Your night out with friends led to a drink or two more than you planned, and several hours later, you’re now paying the price. Your head is pounding, saltines are the only thing that doesn’t make your stomach cringe, and you’re feeling a little unsteady on your feet. Your body is punishing you, and you just need to make it forgive you a little bit so you can move on with your day. You could try a few exercises to lessen the hangover effects, but if the StairMaster sounds like a torture device, there are a few other steps you can take first.
Employee absenteeism costs American businesses billions of dollars each year, and many are quick to point the finger at hangovers, at least in part. In reality, only about 2 million Americans show up to work hungover. That number sounds large, but is roughly just 1.6% of the workforce, according to FiveThirtyEight’s analysis. If you do need to show up to the office or another important event, however, there are a few tactics medical experts suggest trying to alleviate your symptoms.
Scientists haven’t spent too much time figuring out the best hangover remedies and chalk many “hangover cures” up to folklore. In other words, hair of the dog isn’t scientifically proven to make your hangover go away, nor is a greasy breakfast. Sorry, there’s no medically-backed excuse to drink Bloody Marys and eat bacon here — though you’re welcome to experiment for yourself. There’s no surefire cure, but these steps might make waking up a little better — or at least help to get rid of your migraine.
1. Drink water
Scientists haven’t pinpointed exactly what causes a hangover, but they’re pretty positive the answer has something to do with dehydration as a starting factor. Alcohol is good for loosening inhibitions, but it’s also fantastically skilled at making your body parched like the Saharan in dry season. Your body creates more urine after drinking alcohol, according to Mayo Clinic, which in turn leads to a greater risk for dehydration. If you don’t drink adequate water to replenish that fluid loss, you’ll get extremely thirsty — not to mention dizzy or lightheaded, which are hallmark symptoms of a hangover.
Water won’t cure your symptoms quickly, but it will get your body back into balance. On top of that, drinking water in between cocktails or shots might not ward off a hangover completely, but it could lessen the severity of the hangover later on.
2. Take a pain reliever
The standard trick of popping an ibuprofen or two after a night of painting the town is one of the only over-the-counter remedies doctors say could actually help to alleviate hangover symptoms. Aspirin or ibuprofen (brand names like Advil) are your best bet because they’re anti-inflammatory medications, Smithsonian reports. Alcohol can act as an inflammatory agent in your body, and those medications can reduce some of those effects. If you have a headache but are more worried about your nausea, go easy on the pills at first, advises the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Anti-inflammatory medications can be tough on your stomach, irritating the stomach lining that’s already been put through the wringer by too many drinks.
Whatever your go-to painkiller, skip medications with acetaminophen. Those meds — like Tylenol — can be damaging to your liver when it’s processed. “Although acetaminophen is a common alternative to aspirin, its use should be avoided during the hangover period, because alcohol metabolism enhances acetaminophen’s toxicity to the liver,” the institute said.
3. Take an antacid
If your headache is taking a backseat to the nausea or heartburn, try an antacid before anything else. If you normally use Tums or take Pepto-Bismol when you’re not 100%, the Smithsonian said it’s worth a try to make yourself feel a little more normal.
According to Mayo Clinic, alcohol can delay your stomach from emptying normally, causing a buildup that irritates your stomach lining. Only time will get you completely back to normal, but trusty, chalky tablets might be able to settle you a bit.
4. Drink coffee
Most experts agree that drinking coffee to cure a hangover is more folklore than myth, the Smithsonian notes. Caffeine dehydrates the body, which only serves to make your symptoms worse if you’re already dehydrated from the alcohol.
However, if you’re used to drinking coffee in the morning, depriving yourself will only make your body go through caffeine withdrawal along with alcohol withdrawal. In other words, your symptoms will get worse if you try to go cold turkey. AskMen suggests having one caffeinated drink in the morning, which could make you feel a little less sluggish and at least ward off any worsening symptoms. Allow some of the worst symptoms to pass and drink plenty of water before going back for a second cup.
5. Limit drinking in the first place
No, this won’t cure a hangover you’ve already earned. But watching how much you drink is the only way to ward off a hangover completely — that, and giving your body time to recover or sleep it off if you do indulge too much.
If you do plan on having multiple drinks, you have a slightly better shot at avoiding a hangover — or at least a less severe one — if you go for lighter-colored drinks. Alcohol contains compounds called congeners, which add flavor and color to the drinks, the Smithsonian notes. Darker drinks like brandy, red wine, and rum have a higher congener content, and scientists believe that higher percentage can lead to worse and lingering hangovers. One congener in particular, methanol, can stay in the body even after the alcohol is eliminated from the body, which is why some hangovers last far longer than it takes to digest last night’s drinks. Beverages like vodka and beer don’t contain congeners and are therefore a little better in terms of warding off a hangover’s long-term effects.
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