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Which Hangover Cures, Pills, and Patches Really Work, According to Science?

Photo: Courtesy ‎Legendary Pictures

Let’s get this out of the way. There is no such thing as a hangover cure. In fact, when I asked the founder of the Alcohol Hangover Research Group, the only group of academic experts dedicated to demystifying the science of hangovers, to weigh in on the science behind various hangover pills and patches, the professor responded with a single line: “Currently, there is no hangover treatment available of which the effectiveness (or safety) is scientifically proven.” Part of the reason for the lack of a reliable hangover cure is because scientists still aren’t totally sure what a hangover is. “It’s not a headache; it’s not nausea. It’s this whole host of symptoms that we loop into one category as hangovers,” explains Dr. Mikhail Varshavski, a board-certified family-medicine doctor in New York City (a.k.a. Instagram-famous Dr. Mike). He adds, “There’s one surefire hangover cure, and that’s time.”

But that doesn’t mean hangover “cures” are all a total scam. When we talk about these pills and patches and even scary-sounding IV drips that people swear by to stop feeling nauseous after drinking or to soothe their headache, what we’re really talking about are hangover treatments that will mitigate those symptoms you feel after a night out.

And though there is some science to back up the claims of these hangover remedies, with so many options on the market, it can be hard to know which of these hangover cures is the right fit for you — and which ones will do the least damage. So to help you make a better decision about the best way to fight your hangover (and figure out what you might be putting into your body), we took a deeper look into some of the most popular hangover cures on the market today.

Treating Hangovers Since: the 1980s.

Preventative or Palliative? Preventative.

Who Should Use It: anyone who worships at the altar of Moon Juice.

Directions: Those who swear by activated charcoal as a hangover remedy will often take two capsules before drinking.

CPH (Cost Per Hangover): $0.14, when you buy a bottle of 100 capsules.

Hangover-Busting Ingredient: activated charcoal.

Similar To: nothing. It’s in a class all its own.

How It Works: The idea is that the activated charcoal will filter out the toxins from your body, and that will, in turn, mitigate your hangover — and it’s not like that theory is totally without a scientific basis. There are articles in the scientific literature that date back to the 1940s, examining the absorption power of activated charcoal, and activated charcoal is still sometimes used in emergency rooms to absorb specific poisons and deal with certain types of overdoses.

One of the most commonly cited studies of activated charcoal’s ability to soak up excess booze is a 1981 study called “Effect of activated charcoal on ethanol blood levels in dogs,” in which six laboratory dogs were given alcohol, followed by activated charcoal. The researchers found that the charcoal prevented the full absorption of the alcohol into the dogs’ bloodstreams, and the logic extended to humans.

Efficacy: dubious, at best. As Dr. Mike explains, activated charcoal won’t actually prevent alcohol from being absorbed into the body. “Alcohol, once you drink it, it enters your bloodstream roughly in about an hour’s time and begins to get processed. It doesn’t sit around in your stomach for a long period of time.” He’s also skeptical that alcohol binds to charcoal. “There’s no proof. I guess you can say if you’re actively drinking alcohol, and you don’t want to absorb some of it, you can take charcoal along with your alcohol — but then why are you drinking?”

Bottom Line: There’s no evidence that activated charcoal works to absorb alcohol’s toxins, but there’s no evidence that it will hurt you either.

Treating Hangovers Since: 2010.

Preventative or Palliative? Palliative.

Who Should Use It: People whose main hangover symptom is a headache, or who didn’t plan on getting drunk the night before and don’t have time to sleep it off.

Directions: When you wake up with a hangover, drop a tablet of Blowfish into a glass of water and drink.

CPH: $0.95, when you buy a pack of 12.

Hangover-Busting Ingredient: a combination of aspirin and clinical-grade caffeine.

Similar To: regular aspirin tablets and a cup of coffee.

How It Works: Blowfish is designed to treat the symptoms of a hangover, especially the headache and fogginess that often come the morning after. “What seems to be going on with a hangover is that your body actually generates an inflammatory response, similar to a flu or a cold, so that’s why you have the achiness, the headache,” says founder Brenna Haysom. The aspirin, then, is meant to combat that. (The inclusion of aspirin, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, or NSAID, is also why this is the only hangover treatment listed here that’s actually been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.)

The caffeine, about as much as a half-cup of coffee per tablet, both helps the aspirin work better and wakes you up, since chances are good that you didn’t sleep too well. “You might be getting to bed late because you’re out drinking, but also the quality of that sleep is poor,” says Haysom, adding that this caffeine will be gentler on your stomach than a cup of coffee, which can stimulate stomach acid and make you feel more ill. There’s also a benefit to taking the aspirin as an effervescent tablet rather than a pill. “Effervescent tablets have been shown to work twice as fast as pills; they obviously also have the added benefit of helping you hydrate because you’re sort of forced to drink water with them.”

Efficacy: Blowfish has not conducted any clinical trials about its product’s efficacy, and Haysom warns that this might not be the right fit for you if you’re super sensitive to caffeine or your main hangover symptom is nausea. But in general, “the day after drinking, probably not the worst thing to have a cup of coffee” for the caffeine, says Dr. Mike.

He adds that taking aspirin, or another NSAID like Tylenol or Motrin, might also be able to help you if you’re struggling with a headache — though it shouldn’t become a regular habit. NSAIDs can be tough on your stomach, especially in combination with alcohol, over the long term. “But, then again, you have to weigh that with the risk versus benefits,” he notes. “If you have something very important going on, taking an aspirin or Motrin or Advil, whatever NSAID you want to take, is probably not going to kill you.”

Bottom Line: a good pick-me-up if you wake up feeling crunchy, as long as you’re drinking water with your caffeine and not combining alcohol and NSAIDs on a regular basis.

Treating Hangovers Since: 2011.

Preventative or Palliative? Preventative.

Who Should Use It: social but frequent drinkers, Bravo-lebrities (Vanderpump Rules star Stassi Schroeder is a fan), or anyone who loves an excuse to pull up their shirt at a bar.

Directions: All you have to do is place the patch on your body — ideally somewhere that’s hair-free, like the inside of your forearm, because it is sticky and will pull out your hairs — about 45 minutes before you start drinking. Leave it on overnight, and remove it the next morning.

CPH: $4, when you buy a pack of five.

Hangover-Busting Ingredient: “A really nice, strong B vitamin complex with some antioxidants,” according to Alex Shvarts, a spokesperson for Bytox.

Similar To: a vitamin-B-complex supplement or multivitamin, or NutriDrip, but without needles.

How It Works: When you drink alcohol, your body gets depleted of vitamins, especially vitamins B12 and B1, also known as thiamine — and according to Shvarts, this lack of vitamins “is what makes us slur, makes us tired, makes us unable to function.” The idea, then, is to quickly replenish these nutrients in your body, to prevent that hungover feeling; that’s why, Shvarts continues, “A lot of times when people overdrink and they go to the hospital, they get an IV, which is primarily of B complexes.” [See NutriDrip, below.]

So in theory, Bytox is a way to get those essential vitamins back into your bloodstream as quickly as possible without the assistance of a medical professional — and without the side effects of taking a vitamin-B-complex pill, which can include nausea. (If you throw up because you drank too much, any pills you took beforehand probably won’t be absorbed at all. The patch, on the other hand, will keep on pumping vitamin B into your bloodstream, no matter how much you puke.)

One cosmetic caveat about Bytox: “There is this vitamin smell that comes from [the patch], this very potent vitamin smell,” notes Shvarts. So if that’s a concern for you, consider putting the patch on your thigh or back, far away from your nose, rather than your arm or shoulder.

Efficacy: “We give this treatment in the hospital to alcoholics that’s known as a banana bag,” says Dr. Mike. “But if you’re not an alcoholic, you are not depleted in those vitamins.” And having more vitamins in your system isn’t going to help you recover faster, so any benefit you might feel is likely in your head. “Unless, obviously, you have a rare condition where you have a vitamin B deficiency or you’re an alcoholic,” says Dr. Mike, “the reason why you’re feeling better is because of the placebo effect.”

Bottom Line: I’ll let Dr. Mike take this one: “In my opinion, you might as well do it with something safer. Just say, ‘Oh, I know if I have an extra glass of water before I go to sleep, I’ll be fine.’ You’ll get the same placebo effect” as taking vitamins.

Treating Hangovers Since: March 2017, but the company changed to a vegetarian formula in December 2017.

Preventative or Palliative? Preventative.

Who Should Use It: People of Asian descent who are missing the enzyme that breaks down alcohol and its toxic by-products, or who might be sensitive to traditional pain relievers, like aspirin or Tylenol.

Directions: For best results, take three Flyby pills with a glass of water before you start drinking, and three more before you go to sleep.

CPH: $2.27, when you buy a bottle of 90 pills. (That accounts for the six pills you should take every time you drink.)

Hangover-Busting Ingredient: dihydromyricetin, or DHM.

Similar To: Drinkwel, a supplement with milk thistle and DHM; Morning Recovery, a drink that includes DHM; PartySmart, a supplement with a proprietary LiverCare blend that also promises to stimulate and boost the liver enzymes to break down alcohol’s toxic by-products.

How It Works: Flyby is inspired by Japanese over-the-counter hangover cures, and many of its ingredients are fairly recognizable to those familiar with those products (or hangover pills, more generally), including vitamin B complex, milk-thistle extract, and prickly pear. But the ingredient that really makes Flyby different is DHM, which is derived from an Asian raisin tree. As founder and CEO Eddie Huai explains, this ingredient has been demonstrated in at least one study from researchers at UCLA to boost the body’s ability to produce ADH, an enzyme that helps break down alcohol in the liver. That’s one reason why this product is especially good for those of Asian descent who suffer from the flush. “Asian people who have low levels of the enzyme, Flyby is going to work really well for them because that ingredient DHM has been shown to boost those specific liver enzymes that help expedite the breakdown of alcohol and acetaldehyde, alcohol’s toxic by-product, and that’s one of the main causes of those Asian-flush symptoms.”

Efficacy: In a study conducted by the company, 86 percent of surveyed participants reported “a significant reduction in their hangover symptoms,” says Huai, adding, “We scaled it from one to five, and we categorized a significant reduction between one to two points.” However, this study was done with the old formula rather than with the new vegetarian one — though Huai notes, “our returning customers have gone up slightly” since the relaunch.

However, Dr. Mike would advise consumers to be wary of most supplements because they’re not regulated or protected by the FDA. In the case of DHM, where the initial research findings show promise, Dr. Mike “would be curious to see how it functions in a randomized control trial,” on the off chance that this is the ingredient that could “cure” hangovers. “The proper feeling to have is, ‘Let’s research it and figure out if it’s really the real thing.’”

Bottom Line: Initial research into DHM’s effectiveness seems good, but until there are more clinical trials, just be sure your hangover supplements are coming from a reputable supplier.

Treating Hangovers Since: 1965 (though unofficially).

Preventative or Palliative? Palliative.

Who Should Use It: Weekend warriors who treat parties like athletic events — or literally anyone with a hangover.

Directions: Drink a bottle of Gatorade when you wake up.

CPH: $0.50, when you buy a 24-pack.

Hangover-Busting Ingredient: electrolytes.

Similar To: coconut water; Morning Recovery, except without DHM; Never Too Hungover Boost, except without caffeine or other vitamin supplements; NutriDrip, but without a needle; and Pedialyte.

How It Works: The logic is simple. When you wake up hungover, “your cells are dehydrated,” explains Dr. Mike. “They’re smaller than usual.” Consuming fluids will help address this dehydration, and though water is good, Gatorade can actually be more effective in rehydrating. “Electrolyte solutions (such as sports drinks) and bouillon soup are good for replacing the salt and potassium you lose from drinking alcohol,” according to information from the U.S. National Library of Medicine, whereas drinking a comparable amount of water will only further dilute the already depleted levels of electrolytes in your body.

Efficacy: “I’m not even familiar with trials done on electrolyte replacement via oral route, how much faster that helps cure a hangover, because you’re likely having symptoms from several things happening at once,” says Dr. Mike. “Maintaining your hydration status is probably the most important thing along with rest that you can do with a hangover. It’s probably worthwhile to drink Gatorade instead [of water].”

Bottom Line: The most low-risk option but also the one with a potential for a high return, so make like a sponsored athlete and just do it.

Treating Hangovers Since: 2014.

Preventative or Palliative? Palliative.

Who Should Use It: People who have no time to waste, aren’t afraid of needles, or for whom neither money nor time is an object.

Directions: Call NutriDrip to set up an appointment, either at your home or at one of their Drip Lounges. A board-certified, registered nurse will do an intake interview, and once they’ve ensured that you don’t have any preexisting health conditions and are in good enough health, they will insert the IV drip into your arm. The drip itself takes about 30 to 45 minutes.

CPH: From $119, for the Basic Hangover Recovery Drip at one of NutriDrip’s Drip Lounges (though, if you’re ready to commit to the IV lifestyle, you can buy a pack of ten at-home Mega Hangover Recovery drips for $1,992 — a CPH of $192.20).

Hangover-Busting Ingredient: A liter of electrolyte fluid that includes sodium chloride (also known as table salt) and potassium chloride. The recovery drips also come with your choice of either Toradol, a prescription-strength anti-inflammatory drug, or Zofran, an anti-nausea medication.

Similar To: Gatorade, Pedialyte, or Never Too Hungover — but with needles.

How It Works: “Alcohol is a diuretic. It can cause dehydration and that can cause symptoms like light-headedness and dizziness. So a lot of people seem to feel better from just the fluid,” says Shoko Karakilic, chief nursing officer at NutriDrip, if you subscribe to the theory that dehydration and depletion of electrolytes is what causes a hangover. NutriDrip will also boost that liter of electrolytes with your choice of one of two prescription pain relievers: Toradol, which Karakilic describes as “a really powerful version of IV Advil” to help with your headache, or Zofran, an anti-nausea medication that’s actually often prescribed to cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. (Karakilic does note that you could get both — but that costs extra.)

That speed of recovery is the main draw of these IV hangover drips. “It’s much faster if you take the IV therapy because it goes directly into your bloodstream. It doesn’t have to bypass your gut,” says Karakilic. Plus, the anti-nausea medication and the prescription-strength pain reliever are stronger than most anything else you could get over the counter.

One note: If you’re over 65 or have any chronic or preexisting liver, kidney, or heart conditions like hepatitis, the nurses will ask for a note from your primary-care physician before they start the IV drip. And if there seems to be any sort of potential problems with your vital signs, they might also refer you to urgent care.

Efficacy: “The use of IV replacement of electrolytes and fluids should be in a time when someone is unable to keep fluids down,” says Dr. Mike. “If your hangover is so bad that every time you drink a sip of Gatorade, you instantly vomit, and you’re actively being dehydrated, absolutely you need replacement via an IV. But if you’re capable of drinking water or Gatorade, which most of us are when you’re having a hangover, you should be doing that. There’s no need to get an IV placed,” especially since the complications associated with getting an IV — and taking these prescription drugs — can be serious if they do happen.

“You can get vein infections, where the entire vein going up the arm can get very inflamed. You can obviously get a skin infection from getting an IV placed. You can get a clot in the vein,” says Dr. Mike. “The bottom line for any of these is always a risk-versus-benefit calculation. So how bad do I need this treatment that I’m okay with some of these risks occurring? I’m not saying that giving Zofran is going to cause all of these problems, but on the off chance that it can happen, you better be doing this for a good reason, and the reason shouldn’t be that you want to feel better now as opposed to four hours from now.”

Bottom Line: The potential health risks are as high as the price tag.

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Which Hangover Cures Really Work?