Hangover Remedies and Prevention

If you party a little too hard, it's possible to use chemistry to help you function the next day.
If you party a little too hard, it's possible to use chemistry to help you function the next day. Caiaimage/Paul Bradbury/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

A hangover is a name given to the unpleasant aftereffects of drinking too much alcohol. While a lucky 25%-30% of drinkers are naturally resistant to experiencing hangovers, the rest of you might want to know how to prevent or cure a hangover. Here's a look at what causes a hangover and some effective hangover remedies.

Hangover Symptoms

If you have had a hangover, you knew it and didn't need to read a symptom list to get a diagnosis. Alcohol hangovers are characterized by some or all of the following symptoms: dehydration, nausea, headache, fatigue, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, flatulence, sensitivity to light and sound, trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating, and poor depth perception. Many people experience an extreme aversion to the smell, taste, sight, or the thought of alcohol. Hangovers vary, so the range and intensity of symptoms may be different between individuals and from one occasion to another. Most hangovers begin several hours after drinking. A hangover may last as long as a couple of days.

Hangover Causes According To Chemistry

Drinking an alcoholic beverage that contains impurities or preservatives can give you a hangover, even if you only have one drink. Some of these impurities may be other alcohols besides ethanol. Other hangover-causing chemicals are congeners, which are by-products of the fermentation process. Sometimes impurities are intentionally added, such as zinc or other metals which may be added to sweeten or enhance the flavor of certain liqueurs. Otherwise, it matters what you drink and how much you drink. Drinking to excess is more likely to cause a hangover than drinking moderately. You get a hangover because the ethanol in the drink caused an increase in urine production, leading to dehydration. Dehydration causes headaches, fatigue, and dry mouth. Alcohol also reacts with the stomach lining, which can lead to nausea. Ethanol is metabolized into acetaldehyde, which is actually a lot more toxic, mutagenic, and carcinogenic than the alcohol itself. It takes some time to break down the acetaldehyde into acetic acid, during which you'll experience all the symptoms of acetaldehyde exposure.

Prevent a Hangover

The only sure way to prevent a hangover is to avoid drinking. While you may not be able to totally prevent a hangover, drinking a lot of water or other rehydrating drink will go a long way toward preventing or lessening most hangover symptoms.

Hangover Remedies

If drinking water didn't help you out enough or it's too later and you're already suffering, there are some potentially beneficial remedies.

  • Drink Water: You'll feel miserable until you are rehydrated. Water is an excellent hangover remedy. So is orange juice, unless your stomach is too upset to handle it.
  • Eat Something Simple: Eggs contain cysteine, which may help combat hangover symptoms. Milk is more food than water, but it serves to rehydrate you while supplying calcium, which may ease your misery.
  • Sodium Bicarbonate: Try a spoonful of baking soda in water to help quell the hangover queasiness.
  • Exercise: It raises your metabolic rate, which helps you clear toxins associated with metabolizing alcohol. Exercise helps you deliver oxygen to your cells, which can increase the speed at which you detoxify harmful compounds.
  • Oxygen: Supplemental oxygen is another way to speed up detoxification after drinking alcohol, without having to exercise.
  • Vitamin B1 or Thiamine: Thiamine helps prevent the buildup of glutarate in the brain, which may be associated with part of a headache associated with a hangover. Other B vitamins are depleted when you drink, so taking a B vitamin complex may be beneficial.

Hangover Don't

While it may be alright to take a couple of aspirin to deal with a hangover, don't take a couple of acetaminophen (Tylenol) tablets. Alcohol with acetaminophen is a recipe for potentially lethal liver damage.

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Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Hangover Remedies and Prevention." ThoughtCo, Sep. 7, 2021, thoughtco.com/hangover-remedies-and-prevention-606804. Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2021, September 7). Hangover Remedies and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/hangover-remedies-and-prevention-606804 Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Hangover Remedies and Prevention." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/hangover-remedies-and-prevention-606804 (accessed June 6, 2023).