Avoiding Holiday Hangovers

It's holiday time. That means lots of parties, and it could mean drinking more alcohol than you should, then getting one of those dreaded holiday hangovers.

The Early Show's Dr. Mallika Marshall says you can consume alcohol without waking up with a hangover. She answers questions on how to do it, and on how to make a hangover less severe if you do get one:

If the most important thing a person can do to avoid a hangover is to watch how much they drink, what is the general limit on how much a person can drink without getting inebriated?

There really isn't a hard and fast rule, because everyone tends to handle alcohol differently. For example, women tend to feel the effects of alcohol with smaller quantities, and faster than men. But a good rule of thumb is that the body tends to metabolize or process about a drink an hour, and by drink we mean a 12 ounce can of beer, an ounce and a half of hard liquor, and about 5 ounces of wine. To avoid getting a hangover, women should have no more than two drinks over the course of a party; men, no more than three. And remember, do not drive within four hours of drinking.

You have some other tips on avoiding hangovers. What are they?

The first is drink lots of water. This is crucial. You want to drink water before, during and after a night of drinking alcohol. Alcohol acts as a diuretic and depletes your body of fluid. That can lead to headaches. So, drinking water can reduce the risk of a morning headache and help limit the amount of alcohol you drink by helping to quench your thirst.

You also advise avoiding red wine and brandy. How do these drinks affect a hangover?

Experts have found that darker liquors, such as red wine and brandy, contain more of a chemical that can trigger hangover symptoms. Clear drinks, such as white wine and vodka, contain less of this chemical and are thought to cause less of a hangover problem.

If someone does drink too much, how can he or she lessen the effects of a hangover?

First, drink coffee. The caffeine in coffee or tea or soft drinks can actually help lessen a hangover headache. Caffeine can help narrow dilated blood vessels in the brain, which are thought to contribute to such headaches.

You also suggest drinking sports beverages. How do they help?

Drinks such as Gatorade can help replenish salts or electrolytes you may lose from your blood during your night of drinking, and help replace any lost fluid as well. So try drinking some Gatorade or similar sports drink before you go to bed and when you awaken in the morning.

You also suggest taking an over-the-counter pain reliever. But you caution, not just any OTC pain reliever. Which ones would be best?

Many people will take aspirin or ibuprofen before going to bed, or certainly when they wake up, which isn't a bad idea. But you don't want to take acetaminophen, found in Tylenol, because like alcohol, it is processed by the liver and can overwork an already taxed liver that's trying to handle all the alcohol you've consumed.

What about all those so-called hangover remedies that you see at the check-out counter of convenience stores. Do any of them really work?

There haven't been a lot of studies on hangover remedies, because scientists have been understandably concerned more about the risks and benefits of drinking on your health; plus, a lot of doctors don't want to encourage people to drink more than they should by promoting hangover helpers. There was a recent study suggesting that the extract from the prickly pear could help reduce some hangover symptoms, but the bottom line is: the only foolproof way to avoid a hangover is to avoid drinking too much.