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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

Hangovers More of a Headache Than You Think

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Some studies have put the annual cost in the U.S. at a whopping $148 billion per year, while another researcher estimated the average annual loss to be about $2,000 per working adult, Wiese writes. Light-to-moderate drinkers cause 87% of all alcohol-related problems in the workplace and, paradoxically, this same group suffers more hangovers than heavier drinkers.

So, the million-dollar question is, what can be done about hangovers? Humorist and writer Robert Benchley said, "there is no cure for the hangover, save death." He was close. Wiese says "prevention" is the only surefire hangover cure, followed closely by moderation and not drinking on an empty stomach.

Some studies also have found the only other effective remedies are drinking plenty of nonalcoholic fluids to rehydrate you, vitamin B6, and prostaglandin inhibitors -- the class of anti-inflammatory drugs that include ibuprofen and aspirin, according to Wiese. These should be taken at the time you drink the alcohol for a small effect in reducing hangover severity.

There was one study of an herbal preparation called Liv.52 that was shown to reduce hangover symptoms, but Wiese writes the results are suspect because of the way the study was conducted and because the manufacturer sponsored the study.

Wiese also points out that darker drinks, such as red wine or scotch, contain more impurities, called congeners, thereby increasing the frequency and severity of hangovers. And as for "hair of the dog," well, that hangover you are trying to avoid is going to still bite you sooner or later.

"Nobody has a cure for hangover. These are completely symptomatic treatments, much like taking over-the-counter drugs for a flu and a cold. You know, it's very questionable whether it really does anything," Cloninger tells WebMD.

Overall, Cloninger says the findings in Wiese's review are "not novel," since they are based on published studies, but the findings are "well-appreciated and well-recognized." Cloninger took issue with the cost figures because they "are based on a world where no one's going to drink at all, and that's not going to happen." He also says it's difficult to pigeonhole people, because every one reacts to alcohol differently, and not uniformly.

"Obviously, we're not going to go back to prohibition, but look what's happening with cigarette smoking. ... We may be attacking some of the wrong things, because there's certainly a lot of [death] associated with alcohol on roads, and so on, comparable to what you get with cigarettes," Cloninger tells WebMD. "So we need to maybe have a more balanced approach."

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