It’s true: Wine hangovers really are the worst. And it’s not just your imagination — certain factors actually make them feel worse than, say, a beer hangover.
Here’s a look at why they suck, how to find a little relief, and what you can do to avoid them in the future.
First, we need to squash the whole wine drunk myth. Being wine drunk is no different from being drunk off any other alcohol. Wine hangovers, on the other hand, are a bit different.
Hangovers typically cause symptoms, like:
- upset stomach and nausea
- sensitivity to light and sound
- trouble sleeping
Wine hangovers produce the same symptoms, but they’re usually more intense. This is especially true for malaise — that icky, rundown, and overall unwell feeling you get when you’re hungover or coming down with something.
There are some usual culprits behind hangovers, regardless of what you’re drinking. These factors increase your chance of having a bad hangover:
- drinking too much
- drinking too fast
- drinking on an empty stomach
- not staying hydrated
When it comes to wine, congeners are believed to be responsible for the extra-intense hangovers.
Red wine and other dark drinks have higher concentrations of congeners, which are chemical byproducts of the fermentation process that gives these drinks their taste and smell.
Experts aren’t entirely sure why congeners contribute to more severe hangovers, but they have theories.
Research from 2013 suggested it’s the result of alcohol and its byproducts lingering in the body longer, because the body has to break down congeners while also breaking down ethanol.
Sulfites, which are added to wine as preservatives, are another possible offender. People who have an allergy or sensitivity to sulfites are more likely to get headaches from drinking wine. If you have asthma, you may have a higher chance of sensitivity to sulfites.
A double whammy of inflammation is another possibility. Both alcohol and congeners increase inflammation in the body, which contributes to malaise. So: alcohol + congeners = feeling especially rundown.
Accroding to 2014 research, high levels of tannins and flavonoid phenolic compounds, particularly in red wine, might also play a role.
If you’re in the throes of a nasty wine hangover and looking for a miracle hangover cure, you’re out of luck. The supposed “fast cures” you see online aren’t substantiated by science.
Like any hangover, wine hangover symptoms peak when your blood alcohol reaches zero and last around 24 hours.
To help you wait it out, give this time-tested protocol a try:
- Get some sleep. Sleep is hands-down the best way to deal with a wine hangover. You get some much-needed rest and the time needed to ride out your symptoms, all while being blissfully oblivious to them. Even if you can’t sleep, get cozy and try to do as little as possible.
- Drink water. Forget all the hair of the dog — drinking more wine (or any other kind of alcohol) will only prolong the process. Sip on water or other healthy nonalcoholic beverages to combat booze-induced dehydration and related symptoms. If you’re nauseated and can’t bring yourself to drink, try sucking on ice or a popsicle.
- Eat something. Some food will help stabilize your blood sugar and replenish lost electrolytes. Forget a post-party greasy breakfast and stick to bland foods, like toast, crackers, and broth, which are easier on your queasy tummy.
- Take a pain reliever. An over-the-counter pain reliever can help with that pounding headache and achy body. Just a standard dose should suffice. Having it with food can help avoid further stomach irritation, especially when taking an anti-inflammatory, like ibuprofen or naproxen.
To avoid another killer hangover the next time you drink:
- Swap red for white wine. White wine contains almost no congeners, so if you’re not ready to break up with wine, swap your red for white.
- Drink less. Not exactly a shocker, but you’re less likely to get drunk or feel hungover if you drink less. Cut back or try alcohol-removed wine as an alternative.
- Drink slower. Drinking too fast leads to a higher blood alcohol concentration. The result is intoxication followed by a hangover. Sipping your wine slowly will give your body the time needed to process and eliminate the alcohol. Bonus, you’ll actually get to savor the wine.
- Have some food. Alcohol is absorbed faster on an empty stomach. To slow things down, eat before you start drinking and nosh while you get wine-y. You won’t get as drunk or hungover, and you’ll avoid stomach irritation.
- Stay hydrated. Avoiding dehydration when you drink will go a long way in preventing intoxication and a hangover. Start drinking water as soon as you can, and have some handy to sip while you get your wine on. It doesn’t hurt to have another hearty serving after the party’s over.
Hangovers are no fun, and wine hangovers can feel particularly harsh. If you over-indulge, time is your BFF, along with sleep.
If your wine hangovers are becoming a frequent occurrence, or if you’re concerned about your alcohol consumption and want help, there are a few options:
- Talk with your healthcare professional if you feel comfortable.
- Call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 800-662-4357.
- Use the NIAAA Alcohol Treatment Navigator to find local help.
Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a Canada-based freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board.