10 Hangover Hacks that Actually Work (and 10 that Don’t)

Rise and shine! It’s time to deal with that hangover. It goes without saying that the only cure for a hangover is not to get one in the first place. Lesson learned. That still doesn’t help you today, though.

Rather than beat yourself up for drinking too much, take a few smart steps to alleviate the pain.

  1. Hydrate the right way. Don’t waste your money on Pedialyte, Gatorade, or Vitamin Water. Sports drinks may have electrolytes, but the sugar and artificial flavorings negate any benefit you might receive. (Too much sugar after a night of heavy drinking actually can put you at risk for developing Wernicke’s Encephalopathy – a sudden and permanent form of brain damage that will leave you spending the rest of your life painting water colors in a nursing home).Tap water works well and saves you money. There is some evidence that coconut water can replenish electrolyte stores without sending you into a diabetic coma.
  2. Not all food is created equal. Remember that the BRAT Diet is your friend when you are in the throes of a hangover – Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, and Toast. Sure, it doesn’t taste as good as a giant skillet from your favorite brunch place or a quick McDonalds breakfast, but BRAT foods give your liver a chance to heal while fueling your body. Food helps slow the absorption of alcohol, which eases the hangover process and stabilizes your blood sugar. Bananas boost potassium, which prevents shakiness and muscle pain. If you’re really craving something substantial to go with your toast, try a few eggs. Amino acids in eggs like cysteine help your body break down toxins, while also replenishing hangover-depleted B vitamins.
  3. Rest easy. That “sleep” you got last night was not really sleep – it was an alcohol-induced coma. Part of the reason you feel like garbage today is because your body was in a state of being shut-down rather than resting. If you are noticing the urge to sleep or take a nap, go for it. Even a 15 minute nap will clear your head and can give you the energy required to follow through with the rest of the recommendations.
  4. Pop a few pills. Once you have a little food in your stomach, take some Advil (ibprofen) or Aleve (naproxen) to reduce inflammation and prevent your headache from getting worse.
  5. Smart supplements. Ginger alleviates nausea while preventing the GI nasties that make you unpleasant to live with when you have a hangover (gas, bloating, and diarrhea, to start). Make sure you get some BRAT food in your stomach, first, to make sure that the supplement isn’t churning in an acid bath and inadvertently making things worse. A good B-vitamin complex can also replete your stores of thiamine, which helps prevent alcohol-induced brain damage (see Wernicke’s in Hydrate the right way). Omega-3 supplements can also decrease inflammation.
  6. Virgin Bloody. Ok, so you’re out to brunch and are dying to order a drink. Make it a virgin bloody. Tomato juice goes a long way to give you a healthy blood sugar boost in addition to lycopene, which acts as an anti-inflammatory (less headaches, less bloating, and less awfulness). If possible, avoid having a spicy Mary, as the heat from jalapenos and peppers could exacerbate GI problems and keep you locked up in the bathroom for the rest of the day.
  7. Friends. Take advantage of the brain and mood-boosting effects of friendship and the oxytocin you can get from being around others. This effectively counteracts one of the worst effects of a hangover – post-acute, alcohol-induced depression and anxiety. One night of overdrinking (especially if it leads to a blackout) can leave you feeling like a waste of life, with negative thought spirals that seem to confirm the worst about who you are as a person. Being with others connects us to the world, away from negative thoughts, and staves off the likelihood of feeling irritable. (This only works if you are actually physically near your friends, so Facebook won’t cut it, unfortunately).
  8. IV Hydration. For the truly privileged among us who also live in urban areas, IV hydration stations have popped up to serve those who hit it a bit too hard the night before by restoring B vitamins and lost body fluid. As a matter of practice, these places make a disclaimer that they do not cure hangovers and that they should not be a first course of action for having a rough night. Unless you show up drunk and sloppy, however, they will most likely be happy to take your credit card and plop you down in a dark room for 45 minutes to pump medical-grade fluids into your body.
  9. Juicing. Skip the sugar-laden juices chilling in the coolers of convenience stores (even the ones that claim to be “green”) and make your own curative juice. Bitter fruits and vegetables such as asparagus, watercress, grapefruit, and arugula send healing reinforcements to your liver while providing you with much-needed nourishment. Beets, Asian pears, kale, and celery also seem to have some benefit to the beleaguered body.
  10. A short stroll. An easy walk outside can help your body process through toxic chemicals by infusing your organs with blood and oxygen. Being in nature for as little as 15 minutes can also boost mood, focus, and concentration – all of which are compromised in the midst of a hangover.

Dangerous Remedies that are Ineffective at Best

It feels good. But is it?
It feels good. But is it?

You may have a tried-and-true routine for treating your hangover that involves one of the following remedies, but the science just does not support their efficacy. That said, if placebo works for you, then great! At least make an informed decision about these apparent remedies to avoid wasting time or making yourself sick.

  1. Caffeine. If you’re a caffeine addict, then of course a cup of coffee in the morning is necessary to prevent you from going into caffeine withdrawal (which can feel even worse than a hangover). That said, there is no benefit to swilling gallons of the stuff in an attempt to feel better. Caffeine’s diuretic effect will worsen dehydration, making the hangover last even longer. If you are a regular coffee drinker, make sure that you drink at least two cups of water for every one cup of coffee.
  2. Going back to the source.  Many swear by hair -of-the-dog, as it can help the roller coaster of a hangover feel more like a gentle plummet. So what’s the problem? Your brain learns that a bender is better than a binge. Unless you are gunning to become alcohol-dependent, it’s best to avoid teaching your brain bad tricks that will hurt you in the long run.
  3. Greasy food. It actually works wonders – when you eat it BEFORE you start drinking. Learn to enjoy pizza, pork tacos, and steak before you go out to tie one on, and the likelihood of you being in this hangover mess the next day will decrease dramatically. As far as a morning-after cure, the only thing greasy food will give you is a bad case of heartburn.
  4. Tylenol. Acetaminophen deserves a black-box warning for all heavy drinkers, including even those who go on occasional social-drinking binges. Taking Tylenol the morning after an alcohol binge is a quick way to shut your liver down, both in the short and long term. Your liver is your friend, so please be kind to it.
  5. Sweat. Strenuous exercise makes no sense when your body is sending you serious messages that it is having a hangover. Part of what a hangover does is force you to slow down so that all hands can be on deck to detox from your alcohol assault. Strenuous exercise places unnecessary stress on an already-stressed system, and merely promotes an extended hangover. Saunas are even worse: by disrupting normal blood flow, you run the risk of sending your heart into abnormal rhythms or going into a state of shock.
  6. Sex. It feels good. But that’s just a distraction from being hungover. You also might make things a bit worse (see “Sweat”). Not much cure, here (sadly).
  7. Hangover-specific pills. They sound great, but are just a waste of money. Most of the products out there are perfectly harmless, as they use water-soluble vitamins. But why spend the extra cash? There’s no reason for you to invest in expensive urine.
  8. Alka-seltzer. Feel better fast? Not so much. It *could* help to settle your stomach, but it could just as easily irritate your stomach further due to its heavy dose of aspirin and citric acid. Take a pass on that.
  9. Going to the beach. Spending time with friends on a sunny day sounds like a great way to combine a bunch of these recommendations, but the solution will likely exacerbate the problem. Not only will the sun and surf further dehydrate you, but you also will probably be exposed to more drinking. Same thing with boats. Plan your outing for a day when you will be fully rested and able to enjoy yourself.
  10. Acupuncture and massage. They may feel good, but forcing your muscles into submission with a massage may exacerbate hangover symptoms by speeding up the detoxification process beyond what your liver can handle. Most acupuncture practitioners are also reluctant to practice on someone who may still be drunk, as the body is already grossly out of balance.  Wait a few days and give your body a break from the booze before you schedule with your local spa.

And in the future, prevention is the blah blah blah. You already know not to overdrink. So start taking care of yourself today, bro. SS

Sarah Suzuki is the founder of Chicago Compass Counseling, LLC – a group counseling practice dedicated to helping people break the the cycle of self-destructive behavior. Find out more at www.chicagocompasscounseling.com.