Dehydration is a key factor behind hangovers, as the body recovers from alcohol consumption.
Heavy drinking rocks the central nervous system. It tinkers with brain chemicals - leading to headache, dizziness, and nausea - and sends you running to the bathroom so often you become dehydrated. The morning-after price can include a pounding headache, fatigue, cotton mouth, queasy stomach - and a weakened immune system.
Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it increases the amount of water excreted by the body. The dehydration it causes is often behind that morning-after feeling. As a result, the best defense against a hangover is to stay hydrated, says Dr. Gary J. Murray, acting director of the Division of Metabolism and Health Effects for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse an Alcoholism. Try alternating alcoholic drinks with nonalcoholic ones - ideally, water. This has the added benefit of spreading out the rate of alcohol absorption. If you haven't had any water at night's end, don't worry: drinking water before going to sleep will still help the next morning, Murray says, although it may result in a late-night trip to the bathroom.
"Without question, it's best to have food in your stomach," Murray says. Eat something either before or during a night of drinking: the food slows alcohol absorption, and the less alcohol absorbed into the body, the better you'll feel the following day. Fatty foods are best for this.Plus, eating "gives you something to do with your mouth other than continually sipping on that cocktail," Murray says.
Don’t go crazy with free drinks on Ladies' Night. If a man and woman drink the same amount, the woman is more likely to feel the effects. That’s because men have a higher percentage of water in their bodies, which helps dilute the alcohol they drink. When women drink the same amount, more alcohol builds up in the bloodstream.
Over-the-counter painkillers peak in about four hours, so a bedtime dose won’t help by the time you wake up. A better plan is to take the pills when you first wake up. Don’t take acetaminophen (Tylenol) after a night of drinking. The combination could hurt your liver.
Just the opposite. While a nightcap may help you doze off more quickly, too much undermines the quality of your sleep. You don't spend as much time in all-important REM cycles and you tend to wake up too soon. If you've been drinking heavily, a hangover might strike in the last part of the night, leaving you too uncomfortable to get back to sleep.
A lot of coffee leads to more dehydration and could make your hangover worse. After a night of drunkenness, it's best to sip water and sports drinks to counter dehydration and replace lost electrolytes -- especially if you threw up.
British researchers reviewed the studies on hangover pills, such as yeast and artichoke extract. They found no compelling evidence that they worked. Another British team found a supplement made from prickly pear cactus may reduce nausea and dry mouth from hangovers, but not the dreaded headache. The only proven cure? Time.
It would take a truly heavy night of drinking to render you still drunk the next morning, Murray says. Instead, you probably have a strong hangover, and your best bet is to hydrate and eat something light.
Alcohol poisoning is a life-threatening emergency. Symptoms include:
- Confusion, stupor
- Slow, irregular breathing
- Low body temperature, bluish skin
It's easy to blow off these symptoms as the price of partying hard, but if you see someone vomit multiple times or pass out after drinking heavily, there’s a risk of severe dehydration or brain damage. Call 911.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine recommends a conservative approach to the day after a hangover: sleep and eat as you are able, to give back to your body some of what it didn't have while you were drinking — fuel to absorb alcohol and sleep to re-energize the body.
Meanwhile, remember what Murray says is the best hangover cure he's ever heard: "Don't drink."
Research shows smoking while drinking ups the ouch factor of hangovers. Nicotine can lead to the release of cytokines, chemicals that are released upon brain injury and result in the oh-so-pleasant headaches and nausea that make us swear we’ll never drink again.