass of wine, or roughly one ounce of hard liquor.

Drink water, and lots of it. Since alcohol dehydrates the body, begin and end your night of drinking with plenty of water, and for every alcoholic beverage you consume, match it with another glass of water. An easy trick is to alternate between a cocktail and a glass—or two!—of water while you are out for the night.

Don’t drink on an empty stomach. Having food in your stomach helps dilute the concentration of alcohol in your belly. Fill up on good-for-you foods with an emphasis on complex carbs.

Be choosy with what you drink. Whenever possible, stay away from sugary and carbonated drinks, since they speed up the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream, and opt for choices that have a low alcohol content, like sake, soju, or low-cal vodka. Drink clear liquors over colored ones: darker alcohol like bourbon or red wine contain more congeners, a substance that help contribute to hangovers.

Too late! What to eat once a hangover hits
If the old adage everything in moderation was tossed out the window, next-day food choices can be your saving grace. Even if a greasy breakfast sandwich is the only thing you’re craving, make sure to eat; food helps break down the alcohol in your system.

Once you’ve eaten, ward off a headache with some OTC ibuprofen (avoid pain relievers containing acetaminophen, like Tylenol, because they may cause liver damage), and don’t skip that cup of coffee; aside from being a little pick-me-up, it’s been shown to help ward off a hangover-induced headache. If you had a few drinks too many and are suffering from specific symptoms, here’s which foods to reach for.

Dehydration. You need to hydrate. Your throat and mouth are dry due to dehydration, which is caused by the diuretic properties of alcohol. Dehydration also affects your muscles, making them feel weak. Drink plenty of water, and replace lost electrolytes with a low-sugar electrolyte-replacement drink or coconut water.

Upset stomach. Excessive alcohol irritates the lining of the stomach, causing nausea, digestive issues, or, in really bad cases, vomiting. Start with some Alka Seltzer, and eat bland and easily digested foods like bananas, saltine crackers, or broth.

Irritability and fatigue. Because the liver gets backed up trying to metabolize the alcohol, you might be experiencing low blood sugar, which can result in you feeling irritable and moody. While most any food can help spike up sugar levels in the body, in small studies, fructose has been shown to speed up the body’s ability to metabolize alcohol. Give yourself a tall glass of orange juice after a night of drinking, or press your hangover away with this fresh juice recipe.

The best exercise remedies
Before you hit up that hour-long indoor cycling class, you may want to think twice. On its own, exercise is not an effective cure against a hangover, said Ruth C. Engs, RN, Ed.D., a professor at Indiana University who has done extensive research on the effects of drinking. While the endorphin rush can counteract the pain (albeit momentarily), the dehydration that comes along with an intense exercise session can worsen symptoms. Take into account how bad you’re feeling, and if you can’t bear to miss a workout, then opt for a light cardio session or restorative yoga class. But what your body probably needs right now is rest.

Alcohol does a number on sleep patterns; the pituitary gland becomes confused and releases the wrong amount of hormones that regulate sleep; the central nervous system also becomes overexcited, causing sensitivity to light, sound, and touch. All of the above means you do not get a good night of quality sleep. If your hangover is really bad, don’t feel guilty for taking the day off to relax and get some shut-eye.

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