Alcohol is a diuretic (removes fluids from the body), so drinking excessively can lead to dehydration. Dehydration is what causes many of the symptoms of a hangover.
Alcohol can upset your stomach and give you a bad night’s sleep. You may still have some alcohol in your system the next morning.
Hangover cures are generally a myth. There are no cures for a hangover. There are tips for avoiding hangovers and for easing the symptoms if you have one.
The best way to avoid a hangover is not to drink. If you decide to drink, do it sensibly and within the recommended limits.
To minimise the risk of future serious health problems, men shouldn't regularly drink more than 3-4 units a day. Women shouldn't regularly drink more than 2-3 units a day.
To avoid a hangover, don't drink more than you know your body can cope with. If you're not sure how much that is, be careful.
Know your units
Adding up your units can be tricky at first, but once you know how many units a drink contains, you can keep track of what you’re consuming. Find out what a unit is on the desktop alcohol tracker, which is also available as an iPhone app.
You may be surprised. A large glass of wine, for instance, contains around 3 units. In one evening, that can quickly add up to a lot more than you intended to drink. Here are some examples:
- a can of standard lager, beer or bitter – 1.8 units
- a pint of standard lager, beer or bitter – 2.3 units
- a small glass of wine (125ml) – 1.5 units
- a large glass of wine (250ml) – 3 units
- a measure of spirits (25ml) – 1 unit
Follow these tips to keep hangovers away:
- Don't drink on an empty stomach. Before you go out, have a meal that includes carbohydrates (such as pasta or rice) or fats. The food will help slow down the body’s absorption of alcohol.
- Don't drink dark-coloured drinks if you've found that you're sensitive to them. They contain natural chemicals called congeners (impurities), which irritate blood vessels and tissue in the brain and can make a hangover worse.
- Drink water or non-fizzy soft drinks in between each alcoholic drink. Carbonated (fizzy) drinks speed up the absorption of alcohol into your system.
- Drink a pint or so of water before you go to sleep. Keep a glass of water by the bed to sip if you wake up during the night.
The morning after
If you wake up the next morning feeling terrible, you probably didn't follow this advice. Although there are no real cures for hangovers, there are ways to ease the symptoms.
Treatment involves rehydrating the body so it can deal with the painful symptoms (though the best time to rehydrate is before going to sleep).
Over-the-counter painkillers can help with headaches and muscle cramps. Paracetamol-based remedies are usually preferable as aspirin may further irritate the stomach and increase nausea and sickness.
Sugary foods may help you feel less trembly. In some cases, an antacid may be needed to settle your stomach first.
Bouillon soup, a thin vegetable-based broth, is a good source of vitamins and minerals, which can top up depleted resources. Its main advantage is that it's easy for a fragile stomach to digest.
You can replace lost fluids by drinking bland liquids that are easy on the digestive system, such as water, soda water and isotonic drinks (available in most shops).
"Hair of the dog" (drinking more alcohol) does not help. Drinking in the morning is a risky habit, and you may simply be delaying the appearance of symptoms until the alcohol wears off again.
If you've had a heavy drinking session, hangover or not, doctors advise that you wait 48 hours before drinking any more alcohol, in order to give your body tissues time to recover. Sometimes, of course, a hangover makes that advice easier to follow.