How to Avoid a Hangover

It's 8:00 p.m. on a Friday night and you're drunk. You're hanging out with your friends, there's a good band playing at your favorite bar, and your problems seem insignificant. Life is glorious — until you wake up the next day. You're experiencing an upset stomach, throbbing headache, and a general unwillingness to be alive, otherwise known as a hangover.

Of course the obvious way to avoid a hangover is to simply avoid alcohol. But simple is boring. Fortunately, thanks to science, we know quite a bit about how intoxication affects the human body, and we can harness that knowledge to enjoy an alcoholic beverage or two (or seven) while minimizing the side effects that accompany drinking. So, here are the four best ways to enjoy your debauchery without hating everything the next day.

You've probably heard your entire life that drinking a lot of water is good for you. There's some truth to that, but what's certain is that staying hydrated while imbibing is a necessity. Recall the last time you were slamming cheap beer (most of us are college students, after all) that you had to get up every 15 minutes for a bathroom break. It's during those trips to the bathroom that most of the damage is done, because you're slowly dehydrating yourself over the course of the night.

The reason is that alcohol inhibits the secretion of a hormone that controls bladder function. So while you're drinking, the kidneys send water directly to the bladder, which you promptly piss away, along with the electrolytes your body needs to function.

According to health writer Mark Sisson, “This leads to dehydration, which in turn leads to headaches (the thirsty body draws water from the brain, constricting it), fatigue, dizziness (lack of potassium and sodium will do that to ya), and dry mouth.” Scientists call this misery-causing process “alcohol-induced diuresis,” but they have also found that its effects can be blunted by drinking water; drinks that contain electrolytes are also good options. Enjoy a glass of either one in between each Pabst Blue Ribbon, and you'll feel way better the next morning.

While you're slamming that glass of water or gatorade, consider eating something as well. As you probably know, eating just before and while you drink helps to slow the absorption of alcohol into your blood stream. What you probably didn't know is that there's a nifty little valve called the pyloric sphincter that allows the contents of your stomach to pass to the lower intestine. If you're digesting food, this valve stays shut, and the contents of your stomach don't move until they're broken down, which includes any alcohol you've consumed. And the less alcohol your body has to metabolize at one time, the better off you'll be.

Quick side note: Research has confirmed that drunkenness stimulates our appetite for fattening foods. Through months of extensive research, I have confirmed that drinking a whole bunch and then chowing down on junk food, Dominos Pizza in my experiments, does not prevent hangovers. So eat something at least sort of healthy, and preferably before you start drinking.

This next piece of hangover prevention advice may be a bit difficult for the college-age folk who frequent this site to follow. But if you can, drink higher-quality alcohol, because the cheaper the drink, the more likely it's made from lower-quality ingredients and distilled less than the more expensive stuff. As a result, cheaper alcohol tends to contain more impurities known as congeners, toxins that your body isn't very good at metabolizing, which can cause hangover symptoms like headaches.

Arguably the best option is just to drink a little less, perhaps by sipping your adult beverage instead of guzzling it. Not only will you likely avoid a hangover, you'll also reduce your chances of doing something dumb.

But all I can do is offer a few tidbits of science-y wisdom. Whether you decide to think ahead the next time you go out drinking is up to you. Though if and when you next wake up with a hangover, you can't say you weren't warned.