How To Cure a Hangover

Coffee and greasy foods won’t help, but rehydration will
Person sitting in a chair holding head and drinking a hot beverage while not fully operational.

Your eyes slowly crack open as your head throbs and nausea grips your stomach. Oof. That was some night … and you’ve got a wicked hangover as a reminder of the beer, wine or liquor consumed.

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The toxic effects of alcohol on the body never seem more apparent than the morning after downing one-too-many adult beverages. A headache, nausea, dry mouth and fatigue all serve as unwelcome symptoms.

What you want and need is a quick-and-easy way to feel like your normal self. Luckily, the internet — helpful place that it is — offers countless “hangover cures.”

Let’s take a look at some of them with emergency medicine physician Thomas Waters, MD.

What causes a hangover?

Finding a solution to a health issue begins with understanding the root cause of the problem. For hangovers, it’s all about your body’s response to alcohol, says Dr. Waters.

Let’s begin with the fact that alcohol is a diuretic, which basically means it opens the floodgates for urine production. That sends a lot of fluid out of your system and sets the stage for dehydration to build restroom visit by restroom visit.

At the same time, the consumption of beer and booze slows the release of an antidiuretic hormone (ADH) called vasopressin. This ADH works with your kidneys to keep your body’s hydration levels balanced.

That’s just the start of things getting out of whack, though. Alcohol also:

  • Expands your blood vessels, which can lead to headaches. (Headaches are also a byproduct of dehydration.)
  • Irritates the lining of your stomach to bring about a general feeling of queasiness. The resulting buildup of stomach acid also can result in you vomiting.
  • Depletes your blood sugar levels to make you feel fatigued and shaky.

The more you drink, the more pronounced these issues become, too.

Mix all of these physical responses and realities together and the result is a hangover, which can make you uncomfortable for a few hours or — in some worst-case scenarios — upend an entire day.

Remedies to ease a hangover

So, how can you stop the misery of a hangover? Well, there are a lot of methods and theories out there, which we’ll explore in a bit.

But let’s start with the two best remedies. (Spoiler alert: Neither works quickly.)

Start rehydrating

When it comes to the best thing you can do for a hangover, it’s really quite simple: Drink a glass of water before going to sleep. Do the same as soon as you get up.

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Dehydration is at the core of hangover hurt, so focus on replenishing those lost fluids, advises Dr. Waters. Sports drinks also can help you hydrate quickly while simultaneously restoring nutrients and electrolytes.

Don’t overdo it, though. Drinking too much water too quickly (we’re talking gallons) can lead to lead to swelling of the brain, a serious and potentially deadly situation.

Give it time

Time is the only true cure for a hangover. “There’s no magic pill, no miracle cure to make a hangover go away,” says Dr. Waters. “Your body has to catch up and metabolize the alcohol you consumed.”

In other words, sleep it off.

Hangover cures that don’t really work

Hangovers hurt, which explains why folks are willing to try just about anything to minimize the suffering. Here are a few interesting approaches — and why you shouldn’t put much faith in them.

The ‘hair of the dog’ method

What should follow a night of drinking? According to this legendary remedy, the answer is a morning cocktail. (A Bloody Mary, anyone?)

The idea behind “hair of the dog” is that knocking back another alcoholic drink will help your body reset. (The name, by the way, comes from an old belief that someone bitten by a rabid dog could be cured by drinking a potion containing a few of the animal’s hairs.)

The reality is a drink might take some of the edge off the hangover, but it’s only prolonging the recovery time. “More toxins is not the solution for excess toxins,” stresses Dr. Waters. “It really doesn’t make much sense.”

Drink coffee

The caffeine-packed boost offered by coffee is pretty legendary — but it’s not going to undo a night of knocking back beer or booze. In fact, coffee may even make your hangover symptoms worse, warns Dr. Waters.

As coffee is also a diuretic, it may slow down your rehydration process. And the way caffeine narrows blood vessels and raises blood pressure may turn up the dial on your pounding headache.

Take a pain reliever

Aspirin or ibuprofen might offer some relief for that throbbing ache in your skull. A word of caution, though: Those pain relievers could irritate your stomach and worsen feelings of nausea.

And don’t reach for pain relievers with acetaminophen, as it can potentially damage your liver when there’s alcohol in your system.

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Apply a hangover patch

Hangover “patches” are basically vitamin-infused stickers that you apply to your skin before drinking. The idea is that you absorb the vitamins through your skin to counteract the negative effects of alcohol.

Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, it is. There’s no solid evidence to support the idea that your body pulls enough vitamins and nutrients from a patch to halt a hangover.

Lean on supplements

Something on a drugstore shelf has to be good for hangovers, right? Various websites tout vitamins and minerals as surefire ways to avoid the worst of a hangover. A few studies even offer reason for optimism regarding:

Various pills and patches marketed specifically for hangovers also boast healing powers with their ability to replenish nutrients in your body.

Overall, Dr. Waters is skeptical: “You’re not finding a hangover cure in a pill bottle,” he says.

Eat a greasy breakfast

Getting food in your belly the morning after a night of imbibing is key to boosting blood sugar levels, says Dr. Waters. But filling your already stressed stomach with greasy, heavy food isn’t the best option.

Instead, focus on foods that also might address your hydration needs. Good choices would include water-rich foods such as watermelon, strawberries and cantaloupe.

Toast or a bagel also can pump up blood sugar levels while being gentle on the stomach.

If you’re up to it, scramble up some eggs, too. Eggs contain an amino acid that counteracts some of the toxicity of alcohol. Plus, they’re loaded with nutrients that can help your body rebound.

Find other hangover food recommendations from a registered dietitian.

One true hangover cure

In the end, there’s only one guaranteed method to dodge a hangover. “The best way to avoid a hangover,” says Dr. Waters, “is not to drink enough to have one.”

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