How to avoid a hangover, according to scientists


Piercing headaches, nausea and exhaustion are familiar to anyone who has ever had a few too many drinks.

Although there is no proven way to ‘cure’ a hangover, there are steps you can take to avoid getting one in the first place, according to scientists. 

Apart from avoiding booze altogether, loading up on carbohydrates before drinking, staying clear of certain drinks and keeping hydrated are all actions that can help you feel perkier the next day.

But should we be drinking beer before wine and eating greasy food? To find out how to really avoid feeling terrible after drinking, MailOnline asked scientists how they dodge hangovers. 

Throbbing headache, nausea, and feeling exhausted are all symptoms of a hangover. Staying hydrated and eating plenty of food could be ways of avoiding a bad hangover, experts say

Throbbing headache, nausea, and feeling exhausted are all symptoms of a hangover. Staying hydrated and eating plenty of food could be ways of avoiding a bad hangover, experts say

Does it matter what your tipple of choice is? 

Whether you are drinking wine, beer or gin, any variety of alcohol will make you hungover if you drink enough of it.  

But some experts believe there are certain alcoholic drinks that make you more hungover than others.

David Nutt, professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, says he ‘never starts with champagne because it makes you intoxicated too fast’.

That’s because the bubbles speed up the uptake of alcohol into the bloodstream, according to Professor Nutt, who was the government’s former chief drug adviser.

The more alcohol in your bloodstream, the more drunk you’ll be and, as a result, be left suffering from a terrible hangover.

What causes a hangover?

If you’ve ever had a hangover, you’ll know some of the unpleasant effects alcohol can cause. 

From headaches, nausea and dizziness to feeling exhausted, hangovers can ruin your day. 

We all know alcohol is to blame, but there are several factors that make you feel groggy.

Firstly, alcohol is toxic and every time you drink your liver works to get rid of it. 

Substances created as by-products of your body getting rid the alcohol could create hangover symptoms by causing inflammation and temporary changes to your immune system, says Drinkaware.

One of these substances is acetaldehyde — a toxic by-product produced by your body when you drink alcohol that is partly responsible for that groggy feeling. 

Dehydration is another big cause of hangovers. Because alcohol makes you pee more and it can make you feel dizzy, lightheaded and tired if this fluid is not replaced, warns Drinkaware. 

Lack of sleep after a night out can also make matters worse, and not just because you have gone to bed late. 

Alcohol disturbs your sleep meaning you don’t get enough Rapid Eye Movement (REM), which is an important sleep stage in making you feel refreshed. 

Source: Drinkaware 

A study at the University of Surrey in 2001 confirmed the effects of carbonated alcohol. It found that volunteers given two glasses of fizzy champagne had an average of 0.54 milligrams of alcohol per millilitre of blood after five minutes, while those given the same amount of flat champagne had 0.39 milligrams.

But it’s not just the fizzy stuff — compounds in some dark-coloured varieties of alcohol are thought to increase the chance of a hangover, according to dietitian Dr Duane Mellor, based at Aston University in Birmingham.

Congeners, which contribute to the taste and smell of alcohol, are found in high levels in rum, red wine and brandy.

They are produced during fermentation and can worsen hangover symptoms for some people by irritating the blood vessels and tissue in the brain, the NHS says. 

Sulphites are another compound that occur naturally in wine and beer and act as a preservative, preventing the growth of bacteria. However, some people experience headaches when they drink them, which can worsen hangover symptoms. 

However, Dr Mellor stresses ‘the biggest effect is from drinking too much alcohol’.  

The effect of all alcohol is equal, it just depends how much you drink, according to Professor Gunter Kuhnle, a food scientist at Reading University.

‘It is possible to get a hangover from almost all kinds of drinks, so there is no need to restrict my choice.’ 

Is mixing drinks always a bad idea? 

‘Beer before wine and you’ll feel fine; wine before beer and you’ll feel queer’, is an age old saying.

However, Cambridge University study in 2019 put the saying to the test and found that mixing drinks has no effect on hangover severity.

Volunteers, aged 19 to 40, who were given two and a half pints of beer, followed by four large glasses of wine, were just as hungover as those who had the wine first then beer. 

Dr Mellor believes mixing drinks doesn’t increase the risk or severity of a hangover but says it can make it harder to keep track of how much you are drinking. 

Professor Nutt believes that, if mixing drinks, people should start on weaker drinks and progress to stronger options. 

‘Start by drinking beer, then eat food before moving onto wine,’ he says.

Alcohol reduces the functioning of the pre-frontal cortex, which is the part of the brain responsible for judgment. This means people are more likely to drink more impulsively after knocking back a few.

Therefore, starting with a beverage containing less alcohol could help you control how much you are drinking, according to Professor Nutt. 

There is some dispute over whether drinking wine before beer will make you feel worse, but many say mixing drink can just lead to drinking too much without realising

There is some dispute over whether drinking wine before beer will make you feel worse, but many say mixing drink can just lead to drinking too much without realising

Does hair of the dog work? 

The expression ‘hair of the dog’ is shortened from the saying ‘hair of the dog that bit you’ — pointing to the idea that cause of the problem can also be the cure. 

However, this won’t work when it comes to alcohol, as drinking more when hungover will not ease symptoms, experts say.

Instead, it simply delays a hangover and normalises unhealthy drinking patterns. 

Dr Mellor explains your liver will still need to deal with the alcohol eventually. 

He says: ‘There are many folk stories about “hair of the dog”, but the truth is you will only feel the symptoms less and your liver still needs to remove that alcohol.

‘Even the liver — which is amazing at removing toxins like alcohol — needs time to recover.’

Professor Nutt warns this approach can also signal a ‘downward slope to dependence’.

If you have been drinking heavily the NHS recommends leaving at least 48 hours before drinking more alcohol, to give the body time to recover.  

Before you start drinking, the NHS advises people to have a meal that includes carbohydrates or fats

Before you start drinking, the NHS advises people to have a meal that includes carbohydrates or fats

What about eating greasy food? 

Drinking on an empty stomach is never a good idea.

So lining the stomach, especially with greasy food, before drinking alcohol is a sensible one, experts say. 

‘Eating food of any sort before drinking alcohol works well,’ says Peter McNaughton, a professor of pharmacology at King’s College London. 

That’s because when the stomach is full, the opening that would allow alcohol into the intestine, where alcohol is absorbed into the blood, is closed off, he says. 

But he swears by eating fatty foods because they ‘soak up the alcohol’. 

He says: ‘Alcohol is partly lipid-soluble (lipophilic) and greasy food (a lipid) will therefore tend to soak up the alcohol, at least to some extent.’

However, eating high fat or protein foods will simply slow down how quickly the stomach empties of alcohol and the liver will still have the hard work of clearing away alcohol later, argues Dr Mellor.

He even suggests fatty foods will make you feel even worse because, combined with alcohol, it increase your chances of heartburn.

But he notes that lining your stomach before drinking could have a very modest effect on slowing down the absorption rate of alcohol.

Break it up with alcohol free drinks 

Spacing out alcoholic drinks with soft drinks can help lessen the effects of a hangover, but fizzy drinks could make it worse. 

‘I try to drink some water at the same time as an alcoholic drink,’ says Professor Kuhnle. 

Dehydration is one of the main causes of a hangover, so keeping topped up on water between drinks can help you feel less weary the next day, he says. 

Dehydration is what causes many symptoms of a hangover, including tiredness, muscle cramps and having a dry mouth. 

Similarly, Professor Nutt, who developed the alcohol-free spirit Sentia, recommends drinking alcohol-free drinks for every other drink. 

But the NHS recommends avoiding anything fizzy between drinks and to opt for water or a non-fizzy soft drink. 

That’s because fizzy drinks speed up the absorption of alcohol into your body, according to the NHS. 



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