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Girl hungover from drinking alcohol.

What to do if you have a hangover

If you’ve ever had a hangover, you’ve likely tried numerous remedies to feel better, such as “the hair of the dog” or a greasy breakfast. But do these hangover “cures” actually work, or do they do more harm than good? Jody Malleo, RDN, LD, CDE, a dietitian and nutritionist at Piedmont, separates fact from fiction.

What is a hangover?

Malleo says a hangover is the result of:

  • Dehydration. Alcohol acts as a diuretic. Drinking too much of it can lead to dehydration, which causes most hangover symptoms, she explains. When you drink too much, it can also lead to sweating, vomiting, diarrhea and an electrolyte imbalance, which can worsen dehydration.
  • Dilated blood vessels. Alcohol causes the blood vessels to dilate, which can lead to a headache.
  • Lack of sleep. While alcohol can help you fall asleep faster, it also contributes to poor quality of sleep. Alcohol can interfere with our normal sleep patterns and block REM sleep, Malleo explains.

Do hangover “cures” really work?

Greasy breakfast or junk food. “When you’re feeling lousy, reaching for comfort food can make you feel better temporarily, but physically, it’s not helping the body recover from the damage you did the night before,” she says. “You need to give your body the nutrients it needs to recover. Eating junk food just adds fuel to the fire.”

“The hair of the dog.” Drinking to relieve a hangover is another myth, says Malleo. “Drinking the next day may make you feel better for a few minutes because you’re getting buzzed again, and it’s distracting you, but ultimately, it will just prolong the hangover.”

IV hydration boutiques. “These places offer a cocktail of electrolytes, B vitamins, anti-nausea medication and anti-inflammatory pain medication,” she explains. “They absorb quickly and probably do make people feel better. However, they are expensive and come with risks. If you don’t go somewhere reputable where the staff is well-trained, you could run the risk of having an IV improperly placed or developing an infection. It might work as a quick fix, but it’s not the solution.”

The best remedies if you have a hangover

“It’s a matter of rehydration and time,” Malleo says. “Try to sip water throughout the day and get some rest. Getting a little food in your stomach can help too – try something bland and easy to digest, like crackers.”

If you can stomach it, eat a nutrient-dense, balanced breakfast with protein and starches – think avocado toast or oatmeal with fruit and nuts. Starches will help settle your stomach because alcohol irritates the lining of your stomach.

How to prevent a hangover

The only guaranteed way to prevent a hangover is to avoid alcohol, and the only surefire treatment is time. But there are some things you can do to reduce your chances of getting a hangover, Malleo says:

  • Eat before you go out. The liver processes alcohol first, so make sure you have food in your stomach so your liver doesn’t process the alcohol immediately.
  • Drink in moderation. Moderate drinking is defined as no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men. One serving is 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer or 1.5 ounces of liquor. We often surpass these limits with just one drink, she says.
  • Drink one glass of water for every alcoholic beverage, sipping slowly. This will also save you money.
  • Know your limits. Decide in advance how many drinks you’ll have and stick to that number.
  • Drink Pedialyte and/or a large glass of water before bed to help balance your electrolytes and boost hydration.

“While avoiding alcohol is the only way to prevent a hangover, that’s not necessarily realistic,” Malleo says. “It’s OK to go out and enjoy social times with friends and have some alcohol. But it’s better to focus on the social aspect rather than the alcohol aspect. It’s healthy to spend time with your friends, but it’s not healthy to drink in excess. You’re doing damage to your body over time if you consistently drink too much.”

Treat your body well

“To be healthy, you want to treat your body well,” she says. “Eat healthy, balanced meals and drink in moderation. You wouldn’t fill an expensive car with low-quality gas, but we do that to our bodies when we consume too much unhealthy food and alcohol on a regular basis.”

Registered dietitians/nutritionists are uniquely trained to help people struggling with weight by identifying barriers and obstacles to success. If you are interested in talking to a nutritionist, consider reaching out to Piedmont’s Nutrition and Wellness Services at 404-605-3823.

Need to make an appointment with a Piedmont physician? Save time, book online.  


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