One common question we often get from young people in regards to alcohol is “what’s the best hangover cure?” Recently, the methods employed to obtain the best hangover cure have become more elaborate.
During a Party Safe Education™ seminar earlier this year, a student asked if eating charcoal helped sober someone up and reduce hangover symptoms (Sorry, it doesn’t work). Some people have even turned the reported hangover cure methods into a business. Last year, Sydney saw the launch of a hangover clinic as well as a doctor-to-your-door service claiming to be able to cure a hangover in as little as 30 minutes – for a fee. Does it really work? Has this clinic answered the question of how to best cure a hangover?
The Best Hangover Cure is Not Easy to Find
One of the issues with pursuing the best hangover cure is that the effects of alcohol vary from person-to-person. Even now, experts are unsure of exactly what factors combine to cause a hangover. We do know that dehydration, low blood sugar and the removal of electrolytes from the body play a big part. The claim from the hangover clinic that their doctors can cure a hangover is based on restoring those lost fluids, sugars and electrolytes.
However, that is not the whole picture – other factors can also contribute to a hangover. Alcohol disrupts a person’s sleep patterns and causes irritation of the stomach. In addition, the breakdown of alcohol in the liver causes the release of a number of chemicals which then need to be removed by the body. One of these chemicals, acetaldehyde, is toxic, carcinogenic, and contributes to the heightened risk of cancer among drinkers1. It is also thought to be a key contributor to the symptoms of a hangover2. A person’s liver and other organs will naturally process acetaldehyde and the other chemicals. However, while the liver is busy processing those chemicals, it doesn’t do so well at some of its other jobs.
For example, while the liver is processing alcohol, it is not as good at controlling blood sugar levels. This contributes to low blood sugar and the lack of energy that some people can experience after a big night out. Furthermore, the breakdown of paracetamol (Panadol) in a person’s liver uses some of the same enzymes as the breakdown of alcohol. As a result, taking Panadol for the relief of a pounding headache after drinking can slow down the body’s processing of alcohol and can also increase a person’s risk of liver damage. If a person feels like they need something for their headache, medications like ibuprofen (Nurofen) or aspirin (Disprin) taken with food are better options.
Does Anything Help Cure a Hangover?
The causes of a hangover are extremely complex and as a result, it is highly unlikely that a simple solution will provide the best hangover cure. Drinking plenty of water, eating foods high in energy and electrolytes, or having a cold shower may wake a person up and/or make someone feel a little better.
However, none of those things will remove the alcohol or its byproducts from their body. People with a severe hangover often still have a significant amount of alcohol in their bloodstream and may still be over the legal blood alcohol limit for activities such as driving. If a person takes a shower, has something to eat and ‘feels better’, they are more likely to do things like get behind the wheel of a car or go to work while still intoxicated. Furthermore, none of these hangover ‘cures’ actually address the core problem of why that person has a hangover in the first place.
A hangover is one of the ways a person’s body tells them that they have drunk too much. The body is working overtime to fix up the damage from the night before so it’s not surprising that it doesn’t feel too great. According to recent research, the only simple answer to the question of how to best cure a hangover is to drink less and avoid a hangover in the first place3. Instead of trying to find a quick-fix way to cure a hangover, why don’t we just drink a little less?
Drinking less (or choosing not to drink at all) is the best hangover cure but it’s not the only good reason to drink less. Since March 2013 our ‘A Lighter Night’ campaign has been encouraging patrons on Hindley Street in Adelaide, South Australia to “drink a little less… have a lighter night”. The aim of this campaign is to reduce risky levels of drinking by highlighting the benefits of having ‘A Lighter Night’. Check out our A Lighter Night page to find out more!
1Sietz, H. K., and Stickel, F., 2010, “Acetaldehyde as an underestimated risk factor for cancer development: role of genetics in ethanol metabolism”, Genes and Nutrition, 5 (2), 121-128
2National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2007, “Alcohol Metabolism: An Update”, Alcohol Alert, Number 72, April 2007