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Home / Journal / Best & Worst Drinks for Hangovers

Best & Worst Drinks for Hangovers

As you already know, too much alcohol can cause sickness and regret the morning after. But it’s often said that some kinds of drinks are worse than others for your hangovers.

You may wonder why the bubbly wine seems to hit us faster than a beer. Or why the bourbon clearly worsens the severity of your hangover compared to vodka. Well, it turns out there's a scientific reason for this.

In addition to hangover pills that work to keep you sharp the night after drinking, is there a specific type of alcohol you can drink to make sure your hangover doesn’t get the best of you?

A big misconception is that hangovers are entirely about dehydration. As a matter of fact, researchers have found no direct association between hangover severity and dehydration [6]. While it’s true that drinking can dehydrate you, and that dehydration may slightly factor into your hangover symptoms, other factors are mostly at play.

The alcohol hangover is mainly attributed to a combination of toxic impurities found in some alcoholic beverages (congeners) and byproducts of alcohol metabolism (acetaldehyde).

As you see, alcohol itself isn't the only headache-producing culprit in our drink glasses. Many alcoholic beverages, such as wine and whiskey, contain toxic byproducts of aging and fermentation.

Congeners

You can blame your upset stomach, shakiness, thirst, and generally foul feeling on compounds called congeners.

Congeners include compounds that leach from wood casks during aging, as well as tannins and other additives found in many dark-colored alcoholic drinks.

Along with congeners, there are various other components in alcoholic beverages that contribute to a hangover, including yeasts, sulfites, and other additives commonly found in liquor, beer, and wine. The more of these ingredients a drink contains, the worse your hangover may be [1] [2] [3].

In a 2013 study, researchers recruited 95 “heavy” drinkers—both men and women—and had them imbibe either bourbon or vodka until their BACs hit 0.10, which meets the legal definition of “intoxicated.” The next morning, hangovers were 36% worse [5] among the bourbon drinkers, according to a scientific “hangover index” the researchers used to assess symptoms like thirst, headache, nausea, and increased heart rate.

Avoid sugary alcoholic drinks

Sugar and alcohol both have a lot in common. They both cause dehydration and they are both processed through the liver. These commonalities mean that, when combined, sugary, alcoholic drinks produce a much more severe hangover than alcohol alone.

Daiquiris, sweet martinis, and Mai Tai’s all contain sugar and alcohol. You may want to skip the Margarita as well. The sugar content of a frozen margarita is very high at about 160 grams.

So, now you know—sugar or carbonated drinks cause you to absorb alcohol faster and feel its effects sooner, hence increasing your blood alcohol level and dehydration.

Worst Alcoholic Drinks for Hangovers

1. Bourbon

The darker your hooch, the more toxins have likely seeped into it. Bourbon—aged in charred oak barrels—tops the list when it comes to liquor congeners.

Close on bourbon’s heels are Scotch and the various types of whiskey—American, Canadian—which are also barrel-aged. Much of the hangover is caused by the fact that many drink it neat.

2. Red wine

The intensity of a hangover is ultimately tied to the amount of congeners in the wine you're drinking. The darker the wine, the more congeners it has, as these also determine alcohol's color and flavor.

Therefore, dark-colored reds will make you feel the worst, followed by the slightly lighter rosé, with white wine being the least detrimental.

I know we all love Wine Wednesday, but it could lead to a miserable Thursday. Again, congeners are to blame here. If you are in a wine mood, white wine is your best bet if you need to be a functioning human in the next morning.

3. Champagne

Some of the dizziness you feel after drinking champagne is due to both the brain getting a little less oxygen and also the effects of the alcohol at the same time. All the bubbles in sparkling wine are carbon dioxide, which competes with oxygen in our bloodstream [4].

The carbon dioxide causes the alcohol to be quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, faster than other drinks.

Best Alcoholic Drinks for No Hangovers

1. Vodka

Vodka is made by fermenting grains or vegetables, like potatoes, with yeast. It is then filtered again and again to make it as pure as possible.

It packs a powerful punch – most brands are 40% alcohol mixed with water. Despite this, research has found vodka to be the least likely drink to give you a hangover. It is so pure it contains no ‘congeners’, or by-products made during fermentation, which are difficult for the body to break down [7].

2. Sake

Sake does not rank highly on the list of hangover-inducing beverages because it is simply fermented rice and water. Also, sake has no sulfites, 1/3 the acidity of wine, and very low histamines – all three of which have been known to produce hangovers in other libations.

Now, there is a chance that someone is may be drinking a low quality, cheap sake that has been intentionally brewed to get one inebriated. But this holds true in the malt-liquors of the world as well. The old adage of “you get what you pay for” definitely applies to sake as well.

3. Gin

Like vodka, gin is a pure, clear spirit – but on the other side, it also contains an extra ingredient which could affect your body hydration.

In gin, the dehydration effect may be greater than vodka or sake because it’s flavored with juniper berries which are diuretic and encourage the body to get rid of even more water.

But all in all, because it’s low in extra additives, gin is a great option if you want to experience a headache-free morning. Mix with a little tonic and lime for a low-cal drink that can still pack a punch.

Bottom line

In addition to drinking lots of water, eating food before you go out, and drinking in moderation, you can avoid that nasty hangover the following day by making the right choices when it comes to your drinks.

So, as we’ve concluded with our extensive evidence on vodka, sake, and gin, really any clear alcohol vs a dark type of alcohol will enable you to actually survive the next day without feeling too miserable. And remember, methanol is found in dark liquors (like whiskey and red wine) and it stays in your body long after the spins have subsided, making your hangover unbearable.

 

Sources:

[1] The role of beverage congeners in hangover and other residual effects of alcohol intoxication: a review

[2] Concentration changes of methanol in blood samples during an experimentally induced alcohol hangover state

[3] Hangovers and whisky congeners: comparison of whisky with vodka.

[4] The Effects of Carbon Dioxide in Champagne on Psychometric Performance and Blood-Alcohol Concentration

[5] Intoxication with Bourbon Versus Vodka: Effects on Hangover, Sleep, and Next‐Day Neurocognitive Performance in Young Adults

[6] Drinking water doesn't prevent a hangover

[7] Hangovers

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