You may have heard of the concept of a “good hangover”. In 2019, for instance, VICE writer Tom Usher tweeted that “hangovers are actually quite nice if you're in the right environment.” This caused outrage among some and agreement among others, but, as it turns out, the relief of a hangover can sometimes go deeper than being “really in bed” watching Takeshi's Castle with a Solero or tucking into a tub of Chinese takeaway at 11AM.
Enter: r/hangovereffect, a subreddit which showed up in 2018. The ‘about’ section reads: “A community that feels relief from hangovers and are looking for answers as to why. Most of us are diagnosed with ADHD and exhibit depression, anxiety and fatigue but feel complete remission from all symptoms when hungover from alcohol. If you feel the same way, join us and let's find a cure.”
As of today, the subreddit has around 7,700 members who claim that hangovers have been beneficial for their mental health. The posts range from the inspiring to the academic, with people sharing anecdotes and theories about what they call “the hangover effect”. Often, users are very specific, with posts relating to the pharmacological attributes of alcohol and its effects on the brain. Others are more revelatory. “Anyone else noticed not only feeling great but also looking great?” wrote one user recently.
One such member is Dylan, 32, from Asheville in North Carolina. Dylan started getting an inkling that he had a “peculiar reaction” to alcohol in his early twenties. “My friends would wake up feeling sick, but I’d just feel two steps down from satori [a Japanese Buddhist term for ‘awakening’]. Everything was alright – it eased my depression, my anxiety,” he says.
Alex, 30, lives in New York City. He says he has depression, anxiety and undiagnosed ADHD. His experiences sound similar to Dylan’s, with a heavy night of drinking making way for a newfound sense of self. “I was calm, empathetic, emotional, not anxious,” he says.
For Anna, 38, from Toronto, hangovers would make her much happier and more content. “The next day my depression would go away. I would feel like a completely different person,” she says. For someone who had been on various antidepressants for years, to little effect, being hungover felt like a total relief.
All three are wary of using this particular “hack” day-to-day and none are frequent drinkers. “Drinking every single day would come with its own set of problems,” says Alex.
Anna used to drink regularly while working at bars, before stopping completely. “It became a bit of a habit for combating anxiety,” she says. These days, she drinks socially maybe once a week.
Across the subreddit more generally, there are stories of tactically inducing a hangover without being totally destroyed. One member claims that drinking 200ml of vodka (four double measures) just before bed allows them to feel hungover, but also “clear in the head” the next day. Alex says that while he doesn’t really drink alcohol at home, “if I had something important on tomorrow, occasionally I’d prompt a social engagement to happen tonight”.
Many members also try out different supplements and various experiments in the hope they might find ways to replicate the hangover effect without getting wasted. “It's not clear what will work yet, it seems like everyone's got different theories,” says Anna, who only discovered the subreddit last week. She’s decided to start experimenting with creatine and glycine – two supplements often used by bodybuilders. Some users have claimed these supplements help lift “brain fog” and help them “feel better”.
Alex claims that high doses of vitamin C “helped a little bit. But then that kind of dissipated”.
Dylan, meanwhile, has “a whole fucking long list” of things he’s tried over the years, with varying success. He’s even gone as far to track down some Memantine online – a medication usually used to treat Alzheimer’s disease. He’s been taking the medication, unprescribed, for over a year.
“My life has been incredibly improved. I have no complaints. Every day my PTSD, depression and anxiety are getting better,” he says. He believes the Memantine works because it inhibits NMDA receptors – essentially, it decreases abnormal activity in the brain. Through what he calls “extensive self-research”, Dylan believes that those who experience the hangover effect might have “hyperactive NMDA receptors”, which is why the medication helps. “Memantine is like a diet ketamine, almost, in that you can function on it,” he says.
The amount of casual theorising and DIY experimenting – away from medical supervision and regulation – is concerning for obvious reasons. One rule of the subreddit is that all theories about the hangover effect must be backed up by scientific sources where possible, and that people should “try to write in a critical and scientific way”. However, this can be tricky when you consider that most of the members are presumably not scientists, nor medical experts. For many, though, this subreddit has become a last resort. You can’t exactly go to your GP and say, “I feel better when I’m hungover!”
Melissa Herman, Ph.D, is an Assistant Professor at the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies. While she agrees that unregulated experiments should be avoided, she says that there could be some truth to the hangover effect, for some people. It’s an area that clearly needs further research.
“My guess is that the positive symptom relief that they're feeling is because the alcohol is acting on different circuits that are dysregulated in their specific condition,” she explains. By circuits, Herman is referring to the groups of neurons inside our brains. Without getting too scientific, neurons are what send messages to our nervous systems, and one person’s messaging system might be quite different to the next’s.
“Targeting those circuits is a huge field in neuroscience right now, and there are clinical trials underway, looking at human genetics. So I think there will be positive movement in this area. If not immediately, then one day.”
That said, Herman warns against using alcohol to achieve the hangover effect and expresses concern about people “cherry picking” and that “not looking holistically means the brain could be harmed in other ways by some of these experiments”.
“Alcohol is a really potent pharmacological compound and it affects many parts of the brain,” she adds. In other words, sure, alcohol might make some people less anxious the next day. But it can also cause brain cells to die and brain tissue to shrink. In fact, it’s associated with 2.8 million deaths each year worldwide and is also more generally known for causing anxiety the morning after – hence the term “hanxiety.” One study found around 22.6 percent of participants reported anxiety during a hangover.
Still, for a lot of people, the hangover effect is clearly a very real and confusing conundrum. Hopefully, in the near future, the thousands of people in this subreddit won’t have to choose between being hungover or miserable and anxious. Until then, *clinks glasses*.