Want to have your world rocked? Scientists still don’t know why hangovers happen. They know they’re alcohol-induced, but otherwise the actual reason why alcohol is capable of making you feel like a sentient dish rag for a day (or days, if you’re closer to 30 than 20) remains a mystery. According to Laura Veach, an addiction medicine specialist at Wake Forest Baptist Health, that’s mostly because researchers didn’t start really looking into hangovers until about a decade ago.
The shallow research pool also means there’s currently no actual “cure” for hangovers; anything you see at the bodega or online that promises to totally rid you of your hangover is straight up lying. As Veach said, at best, products and DIY cures can mask some of the symptoms of a hangover. But the actual state of being hungover persists.
All that said, there are some effective ways to treat hangover symptoms, which is a start! VICE asked Veach to audit the most common preventions and “cures”; here’s what she had to say.
Hair of the dog
As a friend who’s read Sweetbitter like, eight times, recently reminded me, the go-to cure in the book (a book in which everyone drinks a lot) for a hangover is: white wine, seltzer, and lemon juice over ice. AKA, hair of the dog that bit you, as they say. (A fun fact: Veach explained that the phrase comes from a very old idea that if a rabid dog bit you, the cure was to make a potion out of some of the rabid dog’s hair.)
Clarifying that she wasn’t advocating for this at all, Veach said drinking more does work in that it takes your body out of the withdrawal state that produces the hangover. (This is also what the Summer House cast rides for, by the way.) When you start drinking again, you may actually feel temporary relief. But once that wears off, you’ve essentially doubled down on your extant hangover, making things potentially much worse than they were before.
Electrolytes (Liquid I.V., Gatorade, Pedialyte, et. al.)
If the worst hangover symptom you get is a bad headache and nausea, using electrolytes to hack your way back to hydration will likely provide relief. Who among us hasn’t crushed a lemon-lime ‘Rade the morning after a Big Night Out and felt instantly more powerful? Unfortunately, that powerful feeling is merely “being hydrated,” and while it’ll help with symptoms of dehydration, it won’t erase other symptoms, like that oh shit I can’t think straight feeling, or the dreaded “hangxiety.” Veach emphasized that these aren’t a magic cure-all, no matter how much marketing to that effect there is behind them. Also, some of these (like Liquid I.V.) are expensive, even though Liquid I.V. is nothing more than powdered Pedialyte, essentially.
Drinking a shit ton of water
Basically, see the above. Hydrating is good for you, like, objectively, but drinking water even during your night out doesn’t “cancel out” the drinks you’re having, as modern myth may have you believe. At best, as Veach said, all that extra water might help prevent a headache the next day, and might also slow down the rate at which you’re taking in alcohol.
Veach explained that the liver—which treats alcohol as a toxin—can process about one drink (meaning: an eight- to twelve-ounce beer, a five-ounce glass of wine, or a shot) per hour. So if you’re doing one water for every drink, you are conceivably giving your liver a little more time to pump through the alcohol you’re feeding it. If you still manage to slam eight beers in two hours while alternating them with glasses of water and not spend the entire night in the bathroom, you’ll probably still feel those beers the next day, just minus the headache and dry mouth.
Ibuprofen or acetaminophen
Once again: Great for killing a headache, but depending on the severity of your hangover, Veach said the symptoms will come back once the drug wears off. Also, taking these with alcohol (powerful minds may be tempted to preempt a hangover by throwing back some Advil the night of) is pretty rough on the stomach and can lead to ulcers.
If you somehow didn’t know, there are now entire services that will hook you up to a saline drip so your hungover ass can feel better. This sounds great in theory; medicine! But there are two major downsides: Cost (these services range from $85–$875 a pop), and the fact that they, like everything else, can’t totally cure a hangover.
The best thing they’re for is getting rid of dehydration, particularly if you are so nauseous or in so much pain that you can’t move or ingest anything yourself for fear of barfing. But if you don’t have those symptoms and can get down a few cups of hydration drink, it should have roughly the same effect.
I’m bummed out; what works, then?
As Veach said, the liver and kidneys can process and excrete the “toxic metabolites” that alcohol produces in the body, but they do so on their own schedule. Drinking a ton of water, downing a Pedialyte, or hooking up to a saline drip might lessen certain symptoms, but the only thing that will totally cure you of the full spectrum of hangover feelings is the time it takes for your body to get rid alcohol’s byproducts.
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