How to Prevent a Hangover Before and After You Drink Alcohol

The holiday season is full of opportunities for boozy fun. A festive cocktail here, a mulled wine there. So if learning how to prevent a hangover is at the top of your wish list, we get it.

Before you hark back to your college tactics or old wives’ tales passed down from your parents, we’re sorry to say that most hangover prevention tricks just plain don’t work. When you drink too much, there’s only so much you can do while your liver clears the damage. But there are a few things you can do to ward off a post-party puke-fest.

What causes a hangover? 

Well, drinking alcohol—but you already knew that. There are several reasons alcohol can make you feel crummy. That’s because “alcohol is a toxin to the body,” Keith Humphreys, PhD, a psychiatry professor at Stanford University who researches the prevention and treatment of addiction disorders, tells SELF. As fun as it might be, you’re always going to be putting your body a bit through the wringer when you over-imbibe.

According to the Mayo Clinic, alcohol can cause dehydration, irritate the lining of the stomach (which is why you might feel puke-y), expand blood vessels in a way that can cause headaches, and prevent you from reaching deep stages of sleep, which can make you feel exhausted. It also triggers an inflammatory response from the immune system and causes blood sugar to drop, which can make you feel weak and shaky and make it difficult to concentrate. All of these things can contribute to your state of misery the morning after.

If you have fond memories of being able to throw several back as a college student without consequence, but now even a few drinks can ruin the next day, that’s par for the course, Dr. Humphreys says. “Our body’s ability to metabolize lots of things weakens with age,” he says. Alcohol is no exception.

How to prevent a hangover before drinking

You might have seen supplements that claim to prevent a hangover. Some say to take them before you start drinking, some after, and some say both before and after. But sorry, Dr. Humphreys says there’s no evidence they work—it’s probably a lot more marketing than science. 

There are some things you can do to help avoid a hangover before you start drinking, though. The first one? Eat, says David Seitz, MD, medical director for Ascendant Detox, a drug and alcohol treatment center in New York. “Eating food while drinking can help slow the absorption of alcohol into your bloodstream and reduce the severity of a hangover the next day,” Dr. Seitz tells SELF.

Some people say that high-fat or high-protein meals are better, but Dr. Humphreys says what matters most is that you eat a full meal and that you keep eating as the night goes on. (Those gingerbread men aren’t going to eat themselves!)

Another huge must: Drink water, Dr. Seitz says. “Alcohol consumption can lead to dehydration, so it is important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and other non-alcoholic beverages,” he says. That’s true before you go out, but also while you’re drinking and after you get home.

How to prevent a hangover as you drink

You’re less likely to get a hangover if you don’t drink much and don’t have drinks back-to-back. Keep an eye on both the number of drinks you’re having as well as the frequency. One serving of alcohol (which is 12 oz. of beer, 5 oz. of wine, or 1.5 oz. of liquor) or fewer per hour will give your liver a better chance of keeping up, Dr. Humphreys says.