Last Updated on September 25, 2023 by Jo Fitzsimons
You opened a bottle of Prosecco last night with the intention of drinking just a glass over dinner. Next thing you know, the sophisticated at home wine tasting has morphed into cocktails, drinking games and ended up with you dancing on the table in a bar with friends. And was there a Passion Fruit Martini in there somewhere?
We’ve all done it. But waking up the following morning isn’t quite as fun as the night before. Your mouth is dry with a lingering taste of Negroni and kebab, your head is pounding, and your stomach is doing somersaults. Prying yourself out of bed, you start to regret that final glass (or three).
In a desperate attempt to feel human again, you research ‘how to get rid of a hangover fast’. And that’s how you ended up here.
Don’t worry. We’ve managed a hangover or two in our time, so we’re expert in everything you need to know about hangovers, including what causes a hangover, how to avoid a hangover to start with, and – most importantly – what helps a hangover once it’s already hit.
What is a Hangover?
A hangover is a set of unpleasant physical symptoms that occur as a result of drinking excessive quantities of alcohol.
What Does a Hangover Feel Like?
In short, not great.
A pounding headache, churning gut, and crippling hanxiety (hangover anxiety) about what you got up to the night before are just some of the symptoms that will have you proclaiming those fateful words; ‘I’m never drinking again’.
What are the symptoms of a hangover?
Symptoms of a hangover vary from person to person. The type and severity of the symptoms will depend on what you drank, how much you drank, and your personal alcohol tolerance.
The most common hangover symptoms include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Headache or migraine
- Dry mouth
- Shaking hands
- Rapid heartbeat
- Muscle aches
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Anxiety or irritability
- Decreased concentration
What Causes a Hangover?
Many of the above hangover symptoms occur due to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance.
Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning that it flushes fluids from the body – hence all of those extra trips to the toilet on a night out (and the famous phrase – ‘drink a pink, pee a gallon’). When too much fluid leaves your body, you’ll inevitably wake up the following day extremely dehydrated. And this dehydration is what causes hangover symptoms such as a pounding headache, dizziness, and dry mouth.
Drinking too much alcohol also dilutes the electrolytes in your blood. These electrolytes, including sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium, are essential in regulating fluids in the body and for many basic bodily functions. Therefore, low electrolyte levels are a major contributor to hangover symptoms such as nausea, the shakes, and fatigue.
Other effects of alcohol that cause a hangover include:
- Increased blood pressure
- Cellular inflammation
- Irritated stomach lining
- Low blood sugar levels
- Decreased REM sleep
Find our more about hangover symptoms on MayoClinic.
How To Prevent a Hangover
How can you avoid a hangover to begin with?
Other than not drinking alcohol in the first place, there’s no way to guarantee a hangover-free morning after a night on the booze.
However, there are some things you can do to help reduce the chances of a hangover. These include:
- Eat a big meal before you drink to slow down alcohol absorption
- Drink a glass of water for every alcoholic drink you consume to stay hydrated
- Drink clear spirits like vodka and gin rather than dark spirits as they contain fewer congeners
- Don’t mix different types of alcoholic drinks
- Drink plenty of water before you go to bed at the end of the night
Can You Cure a Hangover?
If you’re reading this, the chances are that you’ve already come down with a case of the brown-bottle flu.
Unfortunately, there is no miracle cure for a hangover once it’s already hit.
However, there are a few things you can do to help get over a hangover quicker. Enter – our 7 step plan.
How to Reduce a Hangover – 7 Step Plan
If you had a few too many last night and are struggling to take on the day ahead, below is our ultimate 7 step guide for how to get rid of a hangover fast.
Let’s start with the king of hangover cures – H2O i.e. water.
Water should be the first thing you reach for in the morning before anything else. Even if your nausea is making it feel impossible to keep anything down, try starting with just a few sips of water.
As we discussed above, alcohol is a diuretic and can cause severe dehydration. This dehydration contributes to many horrible hangover symptoms, such as a headache, dizziness, dry mouth, and fatigue.
By drinking plenty of water, both the night before and throughout the following day, you’ll rehydrate your body and hopefully alleviate the worst of these symptoms.
2. Restore Your Electrolytes
Low electrolyte levels are another after effect of drinking and one of the biggest contributors to many hangover symptoms. This is why it’s so important to replenish your electrolytes after a big night on the booze.
Many people reach for energy drinks such as Lucozade, Gatorade, or Pedialyte to help them feel better after drinking. And while these are certainly good sources of electrolytes, coconut water would be our hangover drink of choice.
Coconut water has become available in many supermarkets in recent years. It has the same rehydrating and replenishing effects that most energy drinks do, but with less artificial sugar and more antioxidants.
Coconut water will have you feeling better in no time, without the sudden energy spike and crash that sugary energy drinks may cause.
Research into the use of supplements to cure a hangover is still limited. However, some studies have found that certain supplements are more effective than others at relieving hangover symptoms.
One of the most popular supplements for curing hangovers is red ginseng, a plant root that’s commonly used in Chinese and Korean traditional medicines.
A small-scale study found that red ginseng reduced blood alcohol levels and helped lessen hangover severity. Although more research into this is needed, studies have shown that red ginseng has antioxidative and anti-inflammatory effects. This helps boost the immune system – which is weakened by excessive alcohol consumption.
It can’t hurt to give it a try, right?
Other supplements that you could also add to your hangover kit include:
- Vitamin B
- Vitamin C
4. Eat Hangover Friendly Food
Another of the best hangover cures is to get some much-needed sustenance into your body.
Many people crave salty and greasy fast foods when hungover, like a fry-up, burger, sugary pastries, carb-filled desserts or pizza. But while tasty at the time, eating these types of food will just leave you feeling groggy and tired. Greasy and unhealthy foods can even make many hangover symptoms worse in the long run.
The best hangover foods are actually the more simple and nutritious ones that are easy on your stomach and body. Eating the right foods can help ease your headache, settle your nausea, and boost your energy levels to conquer the day ahead.
Some of the best things to include in your hungover breakfast are simple blood-sugar boosting carbs such as toast or crackers, amino acid loaded proteins such as eggs, potassium packed veggies like avocado, and plenty of fresh fruit for some nutrients. And if you really need something salty to satisfy your cravings, try some soothing chicken soup.
Our top recommendations for hangover cure foods are:
- Toast and Honey
- Avocado and Egg Bagel
- Veggie Stuffed Omelet
- Mixed Fruit Smoothie
- Protein-Packed Salad
We’ve written a full guide for you here: 15 Best Hangover Foods (and Foods to Avoid).
5. Get More Sleep
If you wake up after a night of drinking feeling exhausted, despite having slept for a full 8 hours, it’s probably because you didn’t get enough quality sleep.
Excessive amounts of alcohol can prevent you from falling into the deeper REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage of sleep. It can also cause regular sleep disturbances throughout the night. This is why you wake up feeling so drained the following day.
As well as the fatigue, a lack of quality sleep also contributes to other hangover symptoms such as a headache, decreased concentration, and irritability.
So – if possible – listen to your body, cancel your plans, and curl back up in bed for a much-needed nap. Sleeping for a little longer will give your body some extra time to recover and reset. You never know, the hangover symptoms may be gone completely by the time you wake up again.
Want to get better sleep? My absolute favourite book is Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker. It includes a section on the impact of alcohol on sleep and has tips on how to get better sleep.
6. Take a Pain Killer
Taking over-the-counter pain medication can also help get rid of hangover symptoms fast if the above cures aren’t working or are taking too long to kick in.
Taking an anti-inflammatory pain reliever (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or aspirin will help to relieve a headache and muscle aches. Although, NSAIDs can also irritate the stomach, so it’s best not to take them if you’re also experiencing nausea or stomach pain.
Acetaminophen (paracetamol) is another option for relieving hangover symptoms. But if you’re a regular drinker, try not to make this a routine occurrence. Frequent paracetamol use is known to contribute to liver damage, much like alcohol does. So the two are not the best combination.
Also pay close attention to any medicine use when you’re hungover. We’re often not at our smartest so it might be good to keep a written note of what you’ve taken and when. Don’t ever be tempted to go over the recommended quantity of pain pills. Get some sleep instead.
7. Walk Your Dog (Not Hair of the Dog)
Once you’re feeling revived enough to leave the house, try treating your dog – and yourself – to a nice walk. While it may be tempting to spend the entire day wallowing in bed or on the sofa, getting some fresh air and gentle exercise can do wonders for a hangover.
Or if you’re feeling a little more energetic, restorative yoga, stretching, and swimming are other forms of light exercise that are ideal for a hungover day.
But, try not to do any exercise that will have you sweating too much. Despite the misconception that you can ‘sweat out the alcohol’, sweating will actually increase dehydration and can make many hangover symptoms worse.
And while we’re talking about misconceptions, skip the ‘hair of the dog’ too. Someone might suggest a Mimosa or Bellini for breakfast but don’t do it. Drinking more alcohol when you wake up may delay your hangover in the short term, but more alcohol will only worsen the hangover symptoms when they finally do hit.
How Long Does a Hangover Last?
Hangovers typically go away within 24 hours. A more mild hangover may disappear within a few hours. While a more severe hangover can last anywhere up to 72 hours. The duration of a hangover will largely depend on how much you drank. And, I hate to break it to you, really does seem to get worse as you get older.
If you follow the above hangover cures when you first wake up, your symptoms should ease within a few hours. But even when you start to feel better, you should continue to rest, hydrate regularly, and eat well for the rest of the day.
Wishing you a speedy recovery!
They’re our suggestions for easing your hangover. Have you got any other suggestions to share? Let us know in the comments below.
- 15 Best Hangover Foods (and Foods to Avoid)
- 12 Easy Prosecco Cocktails To Make At Home
- Classic Negroni Recipe & 5 Twists on the Original
- Classic Aperol Spritz Recipe & 5 Twists on the Original
- How to Make A Mimosa & 5 Fruity Alternatives
- Easy Classic Peach Bellini Recipe & 5 Fun Alternatives
- Prosecco vs Champagne: What’s The Difference?
- 15 Fun Drinking Games for Couples