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Whiskey Hangover: Causes, Cures and How To Prevent Them

Evidence based

Why Are Whiskey Hangovers Worse?

Afterdrink Author Dewey Jhon
Dewey Jhon

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  1. This article is based on currently available scientific evidence at the time of writing and fact checked.
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Evidence based

If you’ve been unlucky enough to have whiskey a whiskey hangover, you’ll probably agree they’re the worst you can get. Perhaps you even get them regularly and are looking for solutions.

We all know that hangovers are caused by drinking too much alcohol. But why are whiskey hangovers so much worse?

Sometimes, even drinking a small amount of whiskey can leave you feeling rough.

In this article, we’re going to focus on why hangovers are more severe after drinking whiskey and explore everything you can do to stop them.

We’re also going to look at the things you can do to “cure” a whiskey hangover if you’re unfortunate enough to have one right now.

So, with the introductions out the way, let’s start taking a closer look at everything you need to know about whiskey hangovers.

Table of contents

Causes of a whiskey hangover

The underlying cause of a whiskey hangover is no different from other alcohol. In simple terms, it happens when too much alcohol is drunk in a short period of time.

Although the exact cause of a hangover is still contested, there are a few generally accepted reasons why drinking too much can leave you feeling rough.(1)

1) Inflammation: Alcohol is metabolized in your liver and produces toxic by-products such as acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is a highly volatile compound that reacts with your cells causing inflammation.

2) Dehydration: Alcohol blocks the release of a hormone from your pituitary gland called ADH which has an important function in body water regulation. Consequently, you end up losing extra water and can become dehydrated.

3) Poor sleep quality: Alcohol significantly reduces the quality of your sleep. Although it’s much easier to fall asleep after a couple of whiskeys, the actual quality of sleep is greatly reduced. That’s because alcohol blocks your brain from reaching the REM stage of sleep which is important for waking up fully rested.

In combination, the above-mentioned damaging effects of alcohol result in the following whiskey hangover symptoms:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headache
  • Anxiety
  • Body pain / Muscle aches
  • Inability to focus

But why are whiskey hangovers so much worse? Well, scientists believe there is a good reason for it. Which is what we’ll cover next.

Are whiskey hangovers worse than others?

The simple answer to this question is, yes!

Studies have shown that the reason why whiskey hangovers are worse is that it contains much higher concentrations of congeners.(1)

Congeners are the name given to compounds in whiskey that are responsible for the characteristic taste and aroma.

They are formed during the fermentation process where yeast is added to grains in order to kickstart production.

Examples of congeners include:

  • Formic acid
  • aldehydes, such as acetaldehyde, which often has a fruity smell present in bourbons and rums
  • esters
  • ketones

The problem with congeners is that they are biologically active compounds. That means they react with your cells causing inflammation.

For example, formic acid is broken down into formaldehyde which is highly toxic. Even more so than acetaldehyde.

In summary: Whiskey hangovers are worse because of congeners. These are biologically active by-products that are formed during the fermentation process and when whiskey is aged in barrels.

Does cheap whiskey give you worse hangovers?

Some people may find that “top shelf” liquors that are highly distilled don’t give them a hangover as much as lower-priced alternatives. For example, you’ll often see that vodka brands market their liquor as “triple distilled”.

Filtering and distilling liquors take out the congeners and, therefore, could reduce hangover symptoms.

However, when it comes to whiskey, you can’t do this. Whiskeys are fermented and aged in a certain way that brings about unique flavors. As a result, this will increase the congener content.

You can tell which drinks have higher congener concentrations by looking at the color. In most cases, the darker the whiskey, the more congeners it’ll have.

That means that very expensive whiskey may give you worse hangovers! It all depends on how it’s been fermented and aged.

So, it’s not as simple as saying cheap whiskey gives you worse hangovers. In actual fact, cheap whiskeys that haven’t been aged as long may give you less of a hangover.

How much whiskey do you need to drink to get a hangover?

Hangovers happen when you’ve had too much alcohol to drink for your liver to handle. Some people will get hangovers drinking small amounts of alcohol and some don’t get hangovers easily.

So, it’s quite difficult to say how much whiskey (or any type of alcohol) you’ll need to drink to get a hangover.

With that said, because whiskey has higher congener concentrations, it may take less to give you a hangover. That’s why some people will get a hangover after only a couple of whiskey drinks.

Whiskey hangover cures

So, you’ve woken up with a whiskey hangover and are trying to find ways to end the pain.

By the time you’ve woken up with a hangover, the damage caused by whiskey and its congeners has already been done. Your body is picking up the pieces caused by dehydration, inflammation, and the lack of good quality sleep.

Unfortunately, that means a whiskey hangover “cure” doesn’t exist.

The only things that will help at this stage include drinking water, taking painkillers, and going back to sleep. Time and rest is the only healer.

On that note, there are a few things that could make matters worse which we’ll cover next.

Things to avoid

There are a couple of things that you may want to avoid when hungover:

Coffee
Drinking coffee can initially seem like a good idea. But drinking coffee when hungover can come with unwanted side effects. It’s true that coffee will make you feel more alert because it’s a stimulant. However, it could make hangover shakes and anxiety worse. Aside from this, caffeine is also a diuretic like alcohol. It makes you urinate more and can exacerbate dehydration.

Exercise
Going for a run when hungover is also not a great idea. Exercise, in general, is best avoided as it only adds pressure on your already fragile body.

How to prevent a whiskey hangover

When it comes to hangovers, prevention is always better than “cure”. That’s because a cure doesn’t really exist. Next up, we’ll cover a few things that may help prevent bad whiskey hangovers.

1) Avoid carbonated mixers

There is some evidence that carbonated or fizzy drinks speed up how fast alcohol is absorbed into your bloodstream.

Spikes in blood alcohol concentration can wreak havoc on your insides. As well as adding pressure on your liver to clear alcohol from your bloodstream.

You can read more about this in our article about carbonated drinks and alcohol.

2) Drink less whiskey

Clearly, the best thing for avoiding a whiskey hangover is to drink less of it. Some people are naturally more sensitive to the negative effects of congeners in whiskey. So, if drinking small amounts of whiskey gives you a hangover, it’s a sign from your body that whiskey doesn’t do you any good.

3) Switch from whiskey to something lighter colored

Some people believe that mixing drinks makes hangovers worse. However, there’s no evidence for that being the case. If you’ve started your night drinking whiskey, you can definitely switch to something else that may be less hangover-provoking.

Consider switching to a lighter-colored liquor like gin or vodka. That being said, if you drink enough vodka or gin, you’ll still get a bad hangover.

4) Eat before drinking

Your mom was right. Never drink on an empty stomach. The reason is that drinking on an empty stomach massively speeds up how fast alcohol is absorbed into your bloodstream.

If you’re wondering whether you should eat anything in particular before drinking whiskey, the answer is anything will help. Studies have shown that any food in your stomach slows down alcohol absorption. This includes food containing fat, protein and carbohydrates.(2)

5) Drink plenty of water

We mentioned earlier that drinking too much alcohol can cause dehydration. That’s why drinking water between every drink is so important. In addition, it’ll help dilute the congeners in whiskey.

Whiskey hangovers – Conclusion

That brings us to the end of our look into everything you need to know about whiskey hangovers.

We’ve walked you through all the reasons why whiskey hangovers are notoriously the worst. Congeners have a big role to play and are responsible for making whiskey hangovers severe.

Ultimately, whiskey hangovers are caused by drinking too much. And for some of us, drinking even small amounts of whiskey can give bad hangovers. In this case, it’s probably best avoided.

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