Dr. Victor Emanuel MD

Dr. Victor Emanuel MD

The Truth about Hangover Cures

Myths about hangovers are as varied and as fanciful as the cocktails that cause the dreaded syndrome. From eating pasta at bedtime to popping prickly pear pills, the list of supposed hangover cures warrant a closer look. Learn what works – and what hurts – as we sort through 12 common hangover myths.

MYTH: Hangovers are no big deal

FACT: A hangover is the body’s reaction to being poisoned with too much alcohol. Heavy drinking rocks the central nervous system. It tinkers with brain chemicals – leading to headache, dizziness, and nausea – and sends you running to the bathroom so often you become dehydrated. The morning-after price of this imbalance can include a pounding headache, fatigue, cotton mouth, queasy stomach – and a weakened immune system.

MYTH: Hangovers are Gender-Blind

FACT: Use caution when enjoying those free drinks on Ladies’ Night. Given the same drinks, women are more likely to be slammed with the effects of alcohol than men. Scientists say there’s good reason for this. Men have a higher percentage of water in their bodies, which helps dilute the alcohol they consume. When women drink the same amount, more alcohol builds up in the bloodstream.

MYTH: Only Bingers Get Hangovers

FACT: While it’s true that binge drinking could speed your way to a hangover, you don’t have to get wasted to pay a price the next morning. Depending on your body composition, just a couple of drinks can trigger a headache and other hangover symptoms. Having water or a nonalcoholic drink between each beer or hard drink can help keep you hydrated and reduce the overall amount of alcohol you consume.

MYTH: Wine is the Gentlest Choice

FACT: Red wine contains tannins, compounds that are known to trigger headaches in some people. Most liquor, like whiskey, also tends to produce more serious hangovers. If you’re worried about how you’ll feel in the morning, the gentlest choices are beer and clear liquors, such as vodka and gin.

MYTH: Diet Cocktails Are a Safe Bet

FACT: Diet drinks may help if you’re counting calories, but not if you’re trying to avoid a hangover. Research suggests that consumption of fruits, fruit juices, or other sugar-containing liquids can decrease hangover intensity.

MYTH: Liquor before Beer, Never Fear

FACT: It’s the amount of alcohol you consume – not the order of your drinks – that matters. That said, the order of your drinks may affect how much you consume. If you have a cosmopolitan, and then switch to beer for the rest of the night, you slow down your intake of alcohol. If you switch from beer to shots, you accelerate your path to drunkenness. Of course, too much liquor can spell “sicker” regardless of whether you began with beer.

MYTH: Eat Pasta before Bed

FACT: This one is wrong on two counts. First, eating at bedtime (after you’re already drunk) is no help. Food has to be in your stomach before Happy Hour to have any impact. Second, while any food can slow the body’s absorption of alcohol, fat does it best. So go for steak or pizza before your first martini, and you might escape a hangover. One bedtime tip that does help – drink water to fight dehydration.

MYTH: Pop Pain Pills before Bed

FACT: Over-the-counter painkillers peak in about four hours, so the effect of a bedtime dose will be gone by morning. A better plan is to take the pills when you first wake up. Avoid taking acetaminophen (Tylenol, Paracetamol) after a night of drinking. Alcohol disrupts how the liver processes acetaminophen, possibly leading to liver inflammation and permanent damage.

MYTH: Alcohol Helps You Sleep Well

FACT: Alcohol disrupts sleep. While a nightcap may help you doze off more quickly, it undermines the quality of your sleep. You don’t spend as much time in all-important REM cycles and you tend to wake up too soon. If you’ve been drinking heavily, a hangover might strike in the last part of the night, leaving you too uncomfortable to get back to sleep.

MYTH: A Wake-up Cocktail is the Cure

FACT: More alcohol in the morning does nothing but postpone a hangover. The worst symptoms hit when blood-alcohol levels drop to zero. If you have a screwdriver at breakfast, this moment will just come later in the day. And if you find you can’t function without a wake-up cocktail, you should discuss the possibility of addiction with your doctor.

MYTH: Coffee is the Cure

FACT: Coffee leads to more dehydration and could make your hangover worse. After a night of drunkenness, it’s better to avoid anything with caffeine. Instead, sip water and sports drinks to counter dehydration and replace lost electrolytes. This is especially important if you experienced any vomiting.

MYTH: Herbal Remedies Can Help

FACT: British researchers reviewed the available studies on hangovers pills, such as yeast and artichoke extract. They concluded that there is no compelling evidence of any effective treatment. Another British team found a supplement made from prickly pear cactus may reduce the nausea and dry mouth associated with hangovers, but not the dreaded headache. The only proven cure is time.

NO MYTH: Alcohol Poisoning

FACT: Alcohol poisoning is a potentially deadly medical emergency. If you see someone vomit multiple times or pass out after drinking heavily, a visit to the nearest emergency room is in order. It’s easy to blow off these symptoms as the price of partying hard, but there’s a danger of shock or, in the case of vomiting, becoming severely dehydrated.
See you next week.