These Alcohols Give You The Worst Hangovers

You need only mention the word "hangover" around other people to elicit a wince or audible groan. Everyone knows what the dreaded effects of a night of drinking feel like and everyone wishes that they didn't. Like many people, you may even blame a specific cocktail or type of alcohol for your worst hangover experience. The Long Islands that laid you up in bed for two days next to a loaf of bread, perhaps, or the bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon that made you wish your head wasn't attached to your neck. Hangovers can be miserably painful and downright debilitating.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a hangover is simply a set of unfortunate symptoms that occur as the result of drinking too much. These include nausea and stomach pain, vertigo, headaches, sensitivity to light and sound, excessive thirst, and general weakness among other regrettable side effects. Some hangover side effects and their seriousness may also depend on the type and quantity of alcohol consumed, according to an article published in "Alcohol Health and Research World" (via National Library of Medicine).

What causes a hangover?

A hangover is caused when your blood alcohol content (BAC) returns to zero and generally lasts around 24 hours (via Oxford Academic). This normally occurs after drinking too much alcohol. But what exactly is too much? And why do some alcoholic beverages seem to cause more painful hangovers than others? There are a number of contributing factors to consider. For starters, alcohol triggers an inflammatory response from your immune system which can make it difficult to remember things or concentrate, as well as make you lose your appetite. According to the Mayo Clinic, it causes the body to produce more urine which leads to dehydration, expands the blood vessels in your body causing headaches, and irritates the lining of your stomach leading to nausea and vomiting.

Ethanol, the result of converting sugars into alcohol using yeast, is the main cause of most hangovers. However, the presence of congeners in certain alcohols can also lead to more intense hangovers. Congeners are compounds other than ethanol found in alcohol that are created naturally during the distilling and fermenting processes (via National Library of Medicine). These byproducts can include methanol, tannins, acetaldehyde, and furfuryl. They help give alcoholic beverages their taste and smell but are also toxic to the body in small quantities.

How do congeners worsen hangovers?

Doctors and scientists haven't quite figured out why the presence of congeners in alcoholic beverages causes bad hangovers. However, it is suggested that congeners, which exist as tiny molecules, circulate longer in the body than alcohol does and likely contribute to a longer, more painful hangover. "The body is not made to metabolize [congeners]," Lewis Nelson, chief of the division of medical toxicology at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School tells Mic. "We have a very efficient system for metabolizing alcohol but not getting rid of many of these other little compounds." When the body does eventually metabolize them, their natural toxicity is what causes the no-good, very-bad hangover symptoms. Multiple types of congeners exist and no single type is more closely associated with hangovers than another. However, they are largely found in dark liquors and alcohols such as bourbon, cognac, brandy, and red wine. They naturally have a higher concentration than light or clear liquors.

Healthline notes that congeners may also cause the body to release stress hormones like epinephrine and norepinephrine. When released, both of these hormones are responsible for causing inflammatory responses throughout the body leading to fatigue, memory impairment, and other symptoms. Drinking any kind of alcohol in excess will lead to a hangover, but drinking beverages high in congeners will likely make symptoms worse.


Whether you enjoy it straight, on the rocks, or in a delicious craft cocktail, bourbon's diverse notes of vanilla, oak, caramel, and spice are always a treat (via World Whisky Day). However, this type of alcohol may contribute to the worst hangovers you will ever experience.

According to Time, bourbon contains 37 times the amount of congeners than vodka, an alcohol with very few congeners, does. It is also twice as likely to cause bad feelings associated with a hangover. "While the alcohol alone is enough to make many people feel sick the following day, the toxic natural substances can add to the ill effects as our body reacts to them," Demaris Rohsenow, a professor at the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at Brown University, tells NBC News.

If you love bourbon but are looking to avoid the dreaded hangover effects it causes, you have a couple of options. First, stick to high-quality bourbons. While they are more expensive, high-quality, artisanal bourbon is made with better ingredients and is distilled longer. Alternatively, you can try bourbon brands with zero alcohol.


If you're trying to avoid a nasty hangover, you should also use caution when drinking whiskey. Contrary to popular belief, whiskey and bourbon are not the same thing. According to Food Network, bourbon can only be made in the United States, must be at least 51% corn, and be aged in new, charred oak barrels. Whiskey, on the other hand, can be made anywhere in the world. There are numerous types of whiskey, including single malt and rye whiskey, each of which requires a specific amount of their main ingredient to earn its moniker. Regular whiskey is generally from a mash blend that includes corn, rye, wheat, or barley.

Although whiskey and bourbon are different liquors, their high concentration of congeners is responsible for some pretty wicked hangovers. Total abstinence is the only way to truly ensure a hangover-free morning, but you can still enjoy whiskey in moderation. The Whiskey Reviewer recommends drinking less whiskey on your night out or switching to lighter liquor like vodka after enjoying a whiskey beverage. You can also try drinking Irish whiskey, which is triple distilled and therefore removes a large portion of the congener count in the alcohol.


Brandy is a liquor distilled from wine or fermented fruit juice (via The Spruce Eats). Generally, brandy is made with grapes, although it can be made from apples and stone fruits like cherries, peaches, and apricots. According to Horizon Beverage, the alcohol gets its name from the Dutch word "brantwijn" or "burned wine." It was traditionally made by distilling the pomace, or leftover skins, pulp, and seeds, from winemaking, although not all brandy is still made that way today. There are a number of regional styles of brandy distilled around the world with varying flavor profiles, the most well-known of which is Cognac.

Brandy can be enjoyed straight, but it is more commonly found in cocktails like the Vieux Carre, The Metropolitan, or the Brandy Alexander. On its own, brandy is quite strong at 80 to 100 proof and between 40% and 50% ABV. However, it has a sweet, fruity taste that is like a mixture of sweet wine and oaky whiskey. Despite its lovely texture and pleasant taste, The Chicago Tribune notes brandy is one of the alcohols most likely to give you a bad hangover.


Rum, the preferred drink of pirates and modern-day spring breakers, is a complex liquor with a complex history. Eight Oaks Farm Distillery explains that rum is a liquor distilled from sugarcane, syrup, or molasses. The liquor became popular in the 17th and 18th centuries when slaves who worked on sugar plantations in the Caribbean discovered that molasses could be fermented and turned into alcohol.

"We unwittingly put rum in this very narrow, specific set of occasions and uses and expectations," Mark-Kwesi Farrell, Founder and CEO of rum brand Ten to One, tells Coveteur. "It is a spirit that is derived from sugarcane, but to clarify, it doesn't mean the end product after fermentation and distillation has sugar in it. Rum producers can add things like sugar, vanilla, caramel coloring, and other flavoring agents and that's what led to this perception of rum being overly sweet ... the kind of cocktails you typically see rum presented in adds to that."

Rum has several classifications, including white, gold, dark, or black with additional flavored and spiced rums available. While all types of rum can contribute to a potentially crippling full-body hangover, dark rum is considered to be the more risky option. According to AlcoRehab, this is because of — you guessed it! — its congener content. Dark rums can range in color from gold to dark brown and are aged in oak barrels. They typically have a stronger flavor than white rum.

Red wine

Every wine drinker, be they a celebrated sommelier or a fan of the 2 for $10 special at their local grocery store, has experienced a dreadful wine hangover. Dollars to doughnuts, that same hangover has been so miserable it has caused more than one "I'm never drinking wine again" claim. While a number of symptoms can be experienced from imbibing in too much wine, a splitting headache, nausea, full body aches, and a parched throat are common (via California Winery Advisor).

Red wines are a diverse group in the wine world. This means that even if you suffer from bad red wine hangovers or crippling red wine headaches, you may be able to find a wine that suits your needs. While congeners and tannins are present in most red wines, Wine Folly notes that certain red wines are less likely to give you a hangover. Dry reds with an alcohol content between 12.5 to 13.5% are generally a safer bet. Medium-bodied wines and those with moderate tannins like Tempranillo or Cabernet Sauvignon are also unlikely to cause as bad of a hangover. Quality also matters. Cheap, bulk wines and wines with added flavors often contain more wine additives, which can contribute to the intensity of a hangover.


Many people ring in the new year, birthdays, and anniversaries with a glass of golden bubbly. Although Champagne is not a dark liquor, enjoying it in excess will lead to one doozy of a hangover. The dainty bubbles that give Champagne its signature fizz and festive air are the problem. According to Vice, extra yeast is added to Champagne during its fermentation process to give it its delightfully fizzy texture. However, the extra fermentation means more sugar, which means more alcohol going into your bloodstream. "Champagne is also connected to hangovers because of the carbon dioxide that is pumped into the champagne to cause the bubbles," Brooke Alpert, MS, RD, CDN tells Bustle. "The carbon dioxide causes the alcohol to be quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, faster than other drinks."

Not only do you get drunk faster while drinking Champagne, but the resulting hangover is much worse. Symptoms may include pounding headaches, dehydration, vomiting, sleep deprivation, anxiety, inflammation, and general body pain.

Sugary cocktails

Although sugary cocktails on their own won't lead to a hangover, drinking them in excess sure will. As food science professor Dr. Czarena Crofcheck explains to Thrillist, "The body is actually really good at processing sugar, compared to alcohol, so sugar doesn't affect a hangover. It's just that sugary drinks are so much easier to drink, so you can lose track of how much you've had and push it too far."

The sugar in the mixers and fruit juices mixed in with your cocktail is digested faster than the alcohol, releasing stress hormones that negatively impact the blood vessels in your brain. It can also cause your blood sugar to drop, causing sweating, anxiety, and irritability within hours of enjoying the drinks. "The more alcohol you drink, the more dehydrated you'll become and the worse that next morning headache will feel," Dr. Seema Sarin tells Insider. "When your body digests sugar, it's absorbed into the bloodstream, causing a spike in your blood sugar that can make you feel foggy, tired, or have a persistent headache."

Does the order of drinks affect your hangover?

You are likely familiar with the old adages "beer before liquor, never been sicker, liquor before beer, you're in the clear" and "wine before beer and you'll feel queer, beer before wine and you'll be fine." But is there any truth to them? The answer is probably not.

According to Purple Tree, the theory is that if you start drinking something with a high alcohol content and switch to something with a low ABV, you are less likely to experience negative hangover symptoms. There is little evidence to suggest that the order you drink makes a difference in the presence of a hangover (via Vine Pair). From a scientific standpoint, it isn't possible to ward off a hangover by mixing or avoiding beer, liquor, and wine because no chemical reaction occurs in the stomach. According to the BBC, hangovers are simply the result of dehydration, changing hormone levels, disruption of the immune system, and the general toxicity of alcohol.

Tips to avoid a hangover

The only way to 100% prevent a hangover is to not drink alcohol. However, if you do choose to drink, in addition to avoiding binge drinking and limiting dark liquors, there are several ways to limit hangover effects. Drinking plenty of water alongside your alcoholic beverages is key. "Alcohol is a diuretic. It naturally dehydrates you," registered dietician Julia Zumpano tells The Washington Post. "When you're hungover, a lot of the symptoms that you experience are due to dehydration. You can alleviate some ... by staying well hydrated." While drinking or immediately after, aim to replenish your electrolytes through food or enhanced water products like Powerade or Gatorade.

A study published by "The Society for the Study of Addiction" found that eating a full meal before drinking can significantly lower blood alcohol levels and increase the speed alcohol is cleared from the bloodstream. Certain vitamins and supplements such as zinc, B vitamins, clove extract, and red ginseng may also lead to milder hangovers, especially when taken prior to drinking (via Healthline).

Keeping track of the number of drinks you enjoy throughout the night is also helpful for avoiding a hangover. Better yet, use a drink calculator prior to going out. "While I don't expect anyone to whip this out at the bar once they've had a few shots, it can be insightful to use before or after to understand the reality of how much you're actually drinking," Cara Harbstreet, MS, RD, LD tells Cosmopolitan.

Hangover remedies

Magic hangover elixirs have been touted for years in one form or another but, unfortunately, there is no miracle cure. And although there is no single alcohol that will give you the worst hangover, that doesn't mean that there aren't some useful remedies to consider. If you're feeling poorly after a night of drinking, begin your day with a banana. "[Bananas] are high in the electrolyte potassium and are also a good idea if you're suffering from an upset stomach," nutritionist Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN tells PopSugar. "A coconut water and banana smoothie is a good way to wake up post-partying." Furthermore, if you experience hangover symptoms like nausea or vomiting, eating ginger candy or drinking ginger water may alleviate them.

Eating eggs for breakfast the morning after partying can also prove to be beneficial (via Deccan Chronicle). They are packed with protein and contain a number of needed vitamins and minerals that will help you recover. The yolks also contain the amino acid l-cysteine. After drinking, your liver produces l-cysteine to help neutralize acetaldehyde, the toxin responsible for blackouts and memory loss. Eating eggs provides 324 mg of l-cysteine, which helps your liver immensely.

One popular hangover remedy that will not work is drinking more. This theory is commonly referred to as "taking the hair of the dog." Although some research suggests that the sedative effect of drinking more alcohol may help alleviate alcohol withdrawal symptoms, it isn't a good long-term solution, per Harvard Health Publishing.