About Author — Arhana is a 4th year medical student at Stanford applying into reconstructive surgery. She studied biology as an undergrad, and her interests include public health, writing, and weightlifting.

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It’s happened to us all: a few too many drinks at the company holiday party, or a weekend barbecue with more margaritas than you intended. The next morning, you’re in a world of hurt with effects ranging from headaches and nausea to even changes in heart rate and blood pressure. Here, we demystify the dreaded “hangover” and provide strategies for decreasing the severity of symptoms.

Why it happens:

Alcohol has varied physiological effects on the body. A key driver of symptoms such as dry mouth and headache is dehydration. Alcohol inhibits antidiuretic hormone (ADH), a chemical involved in regulating the body’s water balance. Excessive inhibition of ADH causes increased urination and thereby dehydration. However, this is just one piece of the puzzle. Alcohol is broken down in the body into acetic acid, a harmful chemical that is used in the manufacture of paints and adhesives. It may be an important component of causing hangovers, as it has been shown to cause sweating, nausea, and skin flushing. Alcohol can also cause an exaggerated immune response, and has been linked to higher levels of cytokines, chemicals that induce an inflammatory response. Drinking alcohol shifts the balance of chemicals called cofactors in the body, leading to low blood sugar and an accumulation of lactic acid. Finally, alcohol alters sleep patterns, causing earlier waking and contributes to the headache associated with sleep-deprivation.

How to fight it:

  1. Water, NOT coffee: Hydration is one of the simplest and most effective hangover cures. Drink more water than usual the day after a hangover to replenish the body’s fluid stores. However, drinking extra coffee usually does not help. Caffeine is a diuretic and counterproductively increases dehydration.
  2. Advil, NOT Tylenol: A non-steroidal anti-inflammatory like Advil can help to decrease symptoms of headache and muscle aches. However, avoid acetaminophen (Tylenol) as it is metabolized by the liver, just like alcohol. Alcohol already acutely stresses the liver, and adding Tylenol the day after augments the problem and causes accumulation of toxic byproducts in the liver.
  3. Pepto-bismol: Try an antacid to decrease upset stomach symptoms. Antacids counteract the effects of acetic and lactic acid from alcohol, calming the stomach down.
  4. Easily digestible carbs: Avoid the “greasy breakfast” hangover cure as a heavy breakfast can cause increased gastrointestinal upset. Instead, focus on light, easily digested foods like crackers and bread to stabilize blood sugar without causing nausea.
  5. Sleep: Catch a few Z’s! A short (1 hour or less) nap mid-day can help with the hangover, without causing sleeplessness the next night.

**As always, PlushCare doctors are available to talk with you about any questions you have. PlushCare’s top physicians will diagnose, treat, and prescribe you medication all from your phone. For more information or to book an appointment, visit plushcare.com.