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15 Things That Make Your Hangover Even Worse

Why do you do this to yourself?

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Editor's note: The only way to completely avoid a hangover is to not consume alcohol. This post is not meant to be an exhaustive explanation of hangovers and how to avoid them, but we hope it helps you reduce the severity.

Hangovers are basically evil punishments against humankind.

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So we spoke to alcohol and hangover expert Aaron White, Ph.D, senior scientific advisor to the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), to find out if there's any way to make them a little less awful.

First, here's what a hangover actually is:

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A hangover happens when too much alcohol gets into the bloodstream and hits the brain, causing a peak blood alcohol content (BAC), explains White. That booze gets metabolized into toxic byproducts, and this all contributes to things like dehydration, tissue inflammation, stomach irritation, electrolyte imbalance, and low blood sugar. All of that equals a painful hangover when your BAC returns to zero the next day.

"The most obvious way to prevent a hangover is to look at what causes it and do the opposite," says White. So, you know, don't drink. But if you do choose to drink and don't want to be hungover AF, at least avoid these things:

1. Drinking too fast.

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It takes about 30-60 minutes for alcohol to absorb in the small intestine and reach a peak BAC so the alcohol affects your brain. "Your body can process roughly one drink every hour and a half, so drinking rapidly will cause your BAC to peak very high early and stay wasted for a very long time," says White. So if you don't give your body or brain any time to feel the effects of alcohol before the next cocktail comes in, this puts you at risk for poor decision making (more drinks), blacking out, and dehydration.

Do this instead: Space out your drinks and sip slowly so that your BAC stays lower over time. It won't necessarily prevent a hangover, says White, but it could make you less likely to get as drunk.

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2. Staying out and going to bed super late.

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Staying out until 2 a.m. doesn't seem like a huge deal when you have the next day off to sleep. The problem is, alcohol affects both the quality and quantity of sleep you get. "Alcohol tricks you into thinking you're sleeping better because you pass out a little faster but it's actually very disrupting and prevents you from getting a restful, deep sleep," says White. You're also more likely to wake up early feeling like shit and not able to get back to sleep.

Do this instead: Keep in mind that you'll be exhausted AF tomorrow — and it'll be even worse the later you stay up — so leaving before last call would be a plus.

3. Drinking on an empty stomach.

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"Studies have shown that your BAC can be up to 30% higher when you drink on an empty stomach," says White. Plus, alcohol irritates the lining of your stomach by increasing acid release, which is what causes you to feel bloated and nauseous during a hangover. So if you're drinking without food, this irritation will be even worse.

Do this instead: Eat some good, hearty food when you know you'll be drinking. This will protect you from stomach irritation and slow down the rate at which alcohol is digested and absorbed into the bloodstream in the small intestine, explains White. Here are the best things to eat when you're drinking.

4. Relying on some "magic cure" pill, juice shot, or remedy to prevent a hangover.

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"If you read into some magical cure to prevent a hangover, then go overboard with drinking and neglect all the logical strategies to reduce your BAC, it will definitely worsen your hangover," White says. According to him, there isn't enough scientific evidence about hangover prevention remedies to suggest that they actually work. "That doesn't mean a cure doesn't exist, but we haven't found it yet."

Do this instead: If you really want to do things to prevent a hangover, make sure you're eating, drinking enough water, and not downing drinks too quickly.

5. Ordering a ton of sugary drinks or mixers.

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Sugar doesn't alter blood alcohol levels, but it can make your hangover worse by contributing to stomach problems and giving you a hellish sugar crash. "You might not eat six slices of cake because you know it will hurt your stomach, but you'll then have six drinks with the same sugar content," White says.

Do this instead: Actually pay attention to how much sugar is in your mixers and your drink — especially those pre-mixed packaged cocktails. Opt for mixers with more water and less sugar, since they'll be more hydrating.

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6. Taking shots when you're already drunk.

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Shots any time of night probably aren't the best idea, but they might be even worse after you've had a few drinks. "The possible logic behind this idea is that if you are already tipsy from beer, you might be more likely to take more shots in a shorter period of time because your judgement is impaired and you can't tell how hard the liquor will hit you," White says. So the shots end up spiking your peak BAC and really affecting your brain.

Do this instead: If you're going to take a shot, maybe do it when you're sober, so you're aware of how it affects you and you can slow down or stop drinking after.

7. Not continuing to snack throughout the night.

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If you're drinking over a long period of time, whatever you ate before will eventually be digested enough so that it no longer buffers the alcohol, and the stomach is pretty much empty again.

Do this instead: "The best scenario is to have a mid-size meal then alternate your drinks with a glass of water and a small snack so the absorption of alcohol into the small intestine is slowed down as much as possible," says White. So you might want to bring a snack along with you or hang out by the food table at your next party — which is the best spot anyways, right?

8. Engaging in risky physical activities that will probably end in pain or injury.

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Running around all night in heels, dancing for four hours, wrestling with friends. These are things you will definitely feel x100 in the morning. Alcohol has an inflammatory effect on your blood vessels, tissues, and organs. "The alcohol in your blood triggers the same chemical signals for inflammation that are released when tissue is damaged and hurt — which is what causes you to feel generally ill and achey," White says. So another mystery ankle sprain or giant bruise will really make you hurt.

Do this instead: Go easy on the ridiculous physical activity when you're drinking.

9. Mixing alcohol with certain prescription drugs.

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Besides maybe making you die, mixing alcohol and prescription pills can change the way alcohol affects your body in a way that makes the hangover much worse. The interactions between medications and alcohol varies by the type of drug and the person, White says, but in general the side effects are bad news. Prescription medication for pain, depression and anxiety, attention problems, or blood thinners (just to name a few), can interact with alcohol and cause everything from stomach bleeding and heart problems to dizziness and erratic behavior.

And if you think this is common sense, according to a national survey from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), about 42% of Americans admit to drinking alcohol and also taking prescription medications that can negatively interact with alcohol. The study didn't show whether people took these meds while drinking, but it shows how huge and common this problem is in the U.S.

Do this instead: Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before drinking while on medication.

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10. Doing stupid stuff while drunk that you know will make you upset the next day — like texting your ex.

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The emotional part of a hangover is a legitimate reaction in the brain just like any other hangover symptom. "When you drink, you initially feel more relaxed because alcohol calms down the parts of your brain involved in anxiety and stress and activates the parts that feel pleasure," White says. But then you can develop an "acute tolerance," which leads you to keep drinking in order to feel more euphoria.

"When the alcohol wears off, the euphoria is over and the parts of your brain that were off become more active so you feel way more anxious and depressed until everything returns to normal," White says. We all know that dreaded "why TF did I do that last night" feeling.

Do this instead: Try not to get drunk when you're working through some shit, because that will likely come out with the alcohol — or with the hangover. Also keep in mind that Drunk You is more likely to make bad choices you might regret, so avoid behaviors or situations that would upset you when you're sober.

11. Not drinking enough water while you're out.

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Alcohol is a diuretic, White says, which is why it makes you pee so much. "You can eliminate up to one liter of water in a night of drinking." This can leave you dehydrated and feeling like crap the next day.

Do this instead: Even if you plan on chugging an entire Nalgene before bed, remember to alternate some water in between those margaritas, too. This can help minimize the peak BAC and how hard alcohol hits the brain, says White, which can reduce the severity of a hangover.

12. Drinking anything that consistently gives you hangovers from hell.

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In general, the type of alcohol doesn't matter as much as the amount you drink, says White, but some people do react negatively to the extra compounds in different types of alcohol. "Congeners are non-beverage alcohol compounds produced during fermentation which contribute to the taste and smell of products like red wine, strong IPA beer, and bourbon whiskey," says White. If you're sensitive to these, you'll probably know it from the horrible headaches or ill feeling you get every time you drink them.

Do this instead: Pay attention to what you were drinking the last time you had a bad hangover. If you notice any trends, stay away from those drinks.

13. Drunk eating ALL the things.

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Drunchies (drunk munchies) are basically the best part of drinking. But even though it's good for your stomach and BAC to eat something if you're hungry after drinking, you don't want to overdo it — especially with greasy or irritating foods like pizza, french fries, jalapeño poppers...

If these aren't part of your daily diet, you'll feel even more nauseous and bloated and heartburn-y tomorrow. In addition to your hangover stomach, you'll also be facing some gastrointestinal problems, says White.

Do this instead: Definitely eat something if you're hungry. But maybe don't eat something that Sober You would be horrified by/not able to digest.

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14. Drinking the next day to ease your symptoms.

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When your hangover is still raging after a few aspirin, a greasy breakfast sandwich, and a nap, getting a little tipsy again might seem like the only relief. But the old "hair of the dog" logic will only make your overall dehydration worse and prolong the amount of time it takes for your body to recover, says White.

Do this instead: Drink so much water and go back to bed. "Hangovers are like colds — all you need is rest and to keep yourself comfortable until it passes," White says. So sorry but, yes, it really just takes time.

15. Finally, not learning from your hangovers.

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"Hangovers are a result of a toxic state, intoxication — you've literally poisoned your body and as it tries to get rid of the poison and recover, you feel the terrible hangover symptoms," White says. When you get food poisoning, you usually don't want to eat the food that betrayed you for a while. "Hangovers should do the same thing in theory by helping us avoid making the same mistake of drinking too much alcohol."


Do this instead:
Even though alcohol is magically appealing again about 24 hours post-hangover, it should still be a lesson to maybe change your drinking habits next time. You can do this by drinking less, minimizing dehydration and stomach irritation, and getting better sleep.

...And maybe re-think that last whiskey shot when your party anthem comes on at the bar.

[If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol abuse, please visit the American Addiction Centers website or call 888-987-9927 for more resources and support. ]