09/06/2014 08:15 BST | Updated 09/06/2014 10:59 BST

Why Do We Get Hangovers? And, More Importantly, How Can We Avoid Them?

Hangovers. We've all been there - waking up in a blurry haze, head like thunder, unable to remember much of the night before. Then slowly sinking into a pool of regret and self-hatred, asking why you didn't stop drinking at a reasonable hour.

But why do we get hangovers? What causes them? And how on earth do you get rid of one?

According to the New York Post, who recently published an in-depth analysis of hangover-related research, experts are only just starting to get to grips with the science of the morning after the night before. And boy do we wish they'd hurry up...

hangover cure

But until then, here's what we do know...

Many hangover symptoms - including thirst, dizziness, lightheadedness - can be linked to dehydration.

Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it removes liquid from the body, causing you to dry out.

According to HuffPost Healthy Living, this is because alcohol suppresses vasopressin, a hormone that helps transport water expelled from the kidneys back into the body. Instead, alcohol means the water is not repurposed and heads straight for the bladder.

In the mornings, this missing water is 'borrowed' from the brain, which causes it to shrink and leads to headaches.

Other hangover-inducers could include sugar content (glucose + booze = increased chance of hangover), the purity of the alcohol (the purer the better) and an individual's sensitivity to booze.


It's Official: We Never Learn From Our Hangovers

Top Ten Tips to Escape a Hangover

In terms of treating hangovers, there is one fail-safe way to avoid a hangover - not drinking at all or, at least, drinking responsibly.

According to the NHS, men should not regularly drink more than 3-4 units of alcohol a day and women should not regularly drink more than 2-3 units a day.

Of course one unit does not equate to one drink. Here are a list of alcohol servings:

  • 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

Of course, if you've ever had a hangover - and, let's face it, you probably have - chances are you pay little attention to the recommended amounts, preferring to chug a bottle of wine with your friends and dance on the table to ABBA.


So how do you avoid that debilitating headache? Everyone has their own tricks of the trade, but generally speaking keeping hydrated, eating before you start to drink alcohol and keeping some paracetamol on hand should help.

The NHS website warns against the 'hair of the dog', which involves drinking more alcohol the day after the night before to ease hangover symptoms.

Instead they recommend taking the following precautions:

  • 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.

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