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which alcohol gives least hangover

Evidence based

Which Type of Alcohol Gives You The Least Hangover?

Afterdrink Author Kathy Caldwell
Kathy Caldwell

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Evidence based

Until now, science hasn’t discovered a hangover cure yet. So we have to accept that for now at least, we need to find alternative ways to reduce our hangover woes.

One way is to find an alcoholic beverage that will give you the least hangover.

Hangover related myths are rife with everyone and anyone giving information about their own secret hangover remedy.

But which alcohol actually gives you the least hangover?

In this article, we’re going to look at the science behind how hangovers affect your body to find out which alcohol is least likely to give you a severe hangover.

Table of contents

What causes hangovers?

To understand which alcohol gives you the least hangover, we first need to go over how alcohol affects your body in the first place.

Hangovers are complicated by the fact that there is no single cause for all your symptoms.

So first, let’s take a look at the different factors causing your hangover symptoms:

Dehydration
Alcohol is a diuretic which means it makes you produce more urine. It blocks a hormone produced from your brain called ADH (antidiuretic hormone) that makes your kidneys re-absorb water.

Therefore, you flush out more water from your kidneys.

In fact, for every unit of alcohol you drink (1 unit = 1 shot of strong spirit like vodka), you lose an extra 120ml of water.

Add this up over an evening drinking, this leads to a net loss of fluid and dehydration.

The only way to reduce dehydration from alcohol is to drink less and replace the lost water by keeping hydrated.

Acetaldehyde

Alcohol is metabolized by your liver to produce energy. During this process, acetaldehyde is produced which is a highly unstable molecule that reacts with the cells it comes into contact with.

Your liver produces antioxidants that neutralize acetaldehyde before it causes too much damage. unfortunately, it doesn’t take much for your antioxidant stores to be used up.

Consequently, you’re left with a buildup of acetaldehyde and inflammation caused by cellular damage.

Congeners

Congeners are by-products produced during the fermentation process of alcohol. They are responsible for much of the taste and aroma of alcoholic drinks.

Congeners are thought to be responsible for most of your hangover symptoms as they cause inflammation. They are found in much higher quantities in darker colored drinks such as whiskey and red wine.

Sugar

Some alcoholic drinks contain high amounts of sugar such as flavored gin and vodka as well. you also need to factor in the mixers you use for spirits which can also contain very high sugar levels.

It’s thought that the rapid rise and fall in blood sugar levels can also contribute to your hangover symptoms as it puts an added stress to your body by disrupting normal hormonal circadian rhythms.

So when it now we’ve got the science out the way, we can now try and look at which alcohol gives you the least hangovers.

There are certain things that can’t be changed such as the fact that alcohol is a diuretic and its main toxic by-product is acetaldehyde.

That being said, you could always opt for alcoholic drinks with fewer congeners and sugar.

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Congeners and hangover severity

The most well-known congeners in alcohol are methanol and tannins. As mentioned before, these are by-products formed during the alcohol fermentation process.

Methanol is metabolized by your liver to produce highly toxic formaldehyde and formic acid which is even worse than acetaldehyde.

Its thought that the knock-on damage caused by methanol breakdown is key to why congeners can worsen hangovers.

There are several different types of congeners formed as a result of the alcohol fermentation process which can contribute to hangover severity.

Which drinks contain fewer congeners?

So we’ve already discussed how congeners can make your hangovers a lot worse and that darker coloured drinks contain more congeners.

Below are some examples:

High:
Port, bourbon, red wine, rum, brandy, scotch, cognac

Medium:
Cider, lager, bitter, tequila

Low:
White wine, gin, vodka

Out of all the drinks, bourbon is thought to have the highest congener quantities. Some studies report bourbon having 37 times the amount compared to vodka!

As a general rule, sticking to lighter coloured drinks can give you less of hangover

Which type of alcohol gives the least hangover?

The more alcohol you drink, the worse your hangovers will be, which we all know.

However, choosing a drink with a lower congener amount could make a big difference.

Sticking to lighter colored drinks like gin and vodka should, in theory, give you the least hangover if you’re drinking the same amount of alcohol.

But what do we mean when we say the “same amount of alcohol”?

Remember each double vodka mixer is 2 units of alcohol and a large glass of wine is 3 units.

So when we say that it should give you the least hangover if you’re drinking the same amount, we mean the number of alcohol units.

Therefore, 2 large glasses of wine (6 units) should give a worse hangover than 3 double vodka mixers (also 6 units).

What other things to avoid?

Lighter colored drinks should give you the least hangovers. But there are other factors to consider which can also help.

Caffeine-containing mixers
Caffeinated drinks and mixers will only make matters worse. The reason is, the stimulant properties of caffeine will have a knock-on effect on your sleep by preventing you from reaching the deeper stages of sleep.

In addition, caffeine is a diuretic which can worsen dehydration. Therefore, caffeine is something to definitely avoid if you’re looking for drinks that will give you the least hangover.

High sugar drinks
As mentioned before, spikes in blood sugar levels with an inevitable sugar crash can exacerbate hangover symptoms. You’ll be surprised how much sugar is in your mixers and even drinks like tonic water have lots of sugar in them.

Fizzy drinks
There have been studies that have shown that alcohol absorption is faster with fizzy drinks. Rapid increases in blood alcohol concentration have more of a toxic effect as your body as your liver can only metabolize alcohol at a certain rate.

Avoiding fizzy alcoholic drinks like beer or carbonated mixers may give less of a hangover.

Vodka, water and a bit of lime is probably the drink and mixer of choice with the least congeners, sugars and fizz!

Anything else to consider?

Hangovers are a sign from your body that you’ve probably had too much to drink. The best way to prevent hangovers is drinking within your limits and pacing yourself as well as keeping hydrated throughout your night out.

If you plan to drink a lot, trying to find a type of alcohol that will give you the least hangover may not produce the result you’re hoping for.

Final words

That brings us to the end of our look at which type of alcohol gives you the least hangover.

Darker colors, high sugar content and carbonated/fizzy drinks are likely to give you worse hangovers.

Therefore sticking to lighter colored drinks like gin and vodka should, in theory, be better in this aspect.

That being said, if you’re drinking a lot, it won’t actually matter what you’re drinking because your hangover will most definitely be bad.

In addition, it’s important to note that there are several other factors that affect hangover severity including, how fast you drink alcohol, how late you sleep and whether you are drinking on an empty stomach.

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