People who do not drink alcohol do not get hangovers. People who drink small amounts of alcohol rarely get hangovers. People who drink nonalcoholic beverages or those will very small amounts of alcohol within them rarely get hangovers.
However, people who drink to the point of intoxication usually experience some hangover symptoms. Among those who drink until they are intoxicated, those who drink large amounts of alcohol generally have more hangover symptoms compared with those who drink less.
Therefore, the best cure for a hangover is to prevent it from happening in the first place by not drinking alcohol at all, or by drinking very modest amounts. There are other steps that can help in hangover prevention, but once the symptoms of a hangover begin, there are few options that actually bring relief.
Some of the widely used, traditional hangover "cures" really do little to relieve symptoms and some of them can actually make the situation worse.
What Does Not Work for HangoversThere are several myths and urban legends surrounding curing a hangover that have been around for years. Most of them have no scientific basis:
The Hair of the Dog That Bit You - The practice of having a drink the next morning to ward off the effects of a hangover doesn't really work in the long run, contrary to popular belief. Since the worse hangover symptoms occur when the drinker's blood alcohol content returns to zero, taking a drink the next morning only delays the inevitable. It may lessen the symptoms in the short term, but giving the liver more alcohol to metabolize will only increase the discomfort later. Additionally, a morning-after drink can lead to more drinking and can contribute to eventual alcohol dependence.
Black Coffee - Coffee may relieve the feeling of fatigue associated with hangover and help alleviate the headache symptoms by constricting blood vessels, but that relief is only temporary and the symptoms will return. More importantly, coffee acts as a diuretic further dehydrating the body and increasing the hangover symptoms. Again, coffee may lessen some symptoms initially, but in the long run may cause more problems.
Taking Tylenol Before Going to Bed - This treatment seems to make sense, but it fails on two levels. First, the effects of acetaminophen (Tylenol) will usually wear off before the onset of hangover symptoms. It would be better to take it after the symptoms begin. Additionally, when the liver is processing alcohol it cannot process acetaminophen as it usually does, which can cause liver inflammation and possible permanent liver damage.
Eating Fried or Greasy Foods - If you eat foods with a lot of fat before drinking, the oils can coat your stomach lining and slow down the absorption of alcohol. This can help prevent the severity of a hangover. However, eating greasy food the morning after a drinking bout will probably only add to the gastrointestinal malaise by irritating the stomach and intestines.
- Eating Burnt Toast - Carbon can act like a filter in the body and activated charcoal is used to treat some types of poisonings, but the carbon found on burnt toast is not activated charcoal and it does not work the same in the body. Over-the-counter products sold as hangover cures that contain carbon are intended to be taking before drinking, not after the hangover begins.
What Does Relieve HangoversThe only real cure for a hangover is time. If no more alcohol is consumed, hangover symptoms should subside between eight and 24 hours. There are some things that can be done to relieve some of the most severe symptoms.
Water or Sports Drinks - The dehydration effects of alcohol causes some of the most discomfort associated with hangovers -- headache, dizziness, and lightheadedness. The quickest way to relieve those symptoms is to drink lots of water. Sports drinks, such as Gatorade, will not only relieve dehydration, but also replace needed electrolytes.
Painkillers - Aspirin and ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) may reduce hangover headache and muscle pain, but should not be used if you are experiencing abdominal pain or nausea. The medications themselves are gastric irritants and can compound gastrointestinal hangover symptoms. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) should not be taken during a hangover because alcohol metabolism enhances acetaminophen's toxicity. Also, ibuprofen taken when dehydrated can sometimes cause kidney dysfunction especially in persons with poor kidney function.
Eggs - Because eggs contain cysteine, which breaks down acetaldehyde in the body, eating eggs the morning after a drinking binge could help remove the hangover-causing alcohol metobolite toxin from the body.
Bananas - Alcohol, like any diuretic, depletes the body of potassium. Eating bananas, or other fruit high in potassium, while having hangover symptoms can replenish the potassium and lost electrolytes. Sports drinks typically are good sources of potassium.
Bouillon Soup - If you can't handle the idea of eating anything solid while experiencing severe hangover symptoms, try some bouillon soup. It also can help replace salt and potassium lost during a drinking binge.
- Fruit or Fruit Juice - Consuming fruit or fruit juice while hungover can increase energy, replaces vitamins and nutrients and has been shown to speed up the body's process of getting rid of toxins. Fruits and fruit juices therefore can help decrease the intensity of hangover symptoms.
The Bottom Line on HangoversDrinking as much water as possible over the course of the evening and before you go to bed will relieve a great deal of the hangover symptoms caused by dehydration. But only time will cure the hangover symptoms caused by the alcohol poisoning effects of excessive drinking.
See Also: What Is a Hangover?
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. "Alcohol Hangover - Mechanisms and Mediators (PDF)." 14 Jan. 2002.
A.D.A.M. "">Hangover Treatment." 10 Oct. 2007