6 Tips to Beat a Hangover

Medically Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on December 28, 2015
4 min read

Ask a dozen people how to cure a hangover and you’ll get a dozen different answers. Eat greasy grub. Drink coffee. Pop over-the-counter pain relievers.

Do any of them work?

"There’s no magic potion that gets rid of a hangover," says George Koob, MD, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). The only way you can avoid that tired-headachy-nauseated feeling is to drink less.

But if you think you might overdo it, these steps could help tone down your morning-after symptoms.

While most over-the-counter hangover remedies won’t help much, there’s one supplement that may do you some good -- but you'll have to plan ahead. If you take prickly pear extract several hours before you drink, it might lower your day-after symptoms by about half.

Experts don't know how it works, but the extract has a protein that curbs the inflammation you can get from drinking too much. That may help hold off a hangover.

Don’t wait until the end of the night to polish off a pizza. It might be too late.

"The alcohol is already in your body, so eating food or drinking water won’t affect how it’s absorbed," says Aaron White, PhD, senior advisor to the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

But if you eat a meal and have water while you're throwing back those cocktails, your hangover may not be as bad. "Having food in your stomach while drinking reduces how high your peak blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) gets by about a third," White says.

The less drunk you get, the less crummy you’ll feel the next day. And fluid from water slows the rate at which your body absorbs alcohol. This will also lower your overall BAC.

"It’s a good idea to alternate alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks," White says.

Along with drinking water throughout the night, be sure to down even more before you go to sleep.

"Alcohol is a diuretic," Koob says. This means it makes you pee a lot, which causes you to lose a lot of liquid. "Hangover symptoms are partly due to dehydration, so replacing that fluid loss can help."

It’s also smart to keep a bottle of water by your bedside so you can hydrate as soon as you wake up in the morning.

The color of the spirits you drink may affect how you feel tomorrow. You may be better off sticking to a clear booze like vodka and gin, or the clear versions of rum and tequila.

The reason has to do with chemical compounds called congeners. Those are "anything in alcohol besides alcohol and water," Koob says. Darker drinks like bourbon, scotch, and tequila tend to have higher levels. Those compounds can bring on the inflammation that makes your hangover worse.

For some people, the two go together. But you may pay the price.

"Smoking cigarettes while drinking results in worse hangovers," says Damaris Rosenhow, PhD, associate director of the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at Brown University.

One theory is that both alcohol and smokes affect your sleep, and poor shut-eye may make you feel even crummier.

If you're looking for a short-term fix, this may help -- but not for long. There’s a scientific explanation for why the "hair of the dog that bit you" works.

When you drink, alcohol holds back a brain chemical called glutamate. That causes your brain to make more and more of it, Koob says. When the alcohol wears off, you have a bunch of it floating around in your brain. It may be to blame for hangover symptoms like irritability, headaches, nausea, and fatigue.

Down another drink or two the next morning, and you’ll hold off the glutamate all over again. Your hangover symptoms may improve. But it won't last. "Once you stop drinking you’ll still have to deal with a hangover," Koob says.

Although there’s no cure for a hangover, there are ways to treat what ails you.

If you have a headache, reach for an anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen. Upset stomach? Pepto-Bismol might help. If you’re tired, have some coffee.

One thing you shouldn’t take is any other medication that has the ingredient acetaminophen. It can cause serious liver problems when it mixes with alcohol.

While ibuprofen is a better option, you still need to be careful. "Taking too much ibuprofen can upset your stomach, and it may already be queasy from your hangover," Koob says.

Show Sources


George Koob, MD, neurobiologist and director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Damaris Rosenhow, PhD, associate director of the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at Brown University.

Wiese, J. JAMA Internal Medicine, June, 2004.

Plakht, Y. Journal of Addiction Research & Therapy, 2012.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: "Beyond Hangovers."

Cleveland Clinic: "Oral Health and Risk for CV Disease."

Aaron White, PhD, senior scientific advisor to the director, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

View privacy policy, copyright and trust info