How to Avoid A Festive Hangover, According To The Experts

Doctors give us the scoop on how to prevent a holiday hangover, and what to buy that'll help once it's too late.
It's holiday party and hangover season.
Thomas Barwick via Getty Images
It's holiday party and hangover season.

Ah, the dreaded holiday hangover. Try as we might, they often seem inevitable during the season’s festivities. The combination of delicious adult beverages, sugary treats and a lack of sleep can be a potent cocktail that leaves us feeling worse for wear. And while overindulging is almost certainly going to lead to feeling less-than-stellar the next morning, there are a few behavioral tweaks that can be made here and there for a less painful morning after.

Evelyn Darius, a physician at PlushCare, says that studies have identified three likely factors that affect the occurrence and severity of hangovers. The first is the time you begin drinking: The earlier you start, the more likely it is that you’ll have a hangover because you are more likely to experience hangover symptoms later that evening while still awake. Secondly, “select what you choose to drink wisely,” she said. Studies suggest dark-coloured drinks have chemicals called congeners that may worsen a hangover.

“Dark-coloured beverages such as brandy, wine and whisky have higher concentrations of congeners while clear-coloured beverages such as vodka, gin and rum have lower concentrations. Therefore, at similar amounts, clear liquid beverages are less likely to cause hangovers.”

Lastly, Darius said it is important to understand your own body and metabolism.

“The occurrence of hangovers is dependent on the rate of conversion of alcohol to acetaldehyde. The more rapid the conversion of alcohol to the inactive acetate, the lower the likelihood of a hangover occurring,” she told HuffPost.

There are a few proactive steps that can be taken before a night out that may make a difference in your wellbeing the next day. Natasha Bhuyan, physician and west coast regional medical director at One Medical, told HuffPost that “preparation and moderation are key when it comes to avoiding a holiday hangover.” She recommends the following approach:

  • Drink plenty of water both the day before and the day you plan on drinking. You should hydrate more than you think: 16 ounces of water for every four ounces of hard liquor or 12 ounces of beer.

  • Get enough sleep. A lack of sleep can exacerbate the sensation of a hangover.

  • Avoid consuming too much alcohol. Everyone has a different limit that can trigger a hangover.

  • Avoid drinking alcohol on an empty stomach.

Hungover woman in bed.
Martin Dimitrov via Getty Images
Hungover woman in bed.

And what about once it’s too late? Holiday hangovers can be especially brutal because you often have to get up and socialise with extended family or run errands, and they only feel worse with age. There are a few reasons for this. Bhuyan explained “one theory is our body isn’t metabolising alcohol as effectively as when we are younger. As we age, our percentage of total body water decreases. As a result, this could cause higher blood alcohol concentrations, leading to worse hangovers.”

While experts generally agree that there is no magic pill or powder to make a hangover disappear, there are a few ways to expedite the healing process. Physician and author of Spicebox Kitchen Linda Shiue cautions against having a “hair of the dog” beverage, since it really only perpetuates the issue. She told HuffPost that “studies have found that diets higher in B vitamins, particularly vitamin B3 (niacin), and zinc seem to minimise hangovers.”

Your best bet, according to Shiue? “Sleep, hydration and taking an anti-inflammatory such as aspirin or ibuprofen can help. Ginger has been shown to help with nausea and has anti-inflammatory effects, so a cup of ginger tea might ease symptoms. Eating a solid meal high in carbohydrates may also help.”

Bhuyan agrees. She said that “the main way to relieve a hangover is water. A water-based drink with electrolytes and a little sugar may help you recover a bit faster than water alone, as alcohol can throw off our electrolyte and blood sugar levels.” When it comes to nausea, “stick with bland foods like the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, apples and toast) to help give yourself some energy while not irritating your stomach.

And, if at all possible, Bhuyan said to sleep it off. “Alcohol is a depressant that makes us drowsy, but the quality of sleep we have after drinking even the smallest amount is quite poor.”

Darius added that “unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms can be alleviated by over-the-counter antacids” and that “caffeine products such as coffee and tea are effective as stimulants and may counteract malaise and fatigue.”