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How to Hold Your Liquor

If you're going to drink, these 5 tips may help you avoid overdoing it.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Even if you hung up your toga years ago, you can still feel like you woke up at Animal House after a night of drinking. "Alcohol impairs judgment -- add a crowd of friends who are also impaired, and your drinking behavior can be fueled by those around you," says John Brick, PhD, executive director of Intoxikon International, a Yardley, Pa. firm that consults on alcohol studies.

It's not just friends who can encourage a hangover. Glasses the size of fish bowls, generous refills, and libations that taste like desserts can all put you on a path to pain the next morning, even if you had the best of intentions.

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Whether you're heading to happy hour, a wedding, vacation, or a party, here are expert tips on how to sip your spirits without them haunting you the next morning. "Hangovers are not a sign of health," Brick says.

With that in mind, none of the experts recommend overindulging, even if it is a special occasion. And with the decision to drink comes the responsibility to find a designated driver -- or a taxi --to stay safe. But when drinking is in your plans, you may want to keep these tips in mind.

1. Drink More ... Water, That Is

For every alcoholic drink you have, your body can expel up to four times as much liquid. The diuretic effect of alcohol and the dehydration it causes contribute to the discomfort of a hangover, explains Jim Woodford, PhD, a forensic chemist specializing in drugs and alcohol.

That's why Anthony Giglio, a wine expert in New York City and author of Mr. Boston Official Bartender's Guide, matches each alcoholic drink with a glass of water. "I drink at least 8 ounces [of water] with no ice to make sure I pace myself and don't overindulge," he tells WebMD.

Both Brick and Woodford agree that staying hydrated can reduce the negative effects of alcohol. "Alcohol dehydrates," Woodford says. "When you wake up with a headache and a generally icky feeling, dehydration is the cause." So replacing lost fluids with water combats dehydration and keeps you from drinking more alcohol in the meantime.

Granted, this advice isn't Nobel Prize research, but keeping a pitcher of water at your table or a glass of water next to your wine may make you feel like a genius in the morning.

2. Hit the Rocks

Giglio has another hangover-fighting strategy: "I order drinks that are on-the-rocks," he explains. "As the ice melts, the drink is diluted and I sip it slowly." Beverages like Manhattans and cosmopolitans are strained, so they stay just as potent as time goes by.          

Taking your time with a drink also pays off. Your body absorbs alcohol quicker than you metabolize it. The faster you drink, the more time the toxins in booze spend in your body affecting your brain and other tissues -- and the more pain you feel in the morning, Brick says.

Metabolism depends on several factors (gender, weight, age, health), but in general, most people can metabolize roughly one drink an hour. So diluting it with ice or water will increase your time between refills and decrease your odds of a hangover.

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