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Nov 29 2016
by Nancy Canevari

A Comprehensive Guide to Hangovers

By Nancy Canevari - Nov 29 2016
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If there’s one thing that we can all agree on, it’s that hangovers aren’t any fun. While it might be great to go out with your friends, the morning-after side effects can weigh you down so that you don’t feel like going anywhere. There’s a lot of conflict amongst scientists as to what causes hangovers, but reading up on some theories, as well as what you can do to prevent and treat them, should make your life a little easier. Remember, if you’re planning to go out, please drink responsibly and make sure you have a buddy with you.

Why do you get hangovers?

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Surprisingly enough, scientists aren’t sure what exactly causes hangovers. One of the most well-known explanations is dehydration, caused by the fact that alcohol is a diuretic: it makes you pee a lot more than usual, and most of the time when you’re drinking in excess, you forget to drink water. 

However, this explanation has been somewhat refuted. While dehydration can contribute to hangovers, it isn’t the sole explanation. The explanation that most scientists currently agree on is that drinking in excess leads to a buildup of the toxin acetaldehyde, which is produced when alcohol is consumed, and which can cause hangover symptoms such as sweating, nausea and vomiting. Another explanation is that excess drinking can trigger immune system responses, which can lead to symptoms like fatigue and muscle soreness.

Why do some people get hangovers more often than others?

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Part of the reason why certain people don’t get hangovers is due to genetics. Some people are genetically inclined to experience hangovers more than others. In addition to genetics, however, body weight can also contribute to hangovers. People who weigh less are more likely to get hangovers, because it takes less alcohol to get them drunk.

The amount and type of alcohol consumed obviously also contributes to hangover status. Because of their alcohol content, you have to consume more beer and wine to get drunk than if you were to consume hard liquor like vodka or bourbon.

How do you avoid hangovers?

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Hangovers result from drinking to excess, so the only surefire way to avoid them is to avoid drinking excessively. 

If you’re going to drink, however, make sure to eat beforehand, because food slows down the rate at which your body absorbs alcohol. Also make sure to drink water while you’re drinking alcohol, as staying hydrated will also prevent some symptoms of hangovers. A good mark is to have one eight ounce glass of water per alcoholic drink. Monitor what you’re drinking as well, and use the U.S. official drinking standards to accurately determine the amount of alcohol you should have in each drink.

What do you do if you have one?

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Try to eat light foods that your body will be able to process easily. Some good foods to ingest are breads and cereals. Avoid anything that’s going to upset your system. Staying hydrated will also help, but avoid coffee if you aren’t a regular drinker because caffeine can raise blood pressure, which only makes symptoms worse. Take pain medication like Advil or Tylenol if you have a headache, as that can be one of the worst symptoms. 

Sleep can also be helpful so try to sleep as much as you can the day after. Sleep will let your body heal, and sleep deprivation will also make hangover symptoms worse.

The next time you’re planning on hitting the town with your friend, keep these tips in mind to avoid a hangover the next day. When in doubt, go slow, and if you think you’ve had enough, you probably have.

Note: As the cause of hangovers is a heavily contested topic, additional reading may be helpful when creating a self-care plan. The Smithsonian, NY Post and the Washington Post have all published comprehensive scientific findings on the topic if you're looking for more reading.

Lead Image Credit: Emanuel Feruzi via Unsplash

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Nancy Canevari - Smith College

Nancy is a junior editor for Fresh U. She is a sophomore at Smith College and plans on double majoring in secondary education and English, with a concentration in creative writing. She's originally from New Jersey, a place she views with one part love and one part exasperated disgust. She loves dogs and young adult high fantasy novels a bit too much and spends most of her time drinking tea and yelling about politics. Follow her on Instagram @fearlesslynancelot for some solidly mediocre content.

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