Hangovers: They’re the universe’s way of reaffirming that yes, in fact, you are not invincible.
Hangovers are a malady that’s been the scourge of creative types and partygoers since time immemorial. And what’s more, there’s no real cure to hangovers—because the finest medical and scientific minds still don’t understand exactly what happens the morning after you overindulge. That means that if you want to remain free of the life-numbing pain of a hangover, you’ll have to put your efforts into what you do before you hit the pillow after a night on the bottle.
I spent a decade working in cocktail bars across the United States, and have heard, seen, and tested just about every hangover cure or preventative that there is. So please, allow me to share my hard-won, headache-filled wisdom with you as we learn 10 tried and true methods for how to prevent a hangover (or at least keep it to a minimum).
#1: Drink Less
Not going to do that? Okay then, moving on.
#2: Never Drink On An Empty Stomach
Long-time wisdom (if you can call it that) from high-functioning alcoholics says that if you drink on an empty stomach, you’ll catch a buzz easier. True? Absolutely. But it’s also one of the most guaranteed ways that you’re going to wake up feeling like shit later. Why? Because alcohol essentially strips nutrients from your body—and if you don’t have some way to replace those nutrients (food), you’ll be at an overall deficit in the morning.
So what are the best foods to eat before a night of drinking? I always stick with easily digestible stuff, and preferably things high in protein and fat. Alcoholic beverages provide plenty of carbohydrates and simple sugars, so you don’t want to double down on that with your food. Stick with meat, eggs, or plant proteins and vegetables to create a solid base for a night of drinking.
#3: Stay Hydrated
One of the few things that scientists, nutritionists, and tipplers can agree on is that drinking excessively will dehydrate you big time. That’s because alcohol is a diuretic—it’ll make you pee a lot. And it also has the double whammy of making it harder for your body to absorb and retain vitamins and minerals.
I’ll share the wisdom my drinking sensei passed down to me: Alternate alcoholic drinks with water or soda water. If you’re doing this regularly, you can still catch a buzz without digging your own hangover grave by the end of the night.
If you’ve forgotten to stay hydrated while drinking, your last chance is to drink a whole lot of water before you go to bed. This will have the unfortunate consequence of waking you up in the middle of the night to pee, but hey—you can use that opportunity to pop a couple of ibuprofen, drink another glass of water, and go right back to bed.
#4: Don’t Go to Sleep Drunk
This one is my go-to for avoiding hangovers, but it’s kind of a doozy in practice. It’s simple: Don’t ever go to sleep while you’re still drunk.
If you’re only drinking until 8 or 9 p.m., great! Wait a few hours to process most of the alcohol you haven’t yet, then get a decent night’s sleep.
But if you’re knocking back shots and beers until 2 a.m., this hangover prevention method is a real grind. You’ll probably be waiting until sunrise to actually get some sleep, and those early morning hours can be a real weird time to be sobering up.
Here’s the kicker: Most bodies can process about one standard drink per hour. That’s highly variable, with some genetics being prone to getting wasted and others inclined towards tank-like drinking endurance. Either way, you’ll need to wait for an hour or more after your last drink to make sure that your body’s not still working on processing alcohol (and disrupting your sleep).
#5: Start (and Stop) Drinking Earlier
Piggybacking off the last tip, the easiest way to make sure you go to bed sober is to start drinking earlier. Yep, this is an endorsement for day drinking as a way of life—because if you’re looking to avoid hangovers, it’s often better to start at brunch, have a few drinks out in the sun, then finish with a glass of wine or beer with an early dinner.
Ideally in this situation, you’ll keep up with regular meals and get a little exercise too. Stop drinking right after dinner, throw on a movie or read a book, and you’ll be right as rain to go to bed and get a good night’s sleep. Combined with the previous four hangover prevention methods, this one is nearly bulletproof.
#6: Stay Away From Sugary Drinks
Longtime drinkers know this one by heart: Stay away from anything sweet. That means sugary cocktails and liqueurs, heavy stout beers with a lot of residual sugar, and wines that aren’t completely dry. Why? Because excessive sugar will cause insulin spikes, further compounding the damage that alcohol is already doing to your system. Learn to avoid sweet drinks, and you’ll significantly reduce your hangover symptoms the next day.
#7: Choose Clear Drinks Over Colorful Ones
In this step, I’m not just talking about drinking a dry martini instead of a violently blue-hued tropical monstrosity (though that will help too). I’m actually referring primarily to the intensity of color of your chosen tipple, be that beer, wine, or spirits.
Allow me to explain via examples. In each case below, which do you think will cause worse hangovers, provided you’re drinking an equivalent amount of alcohol of each?
- Whiskey or vodka?
- Stout beers or light lagers?
- Red wine or white wine?
In every case, the darker drink will lead to heavier hangovers. That’s mainly because of the presence of congeners—byproducts of fermentation or distillation that give the rich, bold flavors of darker spirits, beer, and wine—that are also partly responsible for the headaches and fuzzy feelings of hangovers.
#8: Keep Moving
One of the worst possible things you can do while drinking is to plop yourself down in a comfy chair and sit there all night, having other people bring you drinks. For one, you’re not going to notice just how drunk you’re getting (until you stand up). But furthermore, a lack of physical activity makes it harder for your body to absorb, digest, and process alcohol. Want to prevent a hangover? Mix your drinking with an activity, even if that’s as simple as cornhole or beer pong.
#9: Don’t Mix Alcohol With Other Drugs
The most apocalyptic hangovers I’ve ever experienced weren’t just the product of drinking like a thirsty fish—they were painfully embellished by a cornucopia of drugs, both legal and illegal. And I’ve seen the same thing reproduced dozens if not hundreds of times in other bartenders and hard partiers; even something as simple as mixing allergy medicine with a night of drinking is going to leave your head in stitches the next day.
If you’re going to do this, at least know what you’re getting yourself into. Set out pain killers and a glass of water on your bedside table. Have a breakfast delivery place on speed dial. Pull the blinds, and cancel all your commitments for the next day. If you’re going to have a hangover, you should at least do it the right way.
#10: Learn Your Limits
And the hangover prevention rule to end all rules is: Learn your limits. With enough experience and variety in drinking, you can spot the patterns for what makes your next day a living hell and what leaves you spritely and refreshed. Learn to stop before you’re in too deep, and you’ll live to enjoy another night of (at least moderately) responsible drinking.
The Best Hangover Recovery Products
If, after following (or blissfully ignoring) the above advice, you end up with a howler anyway, here are a few products that aim to take the steam out of the hangover train. Never a bad idea to have a few on hand.
The Good Patch Rescue
Drinking too much will flood your body with free radicals—little molecules bent on destroying your hard-earned brain cells, among other things. But you can combat those with antioxidants, like those found in The Good Patch’s Rescue patch. Green Tea and Vitamin B1 will deal a one-two punch to even your worst hangover symptoms.
RESQWATER Enhanced Recovery Drink
Originally intended for recovery after heavy duty workouts or sporting activities, RESQWATER has become an underground favorite recovery drink for heavy duty drinkers, as well. Prickly pear and milk thistle help get the bad stuff out, and electrolytes and B vitamins replenish the good stuff your body is missing.
More Labs Morning Recovery
Morning Recovery from More Labs is jam-packed with just about anything that could possibly help you prevent (or recover from) a hangover. Herbs, adaptogens, vitamins, minerals—you name it, Morning Recovery has got it. Take one before you start drinking to feel right as rain come morning time.
Liquid IV Hydration Multiplier Packs
One of the most affordable and easily transported solutions to hangovers is the Liquid IV. Sprinkle a packet into a glass of water, and it will turn your body into a sponge for hydration and vitamins. And there’s even eight flavors to choose from, so you can find one that won’t make you retch when you smell it.
Plum Flower Bao He Wan Teapills
So fair warning: This herbal formula is a Traditional Chinese Medicine staple, meaning that you should consult a doctor before taking it, we are not supplying medical advice, etcetera etcetera. But it’s also the only thing that one of my old hard-drinking martial arts teachers swore by for preventing or curing hangovers, and my own experience holds true to its effectiveness.