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7 Drinks That Lead to Bad Hangovers

Clinically Reviewed By Dan Schimmel, LCSW, CAP
Updated On

If you are a fan of alcoholic drinks, you probably know that some of them cause worse hangovers than others. It is not just how much you drink but also what you drink that determines how you will feel in the morning. Of course, eating beforehand and drinking lots of water helps, but so does knowing which drinks to choose and which to avoid. From sugary concoctions to red wines, here are of some the things you need to look out for before your big night out, as well as some tips about substance use.

Which Drinks Cause Bad Hangovers?

1. Sugary Drinks

bad hangover drink - sangriaLiquor and sugar behave in similar ways, including being processed through the liver and causing dehydration. Dehydration occurs when your body loses so much water and electrolytes, or salts, that it cannot function properly. During mild hydration, you can drink liquids with electrolytes to restore the balance, but the condition can lead to serious illness or death if it goes untreated and becomes severe. The risk of dehydration is even greater if you are enjoying a day in the sun or exposed to high temperatures.

Although your liver can handle small amounts of alcohol, it produces a toxic enzyme called acetaldehyde, when exposed to liquor. Over time, this can scar the liver, damage the intestines, and cause brain dysfunction. Dehydration adds to the problem because the liver requires water to do its job efficiently. If it cannot get water from the tissues, it takes it from other parts of the body, leading to the infamous hangover headaches.

If you like mixed drinks, look for liquor with lower alcohol content, or use fresh fruit instead of juice. Avoid sweet wines and carbonated beverages and limit the amount you drink. This is especially important if you have high or low blood sugar levels.

2. Tropical Drinks

bad hangover drinks - pina coladaEspecially in the dead of winter, nothing seems quite as appealing as the thought of sitting on a tropical beach with a frozen daiquiri in hand. What we don’t think about is the hangover the next morning or the extra calories. Tropical drinks often contain more than one type of liquor as well as a lot of sugar to mask the various kinds of alcohol, making it easy to consume too much.

You can have a good tropical drink without all the calories. Healthier alternatives include avocado smoothies with champagne and mint syrup, a rose slush with a bit of vermouth and berry syrup, or a daiquiri made of white rum, lime juice, and a few strawberries. In other words, look for good liquors, fresh fruit, and syrups that are low in sugar. Not only are you less likely to get hangovers, but you are also more likely to avoid putting on extra pounds. Newsweek puts tropical drinks in order from high to low when it comes to counting calories: daiquiri, mojito, mint julep, pina colada, mudslide, and margarita. Pina coladas, for example, can have as many as 650 calories in just one drink.

3. Dark Liquors

bad hangover drinks - dark rumDark liquors, such as brandy, bourbon, tequila, and whiskey, cause worse hangovers than light liquors do. This is because dark liquors have more congeners, a toxic byproduct of fermentation. Congeners, which include bits of chemicals like ethanol and acetone, cause a variety of different reactions during the brewing process. Although they contribute to the taste, they may also lead to some of the worst headaches, as well as other symptoms.

In a British study reported in a 2006 edition of the New York Times, researchers attributed the worst hangovers to brandy while red wine, rum, whiskey, white wine, gin, and vodka followed in that order. Another study found that drinkers were twice as likely to get sick from bourbon than an equal amount of vodka. Drinkers of bourbon were not, however, any less alert than those who drank vodka. Because cheap liquors have more congeners than more expensive ones, they also make people sicker.

4. Red Wine

bad hangover drinks - red wineRed wine, like dark liquor, contains more congeners than white wine and is, therefore, more likely to cause headaches. Of course, drinking too much of any liquor, regardless of the color, will cause hangovers, and the only prevention is moderation. Obviously, the amount of alcohol in the liquor also contributes to the outcome, and so does body weight. White wines usually cause less severe hangovers than darker ones, and they are lower in histamines.

Scientists now say that any drink or food that has been aged, whether it is cured ham or red wine, can cause the body to release histamines, the substances that cause allergic reactions. In this case, taking an over-the-counter allergy medication or histamine blocker prior to drinking might help. As with any type of alcohol, the amount you drink and the length of time it takes to drink it both contribute to how you feel afterward.

5. Well Liquors

bad hangover drinks Well liquor, also known as a rail or well drink, is a less expensive type of liquor that is kept within reach of the bartender, allowing him to serve it quickly and easily. Wells often include one or more of the following: rum, gin, vodka, tequila, bourbon, vermouth, and triple sec. What is considered cheap is unique to individual bars. Common well drinks include the following:

  • Black Russian
  • Long Island Iced Tea
  • Gin and Tonic
  • Bloody Mary
  • Margarita
  • Rum and Coke
  • Whiskey Sour
  • Tequila Sunrise
  • Vodka Tonic
  • Screwdriver

One factor of bad hangovers is the fact that cheap liquor is usually distilled or purified fewer times than a more expensive one, meaning a greater number of toxins are left behind.

Bourbon, for example, leaches color, flavor, and toxins from burned barrels while it is aging. As a result, it has 37 times more toxins than vodka, which is highly purified. This is why the best vodka is flavorless, while good whiskey has its own individual flavor that comes largely from congeners.

6. Champagne

champagneOne of the reasons that champagne causes hangovers is that it contains carbon dioxide that is pumped into the beverage to cause bubbles. The carbon dioxide then causes the champagne to enter the bloodstream more quickly than other drinks. Other factors that cause headaches after drinking champagne include the depletion of salts and minerals due to dehydration or allergic reactions to sulfites.

The good news is that it is relatively easy to get rid of a champagne headache. Just take the following steps: Drink one glass of water for every glass of champagne, if possible. If not, drink a glass of water before going to sleep at night. Another option is to drink several cups of coffee. The caffeine in coffee causes your blood vessels to constrict, and that usually makes a headache less intense. Before drinking champagne, eat a meal that consists of protein and complex carbohydrates. Avoid greasy or fried foods or anything else that makes you feel nauseated. Finally, take B vitamins because liquor depletes them, but drink a big glass of water and eat first.

7. Caffeinated Beverages

red bull vodkaCaffeinated drinks fall into a category all of their own. When vodka is mixed with Red Bull, it creates a drink known as Vodka Red Bull or Raging Bull. While it can keep you from falling asleep, experts say it is the worst combination for causing hangovers because it mixes alcohol, a depressant, with caffeine, which is a stimulant. Drinks like this deplete energy and lead to horrific hangovers, but that is not the only reason they are bad.

A 2018 study released by the Journal of Psychiatric Research says Raging Bull increases fighting, violence, risk taking, and belligerent behavior. Just as small amounts of alcohol can enhance positive feelings, greater amounts can lower inhibitions. Caffeine and alcohol can lead drinkers to the false assumption that they are less drunk than they are as well as making them crave more alcohol.

Are Hangovers the Same as Withdrawal?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, disorders that occur from alcohol use play a part in around 88,000 deaths every year. The center defines excessive drinking as four drinks for women at a given time or five drinks for men. Heavy drinking, on the other hand, means eight glasses a week for women and 15 or more per week for men. Moderate drinking refers to one drink a day for women and two for men.

The CDC says that excessive drinkers are not necessarily alcoholics or dependent on alcohol. The rule of thumb for determining problem drinking is whether cravings and withdrawal symptoms exist. Withdrawal symptoms vary from hangovers in their severity and duration.

What Are the Symptoms of a Hangover?

  • Thirst
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Headache
  • Irritability, anxiety, or depression
  • Achy muscles
  • Poor appetite
  • Insomnia or poor sleep
  • Lack of energy
  • Dizziness
  • Extreme sensitivity to touch, light, or sound
  • Shaking or tremors
  • Inability to focus
  • Rapid heart rate

Hangover symptoms may also be a part of withdrawal, but the signs of addiction last longer and include other conditions.

What Are the Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal?

  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Fever
  • Delirium

What Causes Withdrawal?

The body of an addicted person learns to depend on the substance for the body and the brain to operate. If it is not available, the biological processes of the body seek to balance themselves on their own. GABA, for example, is a neurotransmitter that drinking suppresses. When the substance is withdrawn, the brain gets overly excited, and symptoms like panic attacks, seizures, or paranoia develop. A similar process happens when glutamate, another neurotransmitter, is suppressed in addicts. When alcohol is not available, glutamate causes irritability. Other neurotransmitters affect vision, memory, and mood.

Addiction may alter the brain’s chemistry, or the mental and emotional problems that led to substance use disorder in the first place may get even worse after alcohol is withdrawn. Suddenly, the person is experiencing withdrawal along with challenges that have been suppressed by the addictive substance. Alcohol also spurs the release of dopamine in the reward system of the brain. If the alcohol is suddenly stopped, the brain crashes, leading to conditions like mood swings, depression, thought disorders, and physical illnesses.

The Takeaway

While you can avoid some bad hangovers by consuming the right kinds of alcohol, the key to prevention also includes knowing how you react to different kinds of liquors, not drinking too much in one episode, and following good habits like drinking water and eating beforehand. Withdrawal becomes a problem when you experience cravings and have trouble functioning without a drink. Choose your drinks wisely, but drink wisely no matter what drink you choose.

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