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Alcohol: Reducing the Risks

Minimizing Hangover Risks

The only completely effective method for preventing a hangover is to avoid excessive alcohol consumption (Pittler 2005; Mayo Clinic 2014; Verster 2010). However, several things can be done with the aim of reducing hangover risk:

  • Drink moderately. A standard drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor. The National Institutes of Health recommends that the safest way to consume alcohol is to limit intake to no more than three drinks on a given day for women or four drinks on a given day for men, AND no more than seven drinks per week for women or 14 per week for men (NIH 2016).
  • Drink slowly. Alcohol is absorbed from the digestive tract less efficiently as blood alcohol rises. Drinking slowly allows time for blood alcohol to increase, reducing absorption (Cederbaum 2012).
  • Eat. Food in the stomach reduces the absorption of alcohol. Foods high in fat, carbohydrate, and protein all reduce alcohol absorption similarly, as long as they are eaten before or during alcohol consumption (Cederbaum 2012).
  • Drink tea. A study looking at the effects of 20 different beverages on alcohol metabolism in mice found that black tea had a strong stimulating effect on the enzyme that breaks down acetaldehyde, while green tea promoted the breakdown of alcohol (Wang, Zhang 2016).
  • Drink water. Drinking water may reduce the rate or amount of alcohol ingested (Mayo Clinic 2014), while carbonated water may encourage the breakdown of acetaldehyde (Wang, Zhang 2016).
  • Do not smoke. Smoking on heavy drinking days has been associated with greater likelihood and increased severity of hangovers (Jackson 2013).
  • Be aware of medication interactions. Because some medications inhibit, block, or are metabolized by alcohol dehydrogenase and other liver detoxification pathways, excess alcohol can decrease clearance of these drugs, increasing the risk of adverse side effects and toxic overdose. Conversely, with chronic alcohol use, detoxification activity can be chronically upregulated, accelerating medication clearance and decreasing their effects in the body, even in the absence of high alcohol levels. In addition, some medications, such as aspirin and acid-blocking agents like cimetidine (Tagamet) and ranitidine (Zantac), interfere with alcohol breakdown and increase alcohol sensitivity (Cederbaum 2012). Older adults are more vulnerable to alcohol-medication interactions due to age-related changes in absorption, circulation, and metabolism of alcohol and drugs (Moore 2007).
  • Take into account the properties of various alcoholic beverages. Vodka has almost no congeners and may cause less severe hangover symptoms than the highest congener spirit, bourbon (Rohsenow, Howland, Arnedt 2010). Beer and wine may have fewer toxic effects than spirits (Addolorato 2008). Red wine contains high levels of polyphenols, including resveratrol, that may prevent some of the oxidative stress caused by its alcohol (Silva 2015), and light-to-moderate consumption of red wine has been linked with health benefits (Basli 2012; Saleem 2010). Beer, though containing fewer polyphenols than wine, is a source of B vitamins; moderate beer drinking has similar, if less powerful, protective effects as red wine, including reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and some forms of cancer (Arranz 2012; Fernandez-Sola 2015).