Happy New Year! Chances are you're probably going to have a drink tonight. Or several. And, unless you're a masochist, you probably want to avoid the dreaded "I'm never drinking again!" hangover tomorrow morning. Here are a few tips to get you drinking smarter:
First off: What causes a hangover?
It's a combination of different factors, but here's the basic premise: Alcohol is a diuretic. When you're drinking, your body is constantly flushing out water, which is why you feel the urge to pee a lot more and why bathroom lines at bars are always so long. At the same time, alcohol introduces a number of toxins to your body, namely headache-inducing compounds called cogeners, which result from fermentation. (Darker spirits like bourbon and red wine have more cogeners in them, which is why they often lead to nastier hangovers.) In other words, alcohol mainlines toxins into your bloodstream, while depleting your body of the vehicle — water — designed to remove them.
So how do I prevent a hangover?
Abstain from drinking altogether. Just kidding. The short answer is replenishing your body with water — and lots of it. It takes a bit of discipline, but alternating between an alcoholic drink and a glass of water is really the best strategy. If you're afraid your friends will think you uncool, be sneaky about it: Drink water out of the same glass or bottle you just emptied, or even your beer can.
What else can I do?
Even if you're trying to squeeze into a form-fitting New Year's dress, do not — and I repeat — do NOT skip dinner. Fats and proteins help slow alcohol absorption and help settle your stomach. Carbs keep your blood sugar in check. A burger works.
What kind of drinks should I stay away from?
In no particular order: Fizzy, carbonated drinks (which absorb faster into your bloodstream), drinks made with caffeine (which further dehydrate you), and dark spirits (bourbon, Jägermeister, and the like). Need suggestions? Try a gimlet with vodka or gin. Or sip a clear tequila on the rocks with a twist of lime. Clear spirits are only hangover-free if drunk in moderation, of course.
What about hangover pills?
Sorry. There's little evidence that so-called "hangover pills" like Chaser and RU-21 do any good. Popping an anti-inflammatory medication before going to sleep, like an ibuprofen, might help ease your headache the next morning, but only as long as you drink plenty of water with it. The downside is that ibuprofen can exacerbate stomach problems for regular drinkers, so consult your doctor first if you have any concerns or questions.
What should I do if I feel hungover anyway?
"Hair of the dog," or drinking more the next morning, just prolongs the inevitable. As far as we know, time is the only thing that can really get rid of your hangover. If you can, though, try to get your heart pumping with some light exercise (a long shot, I know) to flush out the toxins, or try one of these other "hangover cures" from our pals at Mental Floss. Oh, and just in case you forgot: Drink lots of water. Gatorade helps as it's full of electrolytes, and the same goes for coconut water, which is full of potassium. Eating eggs for breakfast has been proven to help too, as they contain a compound called cysteine, which helps further break down alcoholic byproducts.
In any case, have fun! And please stay safe out there.