So you mixed one too many margs. Or you poured your wine glass a bit too full. Or you hit those hard seltzers a little too … hard. Whatever went down last night, now you’re here this morning: squinting at the brightness of your screen while your stomach makes some unsettling sounds.
When a hangover strikes, the dehydration, headache and nausea can range from annoying to debilitating — sometimes even putting you out of commission for a whole day.
A quick online search for hangover cures will turn up all sorts of dodgy DIY concoctions. Some companies market a slick array of pills and powders, claiming to have found just the right formula to knock out your hangover or prevent it in the first place. Between all these contenders, it can be difficult to discern money-wasting gimmicks from safe, medicine-backed solutions.
Hangover relief/prevention in just a pill?
Many pre-mixed hangover cures on the market swear by specific vitamins or supplements to alleviate symptoms. “I don't think there's any controlled studies done to prove that,” Amin said. “These are all going to be anecdotal evidence.”
Some brands include properties like painkillers or anti-inflammatories you probably already have in your medicine cabinet, or they offer standard vitamins you can get anywhere else, Amin said. These products generally won’t hurt if you take them, he said, but generally aren’t worth the money.
Find a doctor before you need one.
And, he added, it’s important to use caution with products that offer caffeine in pill form. “You really don't know how much you're going to get, and it might be too much for you — and that might cause some jitteriness as well, because it is a stimulant,” Amin said.
Pedialyte and Gatorade are popular choices for weathering a hangover. “I can see it reducing the severity of it because it contains glucose, sugar, and some of the electrolytes that you may lose,” Amin said. But again, he said, there probably aren’t any controlled trials to prove that.
How can I cure my hangover?
- Drink as much water as you can, especially when you wake up. “If you're feeling just absolutely terrible, the key is hydration,” Amin said. Drinking water will reduce your likelihood of experiencing further hangover symptoms.
- Try to eat some food. “Maybe eat some toast with butter or something — not really heavy,” Amin said.
- Consume caffeine to help you shake off that drowsy, depressed state left over from the night before.
- Take over-the-counter nausea pills if you’re feeling nauseated, or try a natural anti-nausea supplement like ginger or fennel seed.
- Take some aspirin. But aspirin can be harsh on your stomach, so make sure you grab a bite to eat with it.
Then there’s the infamous strategy known as “hair of the dog,” where some people drink additional alcohol during a hangover to ease the withdrawal symptoms. “It'll probably reduce what you're going through, but it doesn't by any means delay it, and I'm not going to advocate drinking when you're hung over anyway,” Amin said.
How can I prevent a hangover in the future?
- This is obvious, but slow down the pace of your drinking. Give yourself 1-2 hours to process each drink. Consider living in the moment without taking one chug after the other.
- Have some water between your drinks. Hydration is everything.
- Before you go to bed, drink a few glasses of water and take some anti-inflammatories. If you take 400-600 milligrams of ibuprofen, this can reduce the inflammatory effect of the alcohol as it metabolizes through your body, Amin said.
- Consider clear spirits instead of darker ones. “Certain alcohols have higher amounts of different properties or chemical byproducts that cause you to feel more nasty and more of a hangover,” Amin said. These byproducts, which form during the drink’s fermentation and distillation process, are called congeners. You’ll find more congeners in red wine and darker spirits like bourbon, whiskey and rum. You’ll find fewer congeners in clear spirits like vodka.
- But remember: Even if you drink clear spirits, that doesn’t mean you’re in the clear for a hangover. Quantity is still a factor. “If you put down half a bottle or pint of vodka, I'm sorry, you're gonna feel nasty,” Amin said. “Maybe less nasty than the guy who had bourbon, but either way, you'll still have symptoms.”
Bonus lesson for hangover nerds
Ever wonder exactly why so much “fun” can lead to so much pain in the first place?
Our body’s alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme is one culprit: It breaks down the alcohol to ethanol, and it breaks down that ethanol to acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is a poison that induces symptoms including nausea.
“The more alcohol you drink, the more acetaldehyde is created, and the more toxic effects you're going to have in your body,” Amin said.
After drinking heavily, you might feel sedated and even euphoric as the alcohol dulls your senses. But about 10 hours later, your body will start experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
And why is sensitivity to bright light and sound a symptom? When you drink heavily, the alcohol suppresses your brain. “And then all of a sudden 10, 12 hours later, that part has worn off, and your brain goes into rebound,” Amin said.