Chances are, you remember your first hangover . Whether you were a nauseous teenager desperately trying to conceal your queasiness from mom and dad, or a young adult trying to make it through an early morning class with a pounding headache, it’s likely you recall it so clearly because the unpleasantness was so intense.
A terrible morning after happens to the best of us. Even when you think you’re being oh-so-careful to count each glass of wine, you can still wake up with a splitting headache.
But a cocktail hour tonight doesn’t have to lead to misery tomorrow. If you know why hangovers happen, you can more easily escape them—and enjoy that dirty martini after work. (Disclaimer for those oblivious to the obvious: The only sure way to avoid a hangover is to avoid liquor altogether.) That said, if you’re going to drink, you might as well be smart about it.
The easiest way to preemptively prevent a hangover is to put a cap on your number of drinks. For women, three to five drinks can be enough to keep them from getting out of bed the next day. It might take a man as many as five to seven drinks to get to that same level of misery.
Beyond how much you drink, though, what you drink matters, too. Not all alcohols are created equal when it comes to hangovers. Darker liquors—like bourbon and rum—contain more congeners, a byproduct of fermentation that acts as a toxin in the body and actually causes more excruciating mornings after.
Some of the most congener-heavy culprits include:
- Dark rum
- Red wine
- Dark tequila
- Stouts and other dark beers
Of course, avoiding dark alcohols in favor of congener-free liquors (hello, vodka and gin) won’t necessarily save you from that raging headache. Mixers could have something to do with your hangover, too. If you’re a Jack and Coke kind of drinker, you could be in trouble. The added sugar and carbonation in that Cola actually cause your body to absorb the alcohol faster, which often leads to more drinking—by morning your “no regrets” attitude from the night before has you feeling all kinds of remorse.
At the end of the day, though, sticking to vodka on the rocks isn’t a foolproof plan either. No matter what kind of alcohol you drink, if you consume enough of it, you’ll be hit hard with a hangover. Alcohol dehydrates the body faster than any other beverage, and dehydration is one of the primary causes of headaches. Alcohol also inflames your immune system, upsets your stomach, and expands your blood vessels—all of which amp up your hangover to 11.
Hoping to enjoy that happy hour without worrying about the next day? Don’t forget to drink plenty of water throughout the night to stay hydrated, and chug another big glass of H2O before bed. If you’re still feeling a bit worse for wear in the morning, drink some coconut water or a sports drink to replenish some of the electrolytes lost, or try some natural headache cures.
When all else fails, sleep it off—your body will repair itself!